Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sermon for the 125th Anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Campbell Hill, Illinois

The 125th Anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church September 20, 2015 St. Matthew 16:13–19

The holy, Christian church. It was there long before. It was there in Solomon’s day. He rejoiced that his Father David was a part of it and he called upon the Lord to continue it. And that was long before there was ever a St. Peter Lutheran congregation in Campbell Hill. And it will be there until Jesus comes again, even if this particular congregation is gone. It will be forever, for St. John saw it in his vision of things to come: the holy church, prepared as a bride for her Bridegroom, Jesus. And when Solomon prayed, the Lord was there, right there, among His people, in that Temple. And in the resurrection and the age to come, St. John sees in his vision that the dwelling of God is with men. God Himself, right there among His people. That’s how He did it in Solomon’s day. That’s how it will be in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s how God rolls. He dwells in the midst of His people. That’s why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. So there it is long ago, the holy church. In the age to come, the holy church. And for this little slice of the past 125 years, the Lord, dwelling among His people in THIS place, Campbell Hill, Illinois, St. Peter Lutheran congregation. That is a gift. Today we give thanks for the these 125 years but not ONLY for those 125 years. We give thanks for the Lord who is here among us as He has always been for His people, long before this congregation was gathered and, we pray, still until He comes again on the Last Day.

It was Peter who, by the Father’s leading, confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So, he’s a good one to name a congregation after. For 125 years, St. Peter’s confession has been, well, St. Peter’s confession. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That is the confession upon which Christ builds His church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Think of that! The Jesus whom St. Peter confessed and who St. Peter’s has confessed for these 125 years is the same Christ longed for by the Old Testament people of God. He is the same Son of God who was present in the flames of glory at Solomon’s Temple. He is the same Jesus who took on flesh in time and was born of the virgin. The same Jesus who was handed over, mocked, beaten, spit upon. The same Jesus who was scourged and crowned with thorns. The same Jesus who was crucified on Calvary and laid dead in the freshly cut tomb. The same Jesus who rose the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father. The same Jesus who did all that for sinners. For you. For the people of St. Peter who have gone before. For you here now and for those yet to come. That’s the Jesus Peter confessed and it’s that Jesus who is among His people in His church. That’s the same Jesus who established this church here, 125 years ago, built on that confession. And it’s a congregation against which the gates of hell can’t prevail. The Kaiser going to war couldn’t destroy it. Neither could a Great Depression. Or Nazis. Or the threat of nuclear bombs. Or terrorists. Or bad farming years or synodical crises or anything else. Because this is Jesus Christ’s little flock and He Himself is here among you.

Now the temptation is to look back and make this gift about yourselves. This is YOUR church. It may have been your PARENTS’ church. Even your GRANDPARENTS’ or GREAT-GRANDPARENTS’ church. There is the lure to look back and say, “Yes, we built this. We have taken care of it. We have preserved it. Pastors have come and gone, people have joined or left but we, here, the members today, this is our church.” You would be wrong to say that. Christ built this church. It is His church. YOU are His church. And He built it through His Word which was delivered by faithful preachers over a century and a quarter and by which He called and gathered His saints here. And He cared for this church through its members and their offerings and gifts so that the pastors were cared for and the building and grounds maintained. All gift. But a gift from Christ, not the reason for the gift. There is also the temptation, as there is in everyday life, to look back on the “golden age” and compare it to today. To say that the congregation is shrinking or dying or wasn’t what it used to be. That would be wrong too, because that still makes it about you. And about people. Instead of about Jesus. Here we repent of making the church about us at all and learn to believe that where His gifts are, Christ’s church is, Christ is and whether there are two or three hundred or just two or three, there He is dwelling with them in His Word and gifts and smashing in Hell’s gates and overthrowing the devil’s kingdom. Repent of making the church YOUR church; rejoice that because it is CHRIST’S church, it cannot be overthrown.

And so it goes. Jesus dwells here. Right here in little ol’ Campbell Hill, Illinois. For 125 years, He has been coming to this font to wash away sins by water and His Word. For 125 years He has been telling sinners, “I forgive you all your sins.” For 125 years, He has been coming to this altar in His body and blood to forgive sinners and promise them that He will raise them up on the Last Day. For 125 years, the Lord has been joining men and women in holy marriage, comforting the loved ones of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, teaching the Faith of Christ, catechizing the young and old, comforting sinners who are in distress and who mourn and who struggle and who need the Lord’s Word to instruct and guide them. And, for the next however many years–the Lord grant that it’s 125 and more!–He will continue to wash away sins, absolve sinners, and feed His church with His flesh and blood. And so we ask with King Solomon: Can God indeed dwell on earth? Yes He can and He does! In the womb of the Virgin, in the flesh of His human nature. And until He comes again, He dwells in His church, where the water, Word and Body and Blood are. And of all the many places around the world that He is, it is also right here. St. Peter Lutheran Church, Campbell Hill, Illinois, where not even the gates of hell prevail against it. Because this church is Jesus Christ’s. HIS house. HIS gifts. And you, HIS people. For 125 years and counting. Happy Anniversary in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

St. John 13:1-15, 34-35

Why do you want to go to the Sacrament of the Altar? Why do you want to receive Communion? In the "Christian Questions and Answers" in the Catechism, there is the simple and helpful answer that we should all make our own: "That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor." On the night He was betrayed, Jesus gave His church the gift of the Lord's Supper. His own body and blood is given to us to eat and drink so that we know our sins are forgiven. But that's also connected with His "new commandment" which is to love another as He has loved us. How is that? It's demonstrated by the foot washing. He is forgiving His disciples when they step in it. When they step into a steaming pile of sin. And that is how you are to love one another. By forgiving others when they wrong you. You and I, we step in big piles of sin every day. We do it in front of God and we do it in front of each other. That is to say, we sin against God and we sin against others.

Jesus died for your sins. He gave Himself into death on the cross so that your sins would be wiped out by His blood. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That's why we sing that before we receive His body and blood. Christ's sacrifice, however, would do us no good if we don't receive it somehow. That's preaching and baptism and the Supper. In the Old Testament, the Passover Lamb was killed and eaten. Christ, the True Passover Lamb is killed and eaten. He gives His life on the Hill of the Skull. He gives His body and blood at His altar. We come to Him full of sins and iniquities and transgressions. He gives us His body and blood to forgive them and wipe them out. Are your sins forgiven? Does God love you? The answer is a resounding "Yes," because He has given you His body and blood to eat and to drink.

Yet we also learn from this Sacrament how to love one another. First we learn to love others by wanting them to hear and learn and believe the Truth. This is why we teach the Bible and Catechism to people before they receive the Sacrament. We love them, so it matters to us what they believe. We want them as we want to, believe that this is the true body and blood of Jesus given for the forgiveness of sins. It is NOT a symbol or something else. It is His very body and blood along with the bread and wine. And it's given to us for a particular reason: to forgive our sins. And we want others to share in this Supper knowing and rejoicing in that. If we were to just commune with anyone and say, "Well, I don't know or really care what they believe," that's not loving. That's hateful and harmful! So we teach and learn together so that all who come to this table know that this Supper is about Jesus's forgiveness for us.

But there is this other part of loving our neighbor. As we receive Christ's forgiveness, so we pass on that forgiveness to those around us. Every day we sin against others and they sin against us. The usual mode of dealing with that is retaliation, or silent treatment, or holding a grudge, or acting like the person is dead to us. In the Supper, we receive the forgiveness of sins, learning that God doesn't hold our sins against us. Therefore when we deal with our husbands and wives and parents and children and coworkers and family and friends and all the other people in our lives, we learn to love and forgive them too. To let their sins go. To lay down our life and our pride and forgive them. And yes, that's hard. That's why we don't come up with our own forgiveness. We give them Jesus' forgiveness that He has first given us.

And that's the Christian life: to receive forgiveness by receiving Christ's body and blood. And to pass on that forgiveness to others. And when we blow it, to come back and receive His body and blood and pass on that forgiveness again. Over and over. And thus we see, that our own forgiveness is a gift from Jesus. And forgiving others is also His gift. That is to love on another as He has loved us. For in His loving us, we love others in Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, June 17, 2011

May 29, 2011 - The Sixth Sunday after Easter - St. John 16:23-30

St. James tells us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Good example of people who are just hearers and not doers? Those Old Testament folks. The Lord saved them from Egypt and was bringing them to the Promised Land. He promised to be their God and told them how to live and behave. They HEARD His Word. But did they do it? Nope. They kept turning to false gods. They grumbled and complained and spoke about the Lord as if He didn't care for them at all. They HEARD the Word but instead of clinging the Lord's promises and trusting in Him, they let it go in one ear and out the other. They kept hearing but not doing and finally the Lord sent snakes to punish them. But there was a way out, a way to be saved from the snakes, a way to be rescued from this punishment of death. Look to the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses.

Be doers of the Word and not just hearers. You know who else is hearers and not doers? You. Me. We come in to church to hear and the Word goes in our ears: Love God. Love your neighbor. We don't. The Lord isn't first in our lives, all kinds of other things are. If you don't believe me, just think about the last time you were grumbling and complaining that things weren't going your way. Is that trust in the Lord? That sort of worry and complaining is just plain unbelief! Or how about your neighbor? Do you love others more than yourself? No. We put ourselves ahead of our kids. We don't honor our parents. We try to one up the people around us and take whatever angle works things out best for us and not for others. James' words cut us to the heart because we don't practice pure religion at all! We all too easily let ourselves become filthied up by the world in what we watch, and what we look at on the internet and the company we keep. Oh, we might do good or something for someone else if there's something in it for us. But the fact is that we, just like the Israelites, are good at letting God's Word go in one ear and out the other. So what to do if we don't want to be consumed by our sins like being bitten by snakes? Look to the one lifted up to save us!

Jesus tells His disciples that because He is going to the Father, they can ask the Father anything in His name and the Father will grant it. All right! Time for that new sports car! A winning scratch off ticket! For that person we don't like to get transferred somewhere else. Um, no. Did we not just hear what James said? James reminds us what it is we need to ask of the Father in Jesus' name. We need to pray to be doers of the Word and not just hearers! Think about what we prayed earlier in the Collect: that God would make us "think the things that are right and accomplish them." Our problem is that, on our own, we don't even know what is right and good to do. That's where the Lord's Word comes in. It's the Word that directs us to the One who is lifted up to take away our sins. It is the Lord's Word that saves us by teaching us the right way to think and believe in the Lord and His promises.

That's why Jesus goes to the cross. Because we are hearers but not doers. Jesus HEARS the Father's command to save sinners and He DOES it. He humbles Himself and is born of the virgin and spends His life hearing and doing the Word. He cares for the widow by making her His Bride and He cares for the orpan by giving us a heavenly Father. And Jesus remains unspotted by this world and yet when the time comes, He is filthy and covered with the sins of the world. All your idolatry, adultery, murder, lust, coveting, lying, deceiving, Word despising, hearing-but-not-doing is answered for by your Savior on the cross of Calvary. And He does it so that we have a Father who hears and answers prayers in the Name of His Son. You see, our sins would have kept us from daring to ask anything of our heavenly Father. So we go through the One who has taken our sins and taken them away. When we pray, our Father hears us because in the Name of Jesus, there are no sins to see. THAT is what makes us able to go straight to our heavenly Father and ask away: His Son Jesus who has opened the way to the Father's heart and throne.

So the answer to our being hearers and not doers is the same as the Israelites being bitten by snakes: look up to the One lifted up to save us. The Israelites needed to look to a snake to be saved from the snakes. So we look to a sinner to be saved from our sins: Jesus, not Himself a sinner bu, the bearer of our sins, nailed to the cross for us. The answer is not going to be found in our trying harder, but in having more Jesus. More of your Baptism every day. More absolution for your sins. More hearing the Word by which the Spirit promises to be at work in you. More Body and Blood to keep you in the faith. The fact of the matter is, as long as we've got Old Adam hanging around, it is a battle and struggle to be doers and not just hearers of God's Word. So the answer to our conflict is found in Christ, who has won this battle for us. So cry out to the Father every day! Cry out that you want Him to make you a DOER and not just a hearer. When the sting of God's Law reminds you that you are hearing God's Word and not doing, then confess it! Ask the Father in Jesus' Name to forgive you and work by the Spirit in you to be one who glorifies Him and loves your neighbor in all that you do. And because our Lord Jesus has gone to the cross and through death to life again, have no doubt that your heavenly Father will hear and answer, just as Jesus says He will. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22, 2011 - The Fifth Sunday of Easter - St. John 16:5-15

In case you hadn't heard, the Rapture and Judgment Day were supposed to happen yesterday. I actually went to that false preacher's website to see what he had to say about it, especially since Jesus told us pretty plainly that no one knows the day or the hour. One thing he said was that over 20 years ago the Spirit was taken away from the church. The fact that we are here today I'd say pretty well proves that the Spirit is right here in Christ's church and not with that false prophet. But that's the problem. Today "the Spirit" is tossed around as the answer for everything. If someone feels like doing something, they do it, right or wrong, and says, "well I was moved by 'the Spirit.'" If some lifestyle is judged by God's Word to be wrong, the teaching is changed because "the Spirit" is at work living in the church to bring us to new understandings. When it comes down to it, things that are clearly not taught in the Scriptures are all over the place attributed to "the Spirit" even when such a teaching is directly contrary to the Bible! We're guilty of this too. For how often do we get a notion or opinion in our heads and figure that even if it doesn't square with what the Bible teaches, God or "the Spirit" must be leading us to do it? And if it's not the Holy Spirit, it's a false, deceiving spirit and we need to know the difference. So how do we sort it out?

Jesus gives us the answer when He tells us what the Spirit's job is. Jesus teaches us that the Spirit is going to convict the world with respect to three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. And then Jesus says the Spirit will take what is His and give it to the disciples thus leading them into all truth. Not part of the truth or some of the truth or someone's version of the truth. All Truth. The Spirit works in the church and He works only where Christ's Word is. That means where Christ's preachers are preaching and teaching what is in the Bible, not what someone SAYS is in the Bible or what they think the Bible means. So what about the Spirit's convicting the world? First of sin because they don't believe in Jesus. Sin, boiled down to its most basic, is denying Jesus and the forgiveness He gives. The world is sinful because it goes against God and doesn’t want to be forgiven. Righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father. You don't get righteous by somehow getting a hold of Jesus. Rather, His righteousness is bestowed upon us and given to us as a gift by the preaching and Sacraments in His church. Of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. Here we learn that Christ, by His death on the cross has defeated sin and death and the devil, the ruler of this world. That's why He became man: to suffer and die and rise for sinners. So everything the Spirit is about is Jesus. If it's not about Jesus and His forgiveness, it's NOT THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Jesus says the Spirit doesn't speak for Himself. Instead, He takes what is Christ's and gives it to you. And He does that by the Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is apart from the Bible, preaching and teaching, and Baptism, Absolution and the Supper is NOT the Holy Spirit. If we're not talking about those things, then we're not talking about the Holy Spirit and we're not talking about Jesus. And these things are not neutral. Either what is preached and taught and heard is from Christ or it is from the devil. It can't be both. If what goes into our ears isn't from the Holy Spirit, it won't save us but tear us away from Christ to false belief and despair. This is why the Spirit takes what is Christ's and delivers it to us. That Jesus became man and died for your sins and rose again. That you are washed and given Christ's righteousness in Baptism. That Christ's own words are that your sins are forgiven. That Jesus' Body and Blood are the feast of salvation. That's what happened with the End of the World guy. He tried to teach and preach apart from the Word. Apart from the clear Scriptures. Jesus Himself says, “No one knows the day or hour. Not the angels in heaven, not even the Son.” So we know it will come but not when. So to say when simply goes against the Bible and the only way to do that is to say “the Spirit” led him. No. I'll repeat it again: It CANNOT be the Holy Spirit if the simple and clear words of Jesus are contradicted.

And this is why, dear Christians, that it's more important than ever to learn the words of Jesus. So that you will know all He has said and done for your salvation AND be able to discern the false from the true. There's a reason we're ALL—parents and kids and everyone—going to meet this summer in Sunday School to hear about the life of Christ. To read and hear Jesus' own words. And by those very words of Jesus, He promises His Spirit will forgive our sins and strengthen us in the faith. We all have something to repent of here: thinking we can know Christ apart from His Spirit, neglecting learning God's Word, parents not making sure their children are taught the Word and learning it themselves. So let's take this summer to gather as Christ's people and learn his words and deeds so well that no false spirit can ever deceive us. Make time, brothers and sisters in Christ, to come and receive every one of those good gifts that is given by your Father in heaven.

Brothers and sisters in Christ: the world around us is filled with “spirits” and the devil wants nothing more to confuse us with all the seeming contradictions and interpretations. But listen to Jesus, our Good Shepherd. His voice, His Word is clear and simple: He goes to the Father by His death, resurrection and Ascension and sends the Spirit who leads us into all Truth. Since Jesus is the Truth, the Spirit leads us to Christ. Gives us what is Christ's: his forgiveness and salvation. And having Jesus, you have everything there is to have. Everything God has for you. The Spirit has one job: that through the Word and Sacraments you would believe in Jesus, have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That is the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent who brings us to Jesus and gives us life everlasting. That is what it means to have all truth: to have Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 8, 2011 - The Third Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday - St. John 10:11-16

If you work a job that requires running a cash register the boss will usually tell you, and it's the same advice the police will give: If you're being held up, don't resist or fight back. Give them the money and don't do anything to provoke them and get hurt. Sometimes they do fight back. More than one store clerk has lost their life when they tried to save the bit of cash in the drawer. Why would you do that? Just so, why would you bother getting torn to shreds by a wolf or lion who came after the sheep? They're just sheep! Run! But when they're the Lord's sheep, it's different. Unlike every minimum-wage earning convenience store clerk or shepherd, the Lord doesn't let His sheep get eaten. He doesn't run when the wolf comes. No, this shepherd, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. Better this Good Shepherd get taken down by the wolf than He let the sheep be attacked! And that's what you need to know about your Good Shepherd: He lays down His life for you.

But don't be fooled! He doesn't lay down His life for us because we're worth it! Ezekiel and Peter nail it: The sheep love to wander off. God takes care of us and provides for us and we wander off. Go away to do our own thing. To live how we want. Do what we want. Worship the gods we want. Go after the things we want. Put ourselves first. All that is sheep wandering away. The Lord has given us the sheep pen of His Law, to guide us and corral us and we just find a way over it or around it or out of it. Never mind God. Never mind our neighbor. Off we go, wandering away, happily doing our own thing even when we wind up in the tangled branches that are the consequences for our sins. Or even when we are suddenly all alone, away from the Lord and the wolf, that devil, is right there ready to pounce! If sheep are really that stupid, they deserve to get eaten! They deserve to starve to death while they're all tangled up. We sinners deserve what we get! There is no reason the Lord should come after us. But He does. Because He's the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows that they go astray. He knows what you think and say and do that is your wandering from God. The Good Shepherd also knows His Father. That's why He lays down His life for the sheep. Don't think He did it because we deserved it or were worth it. He did it because that's what His Father wanted Him to do. It's as if He said, “Son, the wolf will come after our sheep. And the only way we can keep that wolf from tearing up the sheep is if you lay down your life for them. That will save them.” So the Good Shepherd does. He baits the wolf with Himself. He lays down His life by being lifted up on the cross. And that protects the sheep. The death of the Good Shepherd on Calvary is what rescues you form the wolf, the devil, whose one desire is to devour you! You see, the Lord doesn't just come looking for you, He lays down His life to protect you and rescue you. Yeah, the Good Shepherd knows you are a wandering sheep. He also knows His Father wants you back. And so He does what only the Good Shepherd does: He lays down His life for you and takes it up again!

And so He knows His sheep and is known by His own. There is one flock and one shepherd. That one flock is the holy Christian church and that one Shepherd is Jesus. It's HIS flock. The church doesn't belong to the pastor. It doesn't belong to you or the Voters or the Council or any Christian. The church, the flock is the Lord's. So what goes on here is what the Good Shepherd gives and does. And so just how do we know our Good Shepherd? Well He told us: He laid down His life for us. Any preaching or teaching which isn't about that, about the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep, isn't the Good Shepherd caring for us. Any church where the sheep are not led to the still waters of their Baptism and the green pastures of Christ's Word is no church where the Lord is the shepherd. And where the overflowing cup of Christ's blood is not rejoiced in and given out, there the Good Shepherd is absent is well. But where those gifts are given, the gifts that deliver to us the life that Good Shepherd has for us, there we can be certain and confident that Jesus our Good Shepherd is caring for us and bringing us back whenever we wander away.

No, the cash in the drawer is not worth dying over. But neither are the sheep that love to wander. Christ lays down His life for us not because we are worth it but because He knows His Father. But now that Christ has died for you, laid down His life for you, know that you are precious in His sight. You are His little lambs. When you wander, He finds you and forgives you. In the pastures of His church He feeds and cares for you. And When the wolf comes to get you, He's got to get past your Good Shepherd! Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He has laid down His life for you. And He is the Good Shepherd because He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

May 1, 2011 - The Second Sunday of Easter - St. John 20:19-31

Dear Babies in Jesus. Yes, I said babies. We heard it from St. Peter in the Introit: “Like newborn babies, crave the pure spiritual milk of the Word!” Why are we babies? Well, babies are helpless. Babies can't do things for themselves. The Readings we have this Second Sunday of Easter teach us that we are babies who need the Lord to do for us because we can't do for ourselves. Now pay close attention. Because the Christian faith that is for helpless people isn't usually what is preached and taught most places. We are surrounded in this world by other those who suppose that in order to be a Christian, you have to do something. But how can we? We're helpless. It is the Lord and His Word that rescues us and gives us that pure milk by which we are fed and nourished. Just consider the Word of God that we've heard today.

Apart from the Word of God, we are nothing but dry bones like Ezekiel saw. Before we were baptized and given the birth from above by water and the Spirit, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Can that big pile of bones live? Can they put themselves together? Can they come to life on their own? Of course not. The Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, that is, to preach and the Spirit will give them life. By the WORD, which is outside of them, those bones are given life. Just so you don't become a Christian by somehow bringing yourself back to life. The Spirit of God is given to you by water and the Word and THAT is what makes you live again. See? We're too helpless on our own. It's only when the Word is spoken that the Spirit awakens us from being dead. We could never do that on our own.

Our problem is that we were dead. Unable to come back to life. Unable to live. Unable to do anything. That is why Jesus came. To do what we could not: pay for our sins by His death. To do more that we couldn't do: conquer death and rise to life again. Jesus' death and resurrection accomplish what we could never accomplish. We are taken down by death. He takes death down. We were in slavery to our sins. Jesus sets us free. We were spiritually dead, unable to fear, love and trust in God. Jesus makes us alive by His Word. St. John says we have overcome the world in faith. That's because we could never overcome the world ourselves, so we trust in Jesus that He has overcome it by His suffering, death and resurrection.

Then we come to Easter evening and a week later. The disciples are locked inside, unable to do anything. Paralyzed by fear it seems. But Jesus comes and does what they can't do for themselves, He gives them life. By speaking His Word, He breathes the Spirit upon them and gives to them the power to absolve and retain sins. Why does He give them this task? Because sinners can't forgive their own sins. Sinners can't get rid of their own sins. Sinners can't unlock the shackles of their sins; they can't free themselves; they can't remove sins and take away death. But the Word of God can. The pronouncement of holy absolution can. For Holy Absolution is the testimony that because Jesus is crucified and risen from the dead, our sins are taken away. We can't get that ourselves. It must be given to us as it is in the church. You can't earn it or work it out. It is a gift that must be given to you. And so the Lord sends His apostles to give that gift, to forgive sins and deliver to the world the forgiveness He won for them and which we could never get for ourselves.

When Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” He's talking about us. We haven't got to put our fingers in the nail holes of Jesus' hands like Thomas did and yet we believe in Jesus and confess that He has died and risen from the dead. This we know, not because we can figure it out on our own but because the Word of God tells us this and the Spirit works through that Word to bring us to faith. Think of the ways in which the Lord delivers the forgiveness of sins to us: by the washing of Holy Baptism, by the Absolution and preaching and teaching of God's Word. And by the Holy Supper. These are all things that are OUTSIDE of us. EXTERNAL to us. Think about it: A baby can't make its own food either in its body or prepare something to eat himself. He must be fed. So likewise, babies in Jesus, you need to be fed and taken care of. This Jesus does by His Word and Sacraments. Remember we are surrounded in the world by those who say that you have to do something to become a Christian and that there is a part for you to play in remaining a Christian. Jesus teaches us exactly the opposite! We cannot become or remain Christians at all any more than dry bones can come back to life. We need Jesus to accomplish these things for us by His Word. Only His Word can bring us to life and keep us alive by the forgiveness that it delivers to us.

And that is all for your comfort. A baby doesn't have to worry about how it will be taken care of. Just so, we needn't worry that we've got to do our own religion. Christ has been pierced for you on Calvary. He has risen from the dead for you. He washed you. He absolves you. He preaches to you and He feeds you. These holy gifts are the pure spiritual milk we are to desire just as a newborn wants to eat! And just as the newborn is fed by his mother, so we are fed by our Mother, the church, who gives to us the pure milk of the Word and gives to us life that the Risen Jesus bestows, for we could never get it for ourselves. But Jesus gives it to us for free as His gift! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 27, 2011 - Wednesday after Easter - St. Luke 24:36-49

The fact of the matter is, the disciples just weren't sure what had happened. They didn't believe it. They didn't get it. When Jesus appeared to them, they thought they were looking at a ghost. So what better way to prove that He is still a man even though He was dead and is now alive, than having something to eat. The disciples are amazed, confused, bewildered, frightened and there's Jesus: “You got anything to eat?” Then they realized that this was the same Jesus in the flesh, with flesh and bone, who was alive even though he had been dead. Then He opens their hearts so that they would understand as He explained to them how everything that went down was according to the Scriptures. Then it all came together and they understood that Jesus' death and resurrection were all foretold in the Old Testament. They Jesus sent them into the world as His witnesses to preach and teach that He suffered and died and rose for sinners and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins are given in His name. In other words, salvation comes from the One who died and who was alive on the third day—Jesus!

Now we need to understand something. There are teachings in the Bible that are important, but if you didn't know them, you can still be saved. For example, in the book of Genesis, we learn that Nimrod was a mighty hunter. Now, you can be saved without knowing anything about Nimrod. But there are teachings which are central to the faith and without knowing them, we cannot have eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of these. If someone denies that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, they are no Christian. Christ was and is truly alive on Easter and ever since. In fact, the resurrection stands at the heart of the Christian faith. If Jesus didn't really rise from the dead, we're all just fools in a silly religion. But Jesus DID rise from the dead and that means that sin and death have been taken care of for you. It means death cannot hold you down. You will rise too. Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross but it is by His resurrection that He demonstrates that death and the power of sin are truly overthrown. Without the resurrection, we have nothing. With the resurrection, we have salvation and everlasting life.

Now it's all well that the disciples can see Jesus enjoying his broiled fish and can see his nail holes to believe that He is really and truly alive. But what about us? We haven't seen Him like they did? That's why Jesus tells them, “You're my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” The apostles don't just tell others what they've seen and heard, they tell future generations by writing it down. By reading it in the Scriptures, it's as if we're hearing it from them ourselves. Think about it. How many of you knew your great-great-great-grandmothers? But you believe in THEM don't you? Isn't it funny how people in the world can talk about Henry VIII or Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan or any other person in history as if they really lived, but when it comes to Jesus they want to argue that it's all made up or just stories! No! We have EYE-WITNESSES. And because they saw and wrote it down, the Spirit uses that Word to teach us that Jesus died for us and rose again too. By that Word, that preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name, the Spirit creates faith and trust in us which clings to Christ even though we haven't seen Him with our eyes as the disciples did. Such faith and trust is a gift which believes that Jesus has taken away all our sins and gives us everlasting life. After all, if he rose from the dead, our bodies will rise from the dead too, for that's what our Baptism promises to us because of that same forgiveness of sins!

Jesus doesn't just die on the cross and rise again and let a few people know it! He shows Himself to His apostles so that they will show Him to us by the Word. Jesus doesn't leave us guess but shows us plainly and clearly by His Word that He is alive. By water and the word and also in His Supper, the risen Christ comes to us and lets us see Him with the eyes of faith. While it may not be with our eyes, we have the eyes of the witnesses who have written it down for us so that there can be no doubt. And having that word, we have what it says: repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus who died and rose; who ate fish and fulfilled the Scriptures; who is even today alive and will come again. That's why when we say the Easter greeting we add that great big INDEED! Christ is risen! He is risen INDEED! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011 - Easter Day - St. Mark 16:1-8

“Location, location, location!” That, they say, is what's most important for a business to do well. Well, our Easter Gospel is about, location, location, location. All too often, when we get into a discussion about God, we leave location behind. God is just “out there” or “up there” somewhere. You can't see Him. You just assume He's there and doing something or other. That's how the world thinks of God and the devil loves to trap Christians into thinking that way too. But through all that abstract, “out there” God talk and clutter, the Easter Gospel shines brightly, reminding us that God is really a location, location, location God. He tells us where He is and what He's doing. And Easter is really all about that.

Location: Nazareth. The angel says to the women, “You're looking for Jesus of Nazareth.” That's a location. A specific person from a specific place. It's a reminder to us that God became man. He was in Mary's womb and born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. Our Lord isn't just “out there somewhere.” He was in Nazareth. He lived there. Grew up there. Played there. Ate there. Worked there. And when He began His work of salvation in earnest, He preached there too. The point is this: God is located in the flesh. He went places and did stuff. When we speak about God, especially to unbelievers, we don't need to get caught in their trap of “abstract God somewhere.” Talk to them about Jesus, the God who grew up in and was from Nazareth. You can still go there today. It's a real place. And He's a real person that was there.

Location: The cross and tomb. The angel goes on: “Jesus...who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him!” Now Jesus went lots of places but the most important place He was, was the cross and tomb. On that cross, God died. On that cross, God took away our sins. On that cross, Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave Himself as the sacrifice for sins. It happened there on a hill called Calvary. And that hill is still there today. And then there is a garden tomb. He was there too, resting in the tomb until He rose on Easter. The women knew where that tomb was and they and the disciples saw clearly that it was empty. But there in a particular place, our Lord hung on the tree. There, God was. He didn't look like God, all bloody and dead, but you can't get a more specific location than that. It's where, in the midst of all our suffering and asking that question, “Where's God?” we can point to Calvary and the cross and say, “Right there, pierced for you!”

Location: Galilee. “Tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going to Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.” Because He's risen! He's alive! He WAS on the cross. And He WAS in the tomb but now He is alive. And He is where His Word said He would be: In Galilee. Eventually He would appear to all His disciples, where they were, in His Body. He is no ghost or spirit. No vision or dream or delusion. He's alive and He can prove it by showing His disciples the LOCATION of those nail and spear holes. The God who walked around Galilee and Judea before He died is the same God who walked around Galilee and Judea when He was alive again. Once more, God is not an “out there” kind of God, but the God who is in the flesh, who suffered for our sins, rose again and was seen by all of those eyewitnesses.

Location: Christ's church today. Just as our risen Lord had told His disciples where He would be (in Galilee), so He tells us where He will be. After He had conquered sin and death, died and risen, before His Ascension, Jesus told His disciples to go and preach and baptize and that He would be with them always to the end of the age. So now, today, where is the Lord? Where do we find Him? Sure, He's everywhere because He's God, but remember: Location, location, location. He tells us where He is going to be located for our salvation. For our comfort and strength. And where is that? Right here in His church. Where water is put upon you at the location of the font. Where your pastor is located to preach and teach Christ's Word to you and absolve you of your sins. Where Christ Himself is located in His Body and Blood on the altar in the meal of salvation. In these locations, these specific, concrete, actual places, we don't get caught up in the “somewhere out there” God but the God-with-us in the flesh who is still with us in His church. If you want to know who God is, He is there in Christ. And if you want to know where Christ is, He's right here in His church. Therefore we are rescued from useless arguments about a God “out there somewhere” because we have a God who has come in the flesh and still comes in His flesh through His Word and Sacraments in His church.

So Easter is about location, location, location! God has a location! He's not just everywhere and anywhere. He's somewhere. And He's somewhere FOR YOU. That location, that somewhere is His holy Christian church on earth where His gifts are given for forgiveness, life and salvation. His church whereby the forgiveness of sins He won by His death and resurrection, sin and death and the devil and hell are all defeated. His church in which we are nourished in the faith and kept in that faith til the day our Lord comes back and raises US from the dead, just as He rose from the dead on Easter. Therefore don't seek Him in there, in your feelings, “out there,” in nature, our “up there” in the sky somewhere, or anywhere else. He is right HERE for you. For to say that Christ is risen is to confess that He is right here in this location for you. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 23, 2011 - Easter Vigil - St. John 20:1-18

Easter morning was something of a mess! Mary doesn't know where they've taken Jesus. Peter and John run to the tomb and they believe and yet still don't know the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Jesus speaks to Mary and it is only that which opens her eyes to recognize that it is Him. The other Gospels tell us about the angels announcing He is risen and the disciples on the road to Emmaus who don't believe what has happened. Then, of course, there's Thomas, too. Everything seems to confused and up in the air. But what straightens it all out is the Word. The Word that Jesus speaks. The Word of the Scriptures that He has fulfilled. Easter is more than just about the fact of the resurrection, though that's the big part of it. The fact of Jesus being alive the third day and the tomb being empty can only matter if the Word declares it. After all, you and I weren't there. We can only hear and believe from the Word. And so it is the Word that tells us that Jesus was going to rise. It is Jesus' own words that tell His disciples He's going to rise. And it is the Word that the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus wrote, it is that Word which tells us Christ has indeed risen.

This is also why Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” Now, after the resurrection, we aren't to find Jesus by hanging on to Him outside the garden tomb. Now, He will ascend to the Father and will go all over the world through the preaching of His death and resurrection, that is, by His Word. Jesus tells Mary not to cling to Him but to go to where the disciples are. Where the church is gathered. There is where you'll find Jesus. Now, after His resurrection, Jesus is alive and until He comes back, He lives and reigns in His holy church, where His Word is given. Here we are forbidden to find Jesus anywhere else than where His Word is. To look for Jesus in some other place like our feelings or some physical location like the tomb in Jerusalem (and which one is it?) is to seek Him where He hasn't promised to be found. To try to have God apart from His Word is what our Easter repentance confesses.

So what about that Word? It's there in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament which foretold all that Jesus would do, including His resurrection. In the New Testament in which the eyewitness testimony of His life and words and suffering, death and resurrection are told and expounded. In the preaching of that Word today by which Jesus Himself is among us. In the speaking of that Word with the water that washes us and makes us children of God. In the speaking of that Word which declares our sins are forgiven. Where that Word is that delivers Christ's Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Supper. Our whole life as Christians, worshiping a crucified and risen Lord is all about His Word. It is that Word by which the Father shows us His Son, by which the Son reveals Himself and dwells among us, and by which the Spirit calls and preserves us in the holy Christian church. Without the Word, we perish, we wither and die. And with that Word that brings us Jesus, the Jesus who died for our sins and rose again, that Word brings us life now and life everlasting. The Scriptures told it. We shouldn't be surprised. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.