Monday, April 25, 2016

Easter 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Life in the Midst of Death”
Text: John 16:12-22; Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-7

[After a very arduous week and countless hours in the hospital, enjoy this encore presentation of a sermon from 2010, with very few and minor modifications . . . ]

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 prayed in the Collect of the Day earlier that among the many changes of this world may our hearts be fixed where true joys are found.

To be sure, there are many changes in this world that effect us everyday. Changes to your health or the health of a family member can turn your life upside down. Changes made by our government often have a profound influence on our lives. The loss of a job, or divorce, or unexpected expenses make us concerned about the future. Moving to a new and strange place where you have to figure out where everything you need is, and make new friends, and find a new church is never easy at best, and is often quite difficult. And how many other changes could you list? Changes, which as the collect suggests, can rob us of the joy of our Lord and the joy of the life He has given us.

But among the many changes of this world that effect us, there is one change above all others most difficult to bear, and that is death. The death of a parent, the death of a spouse, the death of a child, the death of a good friend, even death on a massive scale, like we see with terrorism and natural disasters. All those other changes I mentioned earlier are difficult, but at least can be dealt with in time. But death is final. Death robs us of the companionship and community God has given to us and blessed us with. Death is not “just a part of life,” as some would have us think today. Death was never part of God’s plan for us, but an intrusion into the life that He has given. The intrusion of sin. For death is sin made visible. Sin doesn’t just result in a bruised ego or a bruised arm, but with a body in a casket. It is the very opposite of God’s “let there be,” and there was. And so we should not be comfortable with death. We should hate it. And the truth is, that no matter how prepared you think you are for death, you never really are.

Among the many changes of this world. The disciples had experienced many changes. Following Jesus for three years, they had seen things they had never dreamed of - things wonderful and challenging and confusing all at the same time. They had left homes and jobs and families and entered upon a new life. But there was now one more change they would face; the one above all others most difficult to bear: death. The death of their Lord Jesus. It would be a difficult time. Jesus had told them that this day was coming, but the crucifixion - seeing Jesus hung on the wood of the cross - would shake them to the core. For this was not just the death of a man or a friend, but the death of the One who taught with an authority never before heard, who healed diseases, who expelled demons, who cleansed lepers, who forgave sins, who raised the dead, and whom Peter had confessed as the Christ, the Son of the living God! To see this Jesus die would be far more than the grief of death - it was the end. The line across the page of their story. What more was left for them now? Nothing. Jesus’ death is their death.

This Jesus knew, and so in the words of the Gospel that we heard earlier from John, Jesus is speaking to His disciples about this change. To prepare them. For soon He will be taken from them - arrested, convicted, and crucified. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” But they don’t understand what He is talking about. They would not see Him. They would see Him. But if we will see Him, how can He be going away? And if Jesus is going away, how shall we see Him? It must be one or the other, but not both. It can’t be both. How can it be both?

Their minds were swimming, for their minds did not yet have room for the destruction of death and the resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus would bruise the serpent’s head with His heel! It would take the work of the Spirit to enable them to understand. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth.” Until then, they would see the empty tomb and wonder and doubt and disbelieve. Death they knew. Could they know life?

That is what we need to know - the disciples, you, me, all people. Death we know. Death is our reality. People die, animals die, computers die, cars die, friendships die, marriages die. And you can do death by yourself.  . . .  But life is quite different. You cannot give yourself life. Life is a gift. Life comes only from another life. A woman, Jesus says, gives birth to a child, giving life to another. And in that there is pain and anguish - of division, of separation - but then the joy of life. So too will it be with Jesus. The pain and anguish of the division and separation of Good Friday will give way to the joy and life of Easter. Jesus will be the firstborn from the dead, that from His life we receive the gift of life. For life is only from life. And so from Jesus’ life comes our life. And no ordinary life this, but a life that will never end.

And so Jesus must first go away and be seen no more. There will be the pain and anguish, the division and separation of the cross. But then they will see Him again, in the life and joy of the resurrection. And while the first will seem too much to bear, it is the second that will bring a joy even greater. Which is why, I suppose, we remember Good Friday but one day, and celebrate Easter for 50! Death will have its day - for all of us. But the life we receive from Jesus will last forever.

And that’s really what we need to learn - the disciples, you, me, all people. We need to learn how to live. How to live this life. Which sounds funny, doesn’t it? For doesn’t life and living just come naturally? Well, no. Just as we need to teach our children how to live, so we need to learn how to live this life. This life of Christ. To stop looking for life in things that die, and learn how to be born anew each day, into the life of Christ. To realize that baptized into Christ, you are - as God told Peter - no longer common, but clean. You may look common, average, like everybody else out there in the world; working for a living and trying your best. But baptized into Christ you are not common - you are a child of God. A treasured child. A loved child. Now matter who you were or what you were, now you are different. For the Holy Spirit fell on you in those waters. Your sins were forgiven in those waters. You were given a new life in those waters. How can anyone, given such gifts and adopted by God, be common anymore? Or live common anymore?

That’s what God was teaching Peter in the reading from Acts that we heard. Can Gentiles become Christians? Can the dirty become clean? Can outcasts become children of God? If we look at them and who they are (or if we look at ourselves and who we are), who knows what answer we will come up with. But if we look at the cross and the empty tomb and the power and love of God, there will be no doubt. Yes, Gentiles can. Yes, the dirty can. Yes, the outcasts can. Yes, the sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes can. Yes, heathen and atheists and Muslims can - and yes, even folks like you and me, can. For look not at the sinner, but at the One who came down from heaven to make all things new and clean. Is there any sin greater than His cross? Is there any death greater than His resurrection? Absolutely not. And so this new life is for all people. The life of Christ. Life in Christ. And so yes, to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.

And so also to you and me. Whatever “death” you are facing in your life right now, it cannot win. It cannot win. It has already been defeated. And so for us there is life. The life of forgiveness, not of grudges and anger. The life of love, not of hatred and revenge. The life of joy and peace, not of worry and anxiety. Can we live such a life? Can we know such a life? That our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found? It sounds too good to be true.

But true it is. As true as the empty tomb. And this life is yours - not because you’ve done it, but because the life of Christ and His death and resurrection is given to you. Life from life. It is given by the Spirit, whom Jesus had promised to send, and who would, as Jesus said, take what is mine and declare it to you. Which means when the words of Jesus are declared to you, the Spirit gives you what they say. They are not just words, or empty words, but words filled with the Spirit and life. And so when it is declared to you, I forgive you all your sins, the Spirit gives you what those words say. And when it is declared to you, Take, eat, this is My body; Take, drink, this is My blood, the Spirit gives you what those words say. And the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Jesus are yours. You are filled with Him. He is alive in you. That your sorrow be turned to joy. A joy that no one can take away from you.

You will see me, Jesus said. And they did, those disciples. And you see Him, even now. You see Him here, in His gifts. You see Him out there, in the least of those who need your help. You see Him by faith, the Spirit giving you ears to hear and eyes to see. Not to live a life that ends in death; but to live a life that not even death can end. Can we live such a life? Can we know such a life? That our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found?

Sometimes, perhaps, it seems that the answer is no. The troubles too many, the problems too much, the struggles too mighty, and the joys of life too fleeting. But the good news of Easter is that there is a peace and joy that surpasses that of this world, and anything this world can give. The peace and joy of the life of Christ, of life which can never be taken away. Not by anything this world and its devil can dish out. It is the joy and peace not of having everything go right, but a joy and peace even when they don’t.

For we too, as children of God, are going to the Father. In Christ, in fact, we are already there. But like Christ, one day our tombs will be empty, when the Word of God once again does what it says, calls our bodies from the grave, and death will be no more. It cannot win. Oh, satan will tell you that death has won when you’re standing at the grave of a loved one. Your feelings will tell you that death has won when your life is falling apart. You may think that death is going to win when your own body begins to fail. But it is not so. These are only the birth pains to a new life. A new life that you have even now, and live even now.

And so the line across the page of your story has been erased. Forgiven. Done away with. Now, there is no end, there is no bottom, there is no period, end of story. No! Jesus has turned the page to a new life. “It is done!” He said. And His words are trustworthy and true. He has conquered, and we are made sons of God. Jesus’ death is our death, for He died for our sins; and now His life is our life. He has made all things new, life from life! Even you, even now. 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 17, 2016

Easter 4 / Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Listen to the Empty Tomb”
Text: John 10:22-30; Acts 20:17-35;
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 23

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.

As long as we are in this world and life, faith and truth will be a struggle. We should not expect it to be otherwise. It was a struggle in the days of the Old Testament, the time of the apostles, and now. It is not as if we can say: okay, we know the truth. We’ve got it. Now we can move on to something else. No. The attacks and challenges and doubters will come. Maybe sooner, maybe later. The wolf is just going to keep putting on different sheep skins, to deceive us. Error will keep evolving and keep trying to come into the church in different ways, at different times, and with different names. 

That is what we heard in the readings today. In the first reading from Acts, the apostle Paul said: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. From the 23rd Psalm we heard that Jesus prepares a table before us in the presence - not the absence - of our enemies. And from Revelation we heard that those in white robes are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. The message is unmistakeable: Christians are not going to have it easy in this world. Satan is relentless. He will exploit every weakness and use every ally. Some attacks will be quick and sudden, while others will be slow and seem like they will never end. Some will come from without and some will come from within. You can count on it.

But everything is not bad news for us. For in each of these readings, where we heard these things, there was good news also. Assurance. Reason for confidence. Paul commends the Ephesian pastors to God and the word of his grace, which is able to protect and defend them, to build them up and give them an inheritance in heaven. The 23rd Psalm ends on a note of confidence, and in Revelation, the ones in white robes were the ones coming out of the great tribulation, not swallowed up in it. Or in other words, in each case, faith and truth wins. And I will even go so far as to say this: the truth always wins

Now, as you look around at the church and world today, it may not seem so. And there were times in the Old Testament when it did not seem so, and times in the early church when it seemed like the outcome was in doubt. But the truth always wins. You know why? Because the truth is not just a thing, a concept, my idea against your idea. If it were (as many today think of it), then we couldn’t be sure who would win. It would come down to who argues better, who gets more votes, who (as they say) is on the right side of history. 

But the truth always wins because the truth is not a thing, a concept, or an idea, but a PERSON. Jesus said: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). And Jesus won. That’s what we’re celebrating this Easter season. The Jews did not win, Pilate and the Romans did not win, the cross did not win, the grave did not win, satan did not win, sin did not win - Jesus won. He rose from the dead, defeating all who tried to take His life; defeating all who tried to suppress the truth of Him and His Word. He won. The Truth won. The battle is over.

And Jesus claimed that victory as He said today that those who are His, no one can snatch them out of His hand. That’s a pretty confident statement, but He backed it up. That’s an absolute statement - no one can do it - for who is greater and stronger than the one who defeated sin, death, devil, and grave for us? And to those who would answer: the Father . . . Jesus puts that to bed as well, saying: I and the Father are one. The Father will not reject the Son or those who belong to the Son. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then the forsakenness of the cross would have been all we had, our sin would still eternally separate us from the God, and death and hell would seal our fate. But risen from the dead, the forsakenness is over, sin is forgiven, and there is peace with God. And so, Jesus says, I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. And what Jesus gives is given. He’s not going to change His mind, He’s not going to take it back. You can walk away from it, but the fault will not be His. He won, for you.

Which does not mean that satan will ever quit trying or the struggle in this world and life will end. In fact, as the end draws closer and his time grows short, he will try even harder. Old heresies will be recycled, tribulation will become great, and truth will be attacked. Now, in our days, we see it as the wolfly falsehood of tolerance dressed in truth’s clothing. 

So how good to know that we have a Shepherd, a Good one, to shepherd us through this world and life in His truth. For to know Him, to know Him as truth, is to be set free (John 8:32). Set free not from all enemies, but from the fear of them. Set free not from our sins, but from the guilt of them. Set free not from dying, but from death - for dying is for us now just the gate to everlasting life. For as we heard, Jesus shepherds us through that as well. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

So, Paul tells the Ephesian pastors, pay careful attention to yourself and all the flock - this truth must be proclaimed. Be alert, also, for the attacks. And for us, hear the voice of your Shepherd, that you may know and follow Him who knows you. For, you see, this too is one of satan attacks, to either drown out the voice of our Shepherd in a deluge of other voices and truths, or convince us who hear that He is irrelevant, that His truth is no longer truth, that we know better now, to judge what is invisible by what is visible, that the here and now is all that matters, that what is good is what seems good or feels good to me. 

But if you hear the voice of your Shepherd, you hear someting quie different than all that. That the truth doesn’t change. That there’s much more to life than just what meets the eye. That what’s here and now is part of something much bigger.

Hearing the voice of your Shepherd, you hear of His love and sacrifice for you on the cross. You hear of His victorious resurrection. You hear where that victory is for you today in Holy Baptism, and that the day you were baptized is your own Easter day. You hear that your sins are forgiven, your robes made white in the blood of the Lamb and His Absolution. You hear that there is no forsakenness or separation from God left for you - he took it all. You hear that the quiet waters and verdant pastures of the 23rd Psalm are not some mystical, made-up place, but here as your Good Shepherd feeds you with His own Body and Blood. You hear of the glorious future and rest that awaits you in Him, and of the Lamb in the midst of the throne in heaven, around which you will be.

And that voice, those words, are the truth - the truth that will keep and sustain you through this world and life, its attacks and troubles, and from all falsehood and deceit. For salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. The Lamb who is your Shepherd. And He gives to you what is His. And what He gives is given. 

And so Jesus speaks today to encourage us - to in-courage us; put courage into us. Which we need, for how easy to get dis-couraged, un-couraged. To look around and lose hope, grow weary, and despair. So Jesus gives what we don’t have. Jesus is what we are not. And as much as we cannot rely on ourselves, even more we can rely on Him. For our feelings are not the truth, He is. Our thoughts and fears are not the truth, He is. And He is your Way and your Life.

So there is cause for rejoicing on this Good Shepherd Sunday - not because life in the flock is easy, but because our Saviour is great, and our Shepherd is Good. We rejoice in His promises, which are more sure than anything in this world. And we rejoice in knowing this truth: that no one can snatch us from Jesus’ hands. The hands that were pierced for our sins, now the hands that hold us tight. 

And knowing that Shepherd, like Paul, we be confident no matter what comes our way. In Revelation, we see a glimpse of our future. And the 23rd Psalm is about us. For Jesus is the Christ. It is true. He is true. Listen to the empty tomb! You won’t hear it more clearly and plainly than that! That Christ is risen, just as He said. That Christ is risen, and death is defeated. That Christ is risen, and our Shepherd lives. 

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

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Easter 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Our Seeking and Restoring Saviour”
Text: John 21:15-19; Ezekiel 34:11-16

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

How gently and compassionately Jesus deals with Peter. The regret, the feeling of unworthiness, the shame - all are still strong in his mind and heart from his three-fold denial not so many nights ago. How could he have caved so easily? Why could he not be more courageous? Why were his words and conviction so firm but his actions so weak? Peter probably hated himself. Sure, Jesus had come to them that Easter night and forgave them. But still, he couldn’t forget. 

But how gently and compassionately Jesus deals with Peter. Jesus embodies the shepherding, searching God we heard about from Ezekiel, when God said: I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

That had been a very cloudy and dark day for Peter - and the others - when the satanic wolf had scattered them from their shepherd. They were among the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the weak that Ezekiel talked about. But Peter maybe moreso than the rest. And so Jesus gives him special attention. For the Good Shepherd who knows each of His sheep by name also cares for them individually and uniquely. He knows what each needs, and He provides.

So to Peter the thrice denyer, Jesus gives him the chance to be Peter the thrice confessor, though it wasn’t exactly the same. This was a safe place, among friends. Jesus doesn’t immediately send Peter out to fail again. Peter needed to take baby steps, to be with His Lord, be embraced by His love and forgiveness, and confess to Him first. Simon, son of John, do you love me? Yes he does.

But not only does Jesus give Peter the chance to confess his love for Jesus three times, Jesus also restores him to his office as apostle three times: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, Jesus says. Perhaps this three-fold restoration is needed because this too will not be easy. In fact, from now on, Peter will face much more opposition than he did that night in the courtyard of the High Priest. And that’s what Jesus tells him next. That when he is old, he is going to stretch out his hands and be carried where he does not want to go. Peter would follow Jesus, more than he then realized. His hands would be stretched out on a cross just as Jesus’. Not as punishment for what he had done, but as with Jesus’ crucifixion, so too Peter’s would glorify God. Because of the care and feeding of Jesus, Peter would go from denyer to confessor to martyr. From sinner to saint.

How good for us sinners gathered here this night to hear these words! We who are not so different than Peter. To hear that Jesus searches out His sheep and cares for them. That He makes saints out of sinners in the forgiveness of sins. And that though we be lost, strayed, injured, and weak, we have a Good Shepherd who will not leave us or abandon us.

At times, though, when the clouds are thick and the darkness deep, it might seem like it - that Jesus is not here when we need Him. It might seem like it - that the sin in us and the evil in the world are winning. It may seem like it - that we’ve finally crossed the line, that we’ve become too sinful, too rebellious, wandered one too many times, and so wonder from our Peter-pits of regret and shame: Jesus, son of Mary, do you still love me? 

And it is from the throne of His cross that Jesus says: Yes, child, you see that I love you. I love you and so I have taken all your sins and regrets and shame upon myself, here on the cross. I love you and so I am dying your death, here on the cross. I love you and so I am taking your hell, here on the cross. I love you, and so I will rise from the dead that you will too. That you, too, rise from the death of sin to live a new life. A new life I will provide for you and give to you. There can be no more sure sign that Jesus loves you than to see Him there, on the cross, trading His life for yours; dying that you might live.

Like with Peter, it won’t be easy for you. Opposition to God and His Word is growing. Satan is not going to stop tempting and luring us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. And even our own sinful flesh will work against us and try to make Peters out of us all. But the Lord who loved you on the cross loves you still, and will not stop. As He knew exactly what Peter needed, so He knows exactly what you need as well; and when you need it. And He will provide. As Ezekiel said, He will gather you, feed you, protect you, and give you rest. And if He promised, there is nothing more sure on the face of this earth than that. He will do it.

So now He calls us to follow Him, our Good Shepherd. And though we may not know where He is leading, He does. And though we may not know what may happen along the way, He will be with us through it all. The good and the bad, the joyous and the sad, the challenges and the triumphs, in sickness and in health, at the beginning and to the end. Or as we sang in the Psalm, and as Jesus showed Peter that day: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And when this life is ended: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Not because I love Jesus so much or follow so well, but because He loves, He seeks, He saves, me. Even today . . . 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 10, 2016

Easter 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Let’s Go to the Video”
Text: John 21:1-14; Acts 9:1-22; Revelation 5:1-14

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 as if everything these days is somehow, somewhere, on video. Whenever something happens, it’s either on someone’s cellphone, a surveillance video, a dashboard camera, or now body cameras. This can be put to good use - many crimes are being solved these days because of this technology. But it can also be bad - just ask the candidates running for president. Every misstep or misstatement is captured and played back over and over again by their opponent. To sear it into the public’s mind, that this is what this person is all about. So don’t vote for them. You can’t possibly vote for them. See?

But I don’t think this is a new thing. Oh, in one sense, it is. The advancement of technology has brought us to this point. But in another way, this is nothing new. It is a tool that satan has been using for a very long time. Because if you’re like me, he keeps replaying the vidoes of your sins in your mind. Over and over again. He doesn’t want you to forget all the mistakes you’ve made, all the regrets, all the shortcomings and failures. For me, it is those things that I’ve done, or failed to do, as a father, a husband, a son, a pastor. Those things which, if I could go back and do it again, I’d want to do differently. And wish I could. 

But I can’t, and even if I could, I know that I’d either fail in the same way again or in a new and spectacularly different way. Satan has all the evidence he needs about how I’ve failed as a Christian and in my callings, my vocations . . . and he loves to keep replaying it all for me, reminding me. Things that other people know; things that no one else knows. Little things, big things. See? he says. Remember? Let’s go to the video . . .

So I’m thinking if it’s like that for me, and it’s probably like that for you, then it probably was like that for the disciples as well. Jesus, risen from the dead, appeared to the eleven. We heard that last week. They saw Him, His hands and side, and He ate with them. It was no ghost; Jesus really was risen from the dead. They should have been happy! And they were . . . But the video . . . it kept playing in their minds. Peter’s video was of his denials - oh, how he wished he could go back and do that again. For Thomas, it was his doubting. What kind of disciple was he? Nathanael was the one who said: Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth (John 1:46)? Stupid! James and John were the ones who wanted the two seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left. Had they really had the nerve to ask for that? And though we’re not told who the other two disciples were who were with them that day we heard about in the Gospel today, I’m sure they had their own regrets and failures they were kicking themselves over as well . . . playing over and over . . . So, I am going fishing, Peter says. Maybe that would get his mind off these things. And we will go with you, the others said.

And that night they caught nothing. Failures as disciples, failures as fishermen.

But just as Jesus had come to them three years before, so He comes to them again. And He provides for them again. And this story of Him doing so that we heard today is so full of reminders - videos of the past! 

First, was the day Jesus had called them to be fishers of men. They’d been out fishing that night, too, and like this night had caught nothing (Luke 5). Then Jesus told them to let the nets down on the other side of the boat, and just like this morning, the fish came to them. It was like an instant replay.

Then when Peter got to the shore and Jesus, there is a charcoal fire going. They say that the sense of smell is the greatest memory trigger - well guess what Peter was warming himself around in the courtyard of the high priest not so many days before this (John 18:18), when all he could do was deny, deny, deny? Think smelling the charcoal was making that video was flash back in his mind?

And then Jesus feeds them - bread and fish. Just as He had fed the 5,000 (Matthew 14), and then the 4,000 (Matthew 15) . . . 

It’s almost as if nothing had changed, yet everything had changed. They hadn’t changed; they were still sinners. Those memories were alive and well. And in a sense, Jesus hadn’t changed - He was still doing the things He had done before. Yet He had changed, too. He had died and risen from the dead! But He would still be here for them. He still loved them, wanted them. He still had compassion for them and forgave them. And though they might not know what to do, He did. And they needed to learn: it was not their faithfulness, not their obedience, not their success, not their dedication that makes the difference - but Jesus’. He did it, for them. And He still would. Forgive them, raise them, and use them.

And so it was for the other apostle we heard about today as well - Saul. We heard the story of his conversion, how Jesus came to him while he was on his way to arrest and persecute more Christians. But as Jesus let him know - when you persecute them, you are really persecuting Me. For they are Mine, members of My body. So what you do to them you do to Me. So Saul is struck blind. He can see nothing and he can do nothing. They lead him into the city of Damascus where for three days he sits in darkness, praying. For three days he sits in darkness, with (I’m sure!) the videos in his mind replaying over and over all that he had done. All the persecution, all the evil, all the faces of those people he had arrested and hauled off to jail. So what do you think he was praying for? In a moment of time he had gone from Saul the strong leader to Saul the weak and helpless. From the Saul the zealot to Saul the fearful. From Saul the successful to Saul the one who needed mercy.

And mercy is exactly what Jesus had come to give him. Saul could do nothing, but Jesus had come to give him everything. And so He sends Ananias to preach to him, baptize him for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and feed him. Jesus gives him and the others a new video to play in their minds - not of their sins and failures and regrets, but of His triumph and forgiveness.

And that’s the video He has for you as well. We might not be able to stop satan from replaying those horrible videos in our minds, that show us how sinful and unworthy and unqualified we are to be Christians, but every week we come back to this place and hear and see something else. New images put into our minds. That like the disciples, we learn that is not our faithfulness, not our obedience, not our success, not our dedication that makes the difference - but Jesus’.

And that’s the image we were given today in the reading from Revelation. Who is worthy, the cry goes out, to open the scroll and break its seals? And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able - or in other words, no one, anyplace, in all creation, is worthy. Not one. And satan has the videos to prove it. . . . But then, look! Behold! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered . . . And what is seen? A Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. But it’s not slain, dead, and lying on the ground or on an altar. It is standing. Living. Bloody? Yes. Pierced? Yes. But living. And then the words - the same words we sang earlier in the liturgy this morning, our song joining the song of heaven - Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

That’s the video satan doesn’t want you to see or hear and so will try to keep you away from this place and keep it out of your mind. And so he’ll keep replaying your videos and reminding you that you’re not worthy, you’re not worthy. And He’s right. But here is the One who is worthy. Worthy for you and here for you. To mercy you, absolve you, wash you, cleanse you, and raise you with Himself. To give you who are unholy His holiness. To give you who are unworthy His worthiness. To give you who are dead His life. To give us who are spiritual orphans His Sonship. That no matter what your past, no matter what your video shows, in Him, you have a glorious future.

And so like that day with the disciples, He invites us and all who are unworthy sinners to come to His Supper and be fed by Him. To receive all this, not by eating bread and fish, but His Body and Blood. Or as Saul would later write: as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). Or in other words, you replay the video of His death and resurrection! His death and resurrection for you, in your place. The video of His glorious victory for you. That is the video He wants you to see, over and over again. The Lamb who was slain, but who has now begun His reign as your merciful, compassionate, baptizing, absolving, feeding Lord.

So while satan may keep replaying the video of your sins over and over in your mind, know this: that video’s been erased in heaven. Those sins and videos no longer exist in Christ. They’ve been erased with His blood and buried in His tomb. So Peter’s denials? Forgiven. Thomas’ doubting? Gone. Saul’s persecution? What persecution? And your sins? Separated from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

So Easter means you have a glorious future, now and forever. You’ve been set free from the past. So now all those videos you have . . . of other’s sins against you, of their failures, of how they’ve let you down, of revenge plotted, giving them a taste of their own medicine . . . you gonna let them drag you back to a past you’ve been set free from? Drag you back to bitterness and sin, to death and the grave? Or is it time to erase those videos too? To forgive and set them free, too? To hit delete and rejoice in the life you now have in Christ, and which is for them as well? You know the answer. To forgive, to be forgiven, to live without fear, that’s the joy of Easter. The joy of our risen Saviour, for you, and for all. The joy that enables us to proclaim that Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Easter 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Alleluia! (Part Two)”
Text: John 20:19-31; Acts 5:12-32; Revelation 1:4-18

[This sermon is a sequel to last week. It follows the same thought sequence and uses many of the same words to describe the situation of the disciples to parallel it to that of the women at the tomb, and how the Word of God gives us hope and life in the midst of fear and death.]

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.

Alleluia. That’s what the disciples wanted to say. But they didn’t know how. They didn’t have it in them. All that filled their hearts was sorrow and grief . . . and fear. All that filled their minds were the horrible images of that day - an abused friend, a crucified and dead Saviour . . . and the thoughts of the Jews out there right now, looking for them next. So there was no joy for them. No alleluias they could utter. Only silence as they sat behind locked doors. The sealing of the doors, though, nothing compared to the sealing of hopelessness and despair into their hearts and minds.

And minute after minute, hour after hour, it just got worse. Nathanael, you made sure the windows were locked, right? The women had come back with a report that Jesus was risen - but they chalked that up to emotion and wishful thinking. Andrew, double check the door again. They’d have to go out sometime. They were getting hungry. How could it end this way? The fear Peter had felt before when he denied was multiplied now. They all felt it. Talk about a nightmare turning into real life . . .

Perhaps you understand the disciples. Perhaps you’ve been there. Like we considered last week, wanting to say alleluia, wanting to praise the Lord, but not being able, not knowing how. Fear and trembling locking the door of your heart and filling your mind with horrible thoughts of what could be; worst-case scenarios. And as far as you can tell, no end in sight. Wishing things could be different. Wondering why things are happening and where the heck is God when you need Him - really, really, need Him. That’s a tough place to be.

But just as Jesus was exactly where He needed to be for the women, so He is exactly where He needs to be for His disciples. And for us. Just as we heard last week that He needed to be on the cross and He needed NOT to be in the tomb, so He needed to be next in that room with His disciples. And so He is. He appears among them, seemingly from out of nowhere. The doors still locked, the windows still locked, but they are no longer alone. There is Jesus . . . and they are frightened, uncertain, questioning, unsure of what is going to happen next.

Well, what happened next was the Word of God. Just seeing Jesus didn’t bring the disciples the relief they needed. When they had seen Him walking on the water, they thought it was a ghost - was this? How else could He have come through locked doors? And why was He there? Was He angry at them for denying and running away? Was He going to chastise them? Haunt them? . . . No, none of that. “Peace be with you” He says. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Peace, not anger. A real body, not a ghost. The same body, with the holes and everything, but it was different too. The scars not His shame but His glory. And then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. It was Him! The women were right!

Alleluia! They could say it! Finally. Their sorrow shattered and their fear banished by His preaching of peace. The same voice that had filled them with such hope and life before was now doing it again. The same voice that had raised the dead was now doing it again. Raising them. He was not dead - no, death was dead! And their hearts, once so full of hope and then crushed, were now filled to overflowing again! Jesus did it! Jesus won! Alleluia!

And that same peace and life is yours as well. Jesus intends it not only for the disciples locked up in that room that night, but for all whose hearts and minds are locked in fear and worry, locked from the truth, locked up by sin and death. For He sends His disciples with this same word of peace. He gives them His Holy Spirit and He commissions them. They are no longer disciples (followers), they are now apostles (sent ones). And so after their happy reunion, He says it again. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me - into the world, and to you - even so I am sending you” - into the world, and to all people. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

And so that same peace and life, that same forgiveness and life, won by Jesus in His death and resurrection, that had unlocked the hearts and minds of the disciples and set them free, is today here for you. For you, too, have heard the proclamation of this Word. The life given in baptism is given to you. The forgiveness given in the Absolution is given to you. The Holy Spirit is breathed into you through the Word. That you, too, say Alleluia! That you, too, know and believe that the victory of Christ is your victory. Even in a world still filled with sin and death.

For notice: nothing really changed for the disciples in the world. The Jews were still out there. The Romans were still out there. The danger and hatred was still out there. And yet in Christ, everything had changed for the disciples. That’s what we heard in the reading from Acts, nothing could stop them. The Jews threatened them, threw them in prison - it didn’t matter. In Jesus, sin was forgiven. In Jesus, death was defeated. In Jesus, even crucifixon had been overcome. What could men, or even the demons, do to them now? Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands . . . But now at God’s right hand He stands and brings us life from heaven (LSB #458 v.1). Life, forgiveness, and confidence.

So like for the disciples, maybe nothing has really changed for you in the world. You have troubles and struggles, fears and uncertainties, too. At work, at home, at school. With your health or the health of someone you love. About something that happened in the past or what is looming in the future. And these are not little things! They’re real, and sometimes choke the alleluia right out of you, or drown it in a tsunami of worry, or make you lock things up tight ‘cause you don’t want to get hurt again, get your hopes dashed again . . . The temptation to give into despair and doubt, hopeless and fear, can be quite heavy.

But just as neither a sealed tomb nor locked doors could stop Jesus, so too does He now come to you, in His Word of life. To give you hope and peace. 

For consider the apostle John. He was in that locked room that night with the others, and he was also later in the midst of more struggles and trials, being imprisoned in exile on the island called Patmos. He knew the fear of that night. He had been thrown in prison. He had suffered at the hands of the Jews for preaching the word, and he had endured the news of all His fellow apostles dying horrible deaths. He was the only one left. Life had been and was rough for John, as maybe it is for you.

And yet it is John who hears and writes and preaches so wondrously of the victory that is ours . . . even when it doesn’t feel or seem like it. And so today we heard Jesus say through him, to you: I am the Alpha and the Omega; the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Nothing is beyond His reach; no time beyond His presence; nothing beyond his power. He is the one who has the keys of Death and Hades - the keys to unlock and set you free from whatever is holding you down and holding you in. His face [is] like the sun shining in full strength, to cut through the darkness of this world and life. Fear not, He says, for I am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore. Alive, for you. Alive to give you His victory. Alive to give you alleluia!

And He does. As He did to Thomas as well. Thomas the late-comer. Thomas the doubter. Thomas whose heart was locked up as tight as that room. Jesus came to Him, too. Forgave Him, too. And held out His Body to him. That He not disbelieve, but believe.

And that’s what Jesus does for you here as well. His Word is here, His Absolution is given, and now He will hold out His Body to you too - but instead of inviting you to touch, He will invite you to eat and drink. Which is better. For with the eating and drinking of the Lord’s true, once-crucified-but-now-risen Body and Blood comes the promise Jesus has attached to such eating and drinking - of forgiveness, of life, and of freedom - freedom from the prison of doubts and fears and worries and troubles that keeps trying to lock you up and hold you down. That you be among those who are blessed; who have not seen and yet have believed

For you have heard - your Lord, His Word, and His promise. That Word that gave a freeing alleluia! to the women, to the disciples, and now to you. Alleluia! even as the troubles of life go on. For you have the one greater than all troubles - or even better to say, He has you. No matter where you are or what you are going through. He’s been there, for you. And He is here, for you.

And now having breathed on you and given you His Spirit and life, He has sent you as well, out into the world, to others - to those around you, those He has given you to serve in all the callings of your life. To live your alleluia! To free them with forgiveness. To fill their ears with good news, their hearts with hope, and their minds with the Word of truth. That, as we prayed earlier, that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God (Collect of the Day). That in this battle, in this world and life, He has the last word, and that word is life.

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

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