Friday, April 30, 2010

May 2, 2010 - The Fifth Sunday of Easter - St. John 16:5-15

Jesus' death and resurrection throw down sin and death and give new life. But the death and resurrection of Jesus don't do you any good unless their benefits are delivered to you, given to you, and bestowed upon you. We are shifting away now in our Easter Season readings from just focusing upon Christ's resurrection to how that resurrection benefits us. On the cross and from the empty tomb, Jesus has accomplished salvation. But it is by the coming of the Holy Spirit that salvation is delivered, that is, given to you. Jesus says that He must go away so that the Helper or Comforter can come. Jesus has come and accomplished His work: He has suffered and died for your sins. Now He returns to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit whose job is to deliver that salvation to you. This is the Holy Spirit's job: to make sure you receive what Christ has done for you. The Holy Spirit's single purpose and work is to receive what is Christ's—the forgiveness of sins—and deliver it to you, so that you can always be certain that your sins are forgiven. So it is that Jesus teaches His disciples about the Holy Spirit even before His death so that they will be prepared for the time when He ascends into heaven and the Holy Spirit comes to deliver His salvation.

Let's understand something clearly today, as we learn about the Holy Spirit from Jesus' Word. The Holy Spirit is NOT a trump card so that we can do whatever we want or whatever is against the Scriptures and then just say, “The Spirit led me.” The world is full of churches who teach that you do things based on your feelings and yet call it the “Holy Spirit.” People trust in themselves, and their feelings. They think that if they feel good about themselves, that's the “Holy Spirit” guiding them. Many have even wandered off into perversions and wickedness saying such things as “The Bible may say this or that, but the Holy Spirit is leading me and telling me that what I'm doing is OK.” But the worst sin we can get tangled up in is to think that we can go on sinning as long as we “feel” forgiven and think the Spirit is somehow telling us that what we do is OK. Here we are to learn from Jesus' words that the Holy Spirit does not ever come to us apart from His Word. That means the Scriptures. Repent of any idea you might have that somehow anything against the plain words of the Bible can be the Holy Spirit! Every thought and idea and notion that we have must be tested by the Scriptures because it is by God's Word that the Holy Spirit works in us and by no other means. Don't go looking for God somewhere apart from His Word and Sacraments because you will not find Him. Likewise, don't neglect and cut yourself off from the water, word, body and blood because there will be no forgiveness and grace for you then for those are the only places where the Spirit is delivering Jesus.

Jesus tells us exactly what this Comforter's job will be: “He will lead you into all truth for He will receive what is mine and announce it to you.” The Holy Spirit's job is to receive what is Christ's and deliver it to you. The Spirit doesn't come to contradict or deny Christ but to receive what is Christ's and give it to you. What is that? In short, the forgiveness of sins. Christ suffered and died on the cross in order to take away your sins. On the cross, the Lamb of God was offered and sacrificed to pay the price of your sins. By His resurrection, Jesus shows that our sins have been buried forever. Now you need to know that. You need to receive it so that you can be certain of it. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in. He delivers that forgiveness of sins through the Word and the Sacraments. We call them, as the catechumens learned, the Holy B.A.G.S. Baptism. Absolution. Gospel. Supper. By those ways, the Holy Spirit delivers what Jesus won for us, that forgiveness of sins. If it's not in and with those gifts, of Baptism, Absolution, Gospel and Supper, then it's not the Holy Spirit, no matter how good it may make a person feel. If it's not in the BAGS, it's not the Spirit whom Jesus has sent. And if it's not the Holy Spirit, Christ's forgiveness is not delivered to us. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit with the Gospel and Sacraments so that against your sinful flesh and the world and the devil, you'll never have to wonder whether your sins are forgiven or that you're a child of God.

What does the Holy Spirit deliver? Forgiveness of sins, yes. But Jesus also lays out for us how He does that. First, he will convict the world of sin because it doesn't believe in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who, through the Word and Sacraments, gives you faith which trusts in Jesus. To say that you believe in Jesus is not some accomplishment of your own, some decision you made. It is the work of the Spirit who brings you not a shaky and uncertain faith but one which clings to Christ. Second, He will convict the world of righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father. Your righteousness is Christ. His life. His death. His resurrection. The Spirit teaches you, by the Word and Sacraments, that His righteousness is YOUR righteousness. Jesus' life, death and resurrection are yours. Third, the Spirit will convict the world of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. This is also the Spirit's work: to teach you that the ruler of this world is judged, that the Devil has no power. That he has been defeated and thrown down and cannot rule over you, accuse you, or harm you. Because the Holy Spirit has brought you to faith, because your righteousness is with Christ at the right hand of the Father, and because the Devil has been judged, you are saved. Your sins are forgiven. Everything the Holy Spirit is about is delivering that salvation to you and by the Word teaching and reminding you of what Christ has done for you and what that means.

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Helper” or the “Comforter.” And here is the most important thing to know about the Holy Spirit. His job isn't to come and condemn you for your sins. It's to deliver Christ's forgiveness. When you are troubled by your sins, worn down by the world, tempted and tortured by the devil, the Holy Spirit's work is to deliver more Christ. More Jesus. More living in your Baptism. More absolution for the sins that trouble you. More preaching of Christ's cross and victory over sin and death. More body and blood to eat and drink to keep you in the faith. Need more Jesus? That means more Holy Spirit working by the water, word, body and blood. His job is to COMFORT you. Most people want a Holy Spirit who is the excuse for whatever they do that makes them feel good, even if it's against God's Word. But the true comfort of the Spirit is that God is not your enemy. He is not against you. He doesn't hate you. He's not going to punish you. The Spirit's comfort is to receive what is Christ's and give it to you. That means forgiveness, life and salvation against every enemy of body and soul.

James reminds us in his epistle that we have received the “implanted Word.” That's the Spirit's job: to implant the Word in you. He implants it by pouring water on you, preaching into your ears and filling your mouth with Christ's body and blood. And it's not just some generic “Word,” it's the Gospel, the Good News, the forgiveness of sins won for you by Jesus on the cross. It is good that Jesus goes to the Father. That way the Helper, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit will come. And that way all that good things that Jesus has accomplished and won for you are now yours. For the Spirit receives what is Christ's and announces it to you. That's what He does. And that's how you are saved. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 25, 2010 - The Fourth Sunday of Easter - St. John 16:16-32

One of the things of which Christians are often accused is only being worried about the life to come rather than their life now. Just think about it. Here we are in church today, hearing God's Word, being prepared for eternal life while out there, in the world, people are sleeping in, or out doing whatever activities they like. Those folks don't have to worry about following God's rules or repenting of their sins. They don't have to take a chunk of their hard earned money and put it in the plate. They don't have to worry about learning God's Word or trying to understand the Catechism. They just live their lives with no thought about God and most of them seem to be doing OK. Meanwhile, we Christians struggle to understand the things that go wrong in our lives by wondering, “Where's the God who's supposed to fix everything and save me? If I give up my life for God, why do I have to put up with all these troubles? Why aren't things better? Surely believing in God means my life is supposed to be better than the guy's who doesn't!” Which is why Jesus tells His disciples today: “The world will rejoice. You will have sorrow. But then your sorrow will be turned to joy.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, hear this promise: Those who live for nothing but this life may have some rejoicing now. But that rejoicing will end the day the Lord comes back. You, on the other hand, dear Christian, you WILL have sorrow in this life. But when the Lord returns, your sorrow will be turned to joy and your joy will never end.

Jesus tells His disciples, “A little while and you will see me no more and then a little while and you will see me.” This is Maundy Thursday. In just a few hours, Jesus will be taken from them. Arrested, tried, beaten, mocked, whipped, crucified and then die. The Jesus they thought was going to be the Savior will be taken from them and their hearts will break for sorrow. But then the Jesus they thought would be their Savior turns out to be exactly that because He is alive on Easter three days later! Their sorrow at His death is turned into joy at seeing Him alive. And that is such a joy that the disciples, who hid in the upper room because they were afraid would later go to the ends of the earth and die horrible deaths just to preach this crucified and risen Savior! What turns their sorrow into joy and gives them such a joy that cannot be overcome by the world? The death and resurrection of Christ. True, His death was hard for them to bear. But when He was risen, then they understood His death. The joy they had was the sure and certain hope that if death cannot keep their Lord down, it could not harm them either. Oh, sure, they'd die. But they would live again. So by His death and resurrection, Jesus not only saves us for the life to come, but for our life now! See how this works.

When Jesus tells us that our sorrow will turn to joy, He does mean that the time will come when the sufferings and sadness of this life will be forever turned into rejoicing and happiness. It is true that as Christians we think about the after life...because there is one! As Christians, we know that this life is NOT all there is. There is a new heaven and earth to come, a dwelling place for all eternity, a new paradise in which we shall enjoy life for all eternity. A life without sickness and sorrow where every tear is wiped away. Jesus' death and resurrection means that you will spend eternity not suffering for your sins but living with Christ and each other in joy and peace. Christ's death and resurrection are the promise that death cannot keep you down but your Lord will raise you from the dead on the Last Day. Christ's death and resurrection are what enable us to confess, as we do in the Creed, “The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” These aren't just nice sayings. They are true! You are going to live forever and in a forever that has no more suffering and sadness. Isn't that something to look forward to? Absolutely! So don't ever let any unbeliever try to steal that hope of future joy away from you! If someone should ever say, “Christians just think about the after life and not this life,” say, “Well why not? There IS an afterlife. An eternal life of peace and joy with our Lord!”

But that's what is to come. We still live now. In this world. In this life. With these sorrows and sadness. The fact is, as a Christian, you will suffer. You will have sadness. Worry. Anxiety. Misery. Trials and tribulations. Crosses to bear. Jesus says so. The same Savior who says that all your sins are forgiven also promises that you will have sorrow. Doesn't sound so great, does it? Christians worry about their jobs and their bills. Christians have bad marriages and troubled families. Christians get sick and have pain and suffering. Christians die. Just because you bear the name of Christ doesn't mean you're immune from those things. And when you suffer them, they hurt! And the world laughs saying, “Well where's your Jesus now? You believe in God, why doesn't He do something?” And we pray. And our prayers go unanswered. Or we think they do. Because our prayers for the Lord to remove our suffering have already been answered: “In a little while you will see me no more and then in a little while you will see me. Your sorrow will be turned into joy and your no one will take away from you.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, the comfort against our sorrows in this life is Jesus' death and resurrection given to you. Given at your baptism. Given in absolution and preaching. Given at the Supper by His body and blood. With those gifts that deliver the forgiveness of sins, you have a promise that whatever sorrow you have in this life, whatever cross you bear, whatever suffering you undergo—it's all just nothing. It can't hurt you. It can't separate you from God's love in Jesus Christ. It might kill you but it can't destroy you forever. These things we suffer, they are just passing and temporary. They will be exchanged one day for joy. Which means that when you suffer them now, in this life, you can defeat their hold on you by the promise of the joy that you've already been given in the Word and Sacraments and the joy that is to come when Christ comes again and you see Him. See? That IS joy for this life. It's the promise of the future eternal joy which sustains us in the troubles of the “now.”

But now WATCH OUT! Now you have it clearly from Jesus' lips: “You will have sorrow.” Being a Christian doesn't exempt you from suffering and sorrow and tragedy. It just means that those things can't hurt you forever and that you can look down upon them as mere annoyances and not the end of the world. But that's not what most preachers will tell you. They'll tell you that if you have enough faith, believe hard enough, give your life to Jesus, you'll have power over all these things. You'll not be poor or sick or miserable. You'll be happy and prosperous. Just ask former Lutheran turned woman preacher Joyce Mayer whose huge private jet is sitting in a hangar at St. Louis' Spirit airport! Just ask Joel Osteen who tells us in his book how to have “Your Best Life Now.” And I guarantee, if you read his book, this life WILL be your best one, because the one to come will be eternal punishment! These and all other false preachers have got it stuck in their craw that somehow getting on board with Jesus means tossing off all the cares and worries of this life. And it seems to work for these preachers as they laugh their way to the bank. But hear again Jesus' words: “The world will rejoice and you will sorrow but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Understand that Christ does NOT promise you an easy life, a life free from suffering and trials. But He does promise that because He has conquered all sin and death on the cross, that your sorrow will be turned into joy. He does say that by His Word and Sacraments He will put in you such joy that you will overcome even the sufferings of this world.

Why shouldn't we look forward to the life to come? It's going to be a life where our sorrow is turned into joy! And yet, while we still live this life, we are not joyless. Sure, we suffer trials and tribulations the same as anyone, perhaps more so, sometimes. And yet Christ's death and resurrection throw down the power of sin and turn our sorrows into joy, even as we undergo them. Christ's death and resurrection, delivered to you in His church, are the one thing that can turn your sorrows into joy and give your hearts such a rejoicing that nothing can take it away either in this life or the life to come. in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 18, 2010 - The Third Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday - St. John 10:11-16

OK. Let's hit this head on. Jesus calls us sheep. That is NOT flattering. Sheep are dumb. Sheep wander away. Sheep get lost. Sheep get tangled up in bramble bushes. Sheep get eaten. When our Lord calls us sheep, He is not saying we are cute and fluffy and He likes to carry us around like a favorite cuddly animal. No, He's reminding us that we are prone to wander. To hear His Word and go and do the opposite. That we learn about God and then go live as if He doesn't exist. To be taught to serve our neighbor and then go and live as if they are only there to step all over. Jesus in calling us sheep is pointing out that we are stubborn and have to sometimes be dragged where we need to go. He is warning us that we are the targets for wolves: the devil but also the world and our sinful flesh. All of those wolves want to eat us up. And sheep are just dumb enough to stand there and let themselves get taken out by those evil fangs of false doctrine and sin. No, no flattery here. We are sheep. Smelly, dumb, sinful sheep. That's why we need a shepherd.

But the Lord is merciful. He doesn't search or the Southern Classifieds to find a shepherd with not much of a resume. He doesn't call the Shepherd Temp service to find a quick fill in who doesn't care about the sheep but just about making a few bucks. Rather, the Lord Himself comes to be our Good Shepherd. Through the prophet Ezekiel the Lord says that He Himself will come and rescue His poor, wandering, lost sheep. And so He does come. In the flesh. Born of Mary on a night when Shepherds came to worship Him. Then Jesus tells us plainly: “I am the Good Shepherd.” What makes the Good Shepherd “Good?” He says, “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” That's why Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Because he lays down His life for His sheep. He dies for them. They wander away and do all kinds of stupid things. But He comes Himself to die for you and bring you back. His death snatches you from the jaws of that wicked wolf, the devil. His death rescues you from the ditches and the bramble bushes the world sticks in your path. The rod and staff of His cross gently save you even from yourself and your sins. When the Lord is the Shepherd, there's no fooling around. He comes down Himself and takes on death and sin head on and destroys them in order to rescue you who have gotten into such a tangled mess, just inches from the wolf's jaws!

Now why does Jesus do this? Are we sheep that valuable? No, it's not that. Sheep are a dime a dozen. Jesus lays down His life for the sheep, He says, because He knows the Father and the Father knows Him. That means that the Father knows that the Son will do the work of saving His sheep. The Lord has a flock. It has run away and gotten lost. So the Father sends the Son to get us back. And the Son obeys the Father. Christ is not a shepherd the way the world has shepherds. The guy who makes minimum wage watching the sheep is not going to bother with that one that ran away and got lost. Too bad. But Jesus goes to the ends of the earth, through suffering, death and hell itself to bring back that one lost sheep. His love for the Father and His obedience to the Father's will causes Him to lay down His life for us. And it's Easter Season! He also takes His life back up again! That's how we know this Shepherd is true and good. He can lay down His life for the sheep, He can die for them but then He can be raised up again the Third day and be their Good Shepherd always. This is the Father's love for His sheep, that He sends His Son to be our Shepherd and bring us back from death to life.

Jesus also says, “I know my own.” Jesus knows you. He knows your sins. He knows your weaknesses. He died for them. He shed His blood for them. In your Baptism, He Himself has rescued you from sin and death, plucked you from the wolf's mouth and set you into the holy and safe pasture of His church. He knows that you need green pasture so He makes you to lie down in the green pastures of His Word to graze and be satisfied. He knows that you are surrounded by enemies in this world so He prepares a table by which you may feast on Him, drinking from the cup that runs over with His holy blood. Your Shepherd knows that you fear death and cannot overcome it. So He walks with you through that valley. He's been there and He knows the way. And He Himself will lead you on the day that you die through that valley to the House of the Lord where you will dwell forever. Your Good Shepherd knows you. He has known you even before you were born when He took away your sins. He knows you every day of your life through your struggles and failings and sins. He knows you and He gives you His gifts to forgive you and comfort you and lead you in the way of everlasting life.

And Jesus also says, “And my own know Me.” Not only does Jesus know you, He has given You His Word so that you may know Him. There are lots of wolves and even lots of false shepherds out there. Impostors and impersonators who just want to grill up a nice bit of lamb! So the Good Shepherd has given you His Voice to know. He lays down His life for the sheep. That way you will know Him. Any Jesus you hear about where the big deal is something other than His laying down His life for you is NOT the Good Shepherd. The Jesus who beats you with His rod to keep you in line is not your Good Shepherd. The Jesus who waits for you to repent and be really sorry and invite Him to save you is not the Good Shepherd. The preachers who don't point you to the font and altar and the Scriptures which deliver the crucified Shepherd are not to be listened to or trusted! This is for your comfort. Because even dumb sheep can know the voice of their Shepherd, our Lord gives us the Voice of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins because of His death and resurrection, the delivery of that forgiveness by water, word, body and blood. There's no doubt who the true Good Shepherd is if we have those things to distinguish the true from the false!

So let's recap. We're sheep. Not cute and cuddly. Dumb and helpless. We NEED a shepherd. Not just any shepherd. We have a Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He lays down His life for you. He is the Good Shepherd because He knows the Father and does carries out His will which is to save lost sheep. He is the Good Shepherd because He knows His sheep, because He has rescued you and claimed you as His own in the sheepfold of His church. He is the Good Shepherd because He has taught you the Voice of the Gospel by which you recognize and know Him. We wander and get lost. The Good Shepherd finds and saves. We sin. The Good Shepherd forgives sin. We die. The Good Shepherd raises us up and gives us eternal life. And you will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of your life! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

April 11, 2010 - The Second Sunday of Easter - St. John 20:19-31

The most wonderful good news about God is that He has holes in Him. Jesus is our Savior because He's got holes in Him. Nail holes. A spear hole. The wounds of Christ are our joy and blessing because they save us. In getting those wounds, Jesus saved us from our sins. In keeping those wounds, He showed His disciples that He was the same Jesus who was dead on the cross and now is alive. It is those wounds that Jesus shows to the Father to still His wrath against our sins. And it is those wounds that He shows to us to comfort us against all sin and death. Pay attention! Three times in today's Gospel, the Lord's hands and feet are mentioned. Anything that gets mentioned that many times in a Gospel reading is something to pay attention to!

Jesus shows His wounds to His disciples. He shows them His hands and His side. The hands where the nails were driven to pin Him to the cross. The side that was pierced to prove that He was indeed dead. If there were no nail and spear holes, if there were no wounds, how could the disciples know that this was really the Jesus who had died? So when Jesus appears He makes sure to show them where the nails and the spear were. And they rejoiced. They rejoiced because this was proof that the man standing in front of them was no impostor but the real Jesus who had indeed been nailed to the cross and died there. Thomas wasn't there the first time but when he hears about it he won't believe until he see the wounds for himself and puts his fingers and hands there just to be sure! So here comes the Lord again, showing His wounds, this time for Thomas to see. It is the wounds that Thomas sees and it is Christ's Word that tells Him to be believing, to trust that He is indeed the risen Christ who was wounded for our sins. But those wounds don't just convince the disciples!

Jesus also shows His wounds to the Father. If the Father's wrath and anger should ever be kindled because of your sins, it is the wounds of His Son that remind Him you are spared. Forgiven. Saved. Paid for. Redeemed. Justified. The wounds of Christ are the Lord's eternal reminder to the Father that you are no longer a target for punishment but a child of God. As long as Jesus has those wounds, the Father can never condemn you for your sins! After all, the wounds He suffered, the death He underwent, the scars He now bears, are for your sake. Jesus has those holes in Him for you. Jesus was pierced for your sins so that your sins will never pierce you. Jesus carries wounds because He carried your sins so that you won't have to bear them. Jesus, because He is God's Son, can do this. Our sins would kill us. They killed Jesus. But He is alive. And the proof is that the risen Christ who stands among His disciples bears those marks of His suffering death as glorious trophies of His triumph.

Jesus shows His wounds to you. He shows them to you by faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You have not seen those wounds with your eyes but with the eyes of faith. But John who was an eyewitness writes that we have victory over the world because of Jesus. You need this victory! Because this world and your own sins weigh you down. Everyone carries wounds and scars. Sometimes we still have the hurt from what others have done to us. Sometimes we bear the scars of guilt because of what we've done to others. Sometimes are scars are emotional. Sometimes they are physical, reminders of pain and suffering we've had. Either way, our wounds and scars are reminders of our sin and the death that is in this world. But against such things, Christ gives the victory! His wounds of life defeat the power of our wounds and scars of death. His wounds are our refuge, a place to hide against the world. What can the world do to you? What can the devil say against you? What can your own scars and wounds do? Nothing! Because the holes in Jesus' feet and hands and side stand as the eternal witness that Christ has victory over the world and so do you because You are hidden in His wounds! His wounds are the marks of His triumph and yours!

Christ shows us His wounds by His gifts. We don't see the wounds like Thomas did, but we are shown them by His Word and Sacraments. When God's people complained that they had no hope, Ezekiel was given the vision of the dry bones which were brought back to life by the Spirit of God that was breathed into them. In the same way, when Jesus, the scar-showing risen Savior breathes on His disciples, He is giving them life. It is the Jesus who has scars who breathes that Spirit onto His disciples so that they would deliver the blessings of those wounds to you. First in Baptism, when the water that flowed from His side washed you clean. Then in absolution and preaching, the words that the risen Jesus with the holes in Him sent His disciples to preach to the world in His church. Then, of course, in the Holy Supper of Christ, in which the body that was wounded for you and the blood that poured from those wounds is given you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. By these gifts, victory is yours! Death is overcome and you have hope and comfort in all affliction.

Dear Christians, the wounds of Christ are a cause for our rejoicing and celebration! They are the holes which prove to Thomas and the disciples that the Jesus who stands before them is the same one they saw crucified. The wounds of Jesus are our protection against the guilt and punishment of our sins. Christ's holy wounds are our comfort against all sin and death. They are the source of His holy gifts which are given to us in the church. When your sins trouble you, hide there in His wounds! When death frightens you, look to the wounds of Jesus to know that death is defeated. When the devil stalks you, point him to the wounds which will send him packing! The Christ who is risen is risen with hands and feet and side that show that He is the Conqueror of sin and death. By His wounds, YOU are conquerors of sin and death. By His wounds you will rise on the Last Day. By His wounds, you will always recognize the victorious Lamb of God who was slain and reigns now for all eternity. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

April 4, 2010 - The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day - St. Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ has overturned death! This is huge! This is salvation! That's because death is something we can't defeat on our own and yet we spend our time and money trying to prepare for it or else avoid it. Think how death tries to rule our lives! We need to make wills. Pick out caskets and put money down on our plots. We hear a doctor tell us that it won't be long. We call hospice to help us prepare. There is so much to do to get ready for death. And yet we also try to avoid it. When we're young, we just ignore it, thinking it can never happen to us. As we get older, we put off those wills and funeral packages in the hopes we won't have to think about it. We try to exercise, eat right, take the right medicines, and on and on, hoping we can squeeze out just a few more years. Death is funny like that. We either get gloomy preparing for it or we try to falsely ignore it. But that's us. That's our approach to death. Our Lord's approach to death is to face it head on at the cross and then on Easter to rise from the dead and by doing that, throw it down, stomp all over it and kick it out of the way!

Christ has overturned death on Easter! Those poor women! They went to the tomb expecting death. Sadness. A corpse. A stone they couldn't move. But the Lord's already taken care of all that! Jesus alive! Stone rolled out of the way! And angel ready with the Good News that He is alive. The angel lays it all out: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here!” On the cross, Jesus suffered with our sins. Our sins killed Him. But now He is alive! What does that say about our sins? They are gone. Forgiven. Paid for. Left buried in the tomb. And if our sins are gone, then death has no more power. Death comes because of sins. So if our sins are gone, death's power is destroyed. Death can't hold Jesus. Therefore death is defeated. Done for. It's lost its sting.

Christ has overturned death for your life now! St. Paul says that now that Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, we can put away the old leaven and eat the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Christ's resurrection isn't just for death. It comes rippling into our lives as the antidote to death that surrounds us every day. See how often we live as if we're dead. No hope. No joy. Grumbling against others. Living like death is the end so we have to grab all we can in this life no matter how it hurts others. You only pass this way once, so you better do all you can to make yourself happy. That's death talk! That's old leaven! Treating others like we can dispose of them, as if we'll never see them again. Worrying about our illnesses and problems as if they can ruin us forever. That's living as if death is in charge! But Paul reminds us that death has been thrown down! Christ has been sacrificed. His death gives us life and His resurrection overcomes death. Christ has risen for you! No more living like death has any power! No more living like you have no Savior! Away with that life! Life now is in Christ, and Christ is life. That's life and love for you and for your neighbor in Christ.

Christ has overturned your death! Even Job knew this. Job says that he's going to die and his body will rot but EVEN SO he will stand in his flesh and see God. Job knows that there is a resurrection of the body. We say so in the Creed too. Why? Because they put Jesus' body in the tomb and He came back out on the third day! That means that you will be laid to rest, but when the Lord comes back, you will be out! Up! Alive! Your body is back. Changed. Glorified. Risen! Christians don't believe that we just spend eternity as ghostly spirits! We believe in the resurrection of the BODY and everlasting life in our BODIES. Sure, you might get sick. It might be terminal. You might die early in a tragic accident. You might live a long life and die in your sleep. But one way or another, death will come. But now that Christ has risen, we can laugh at death! Despise it! Scorn it! Slap it in the face and say, “You can't hold me! I'm going to be raised and then what will you have, Death? Nothing! Where is your victory, Death? Where is your sting! Jesus is alive, Death! Neener, neener, neener!” Oh, the devil hates nothing more than to be reminded that you aren't scared of death. For the same Lord who threw down death has thrown down Satan's power too.

Now what is it that overturns death for those women? Yes, Jesus is alive, but what turns them from sadness to joy? It is the preaching of the young man in the white stole. That's right. Now I may not be so young but I've got a white robe and a stole and so I'm telling you: Christ is risen! He is risen for you. Remember how the angel told the women, “Go tell His disciples AND Peter?” Remember what Peter did? He denied His Lord. Three times! But the the Lord wants to make sure that even Peter knows his denial has been overcome by Jesus' resurrection. That's my job. It's why you come to church. Because out there in the world, death keeps taking swipes at you, sin keeps stabbing at you, Satan keeps attacking you. And I'm here to tell you, with my white stole on, that Christ has risen FOR YOU. His death has taken away your sins, no matter how big or small, no matter if everyone's seen them or no one has. Whatever your sins, they are wiped out by the death of the Son of God and the proof that they are wiped out is that He is risen! When you come to church, that's what's in it for you: a risen Christ bestowing upon you the power of His resurrection. By Baptism, snatching you from the jaws of death. By Absolution and preaching, proclaiming that His death and resurrection are even for someone as sinful as Peter and you! By His body and blood, telling death, “If you want this one, you've got to come through Me, and you're already failed at that, Death!” Yes indeed, Christ has overturned death and has overturned your death!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the resurrection of Jesus is what cinches the deal. The cross is the center of our faith, but the resurrection is what proves to the world that Christ, as true God and man, has truly beaten sin and death. If Christ is not raised from the dead, it's all a bad joke and a waste of time. But Christ IS risen. He was seen by His disciples. That means that Christ has overturned death. Thrown it down. Stolen its power. Removed its sting. His death was for you. His resurrection was for you. His gifts of forgiveness and life are for you. For your life now. And for the eternal life that is yet to come. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Amen.

April 3, 2010 - Easter Vigil - St. John 20:1-18

What has fallen has been lifted up again. What has been lost has been recovered. What was ruined has been made whole again. What was destroyed has been repaired. What was cursed has been blessed. We who expected death have been given life. All this because He who was dead is now alive! Christ who was slain is alive again.

When the Lord made man He gave him life and put him in a garden. When Adam and Eve left the garden it was in shame and death. Our Lord enters the garden in shame and death; He is laid in the tomb. But He leaves the Garden alive and the tomb is left empty. Where man brought death into the world in a garden, Christ brings forth life from the garden.

When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, an angel with a flaming sword was stationed to keep them from ever going back. The flaming sword of God's judgment blocked them from that paradise ever again. Now angels are in the empty tomb, no longer swinging deadly flaming swords but pointing to the risen Christ who is the Life of Mary and Peter and John and all the world. In this Garden the angels are not enforcing the bad news of the curse but proclaiming the Good News of Jesus' resurrection.

The Lord walked in the Garden and Adam and Eve hid themselves. Now in this garden of the empty tomb, Jesus comes, hidden to reveal Himself to Mary as the risen Savior. A serpent preached to Eve. Eve then shared these lies with her husband. The result was the Fall into sin and the judgment of death. Now, Christ speaks to Mary and she goes to proclaim that He is alive to the disciples. The lies of death are replaced by the Good News of life. What happened in the Garden of Eden is reversed in the Garden of Christ's empty tomb!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, by His death that conquered death and His life which restores life, Christ has overturned the work of sin and death in this world. By your Baptism into Him, you have died and rise with Him. By the preaching of His Gospel He has called your name and turned you to Him. By His Holy Supper He lives in you and promises to raise you up at the Last Day. All the powers of hell and death have been defeated and they cannot hurt you. By his death He has rescued you even from death. By His resurrection He has promised you to be raised and have eternal life. All of the curse that you have been under has been undone by your Lord Jesus and paradise is once again yours. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.  

April 2, 2010 - Good Friday - St. John 18:1--19:42

(with inspiration from Johann Gerhard's Sacred Meditation “The Fruit of Our Lord's Passion”)

Behold, dear Christians, the Lamb of God who is killed for you this day. Hear of His suffering so that you might be set free:

Our Lord's suffering begins in a Garden because it was in a Garden that our first parents were deceived and fell into sin. Jesus is betrayed and handed over to His enemies because we were betrayed by the serpent's craftiness and handed over into sin and death. Jesus is arrested and bound because we were bound by the strong cords of sin and death from which we could not free ourselves.

Jesus stands before the Council and is mocked so that we might stand before God and be comforted. Jesus stands accused before the high priest so that we will not stand accused before the Father. Jesus is struck and beaten so that He might stop the blows of the devil and the judging sting of God's Law from striking us. Jesus suffers the denial of His close friends, so that He will never deny us but confess us before the Father as those for whom He died.

Jesus stands before Pilate in silence so that we will not have to stand silent on the Last Day before our Judge. Jesus speaks of His kingdom before Pilate to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness. Jesus gives witness to the truth because we so often think to lie to God. Innocent Jesus takes the place of guilty Barabbas so that He might also take our place, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous, the Lamb of God in the place of sinners.

Jesus wears a crown of thorns, the proof of God's curse on this world, to become a curse for us so that we who were cursed in our sin might instead be blessed by His death. Jesus is mocked and made sport of because we so easily mock and make sport of God's Word and Name. Jesus endures the shouts to crucify Him so that we will never hear such a judgment of condemnation from our Lord. Jesus is weighed down by the burden of His cross so that He might lift from us the burden of our sins.

Jesus is nailed to the cross because we have pierced ourselves with the grief of our sins. Jesus is called the King of the Jews because we want to rule our own lives. Jesus has his clothes stripped from Him and divided up so that we might be clothed in Baptism with Him and His righteousness. Jesus gives His mother into the care of His apostle so that we might be given into the care of His church. Jesus thirsts and drinks the sour vinegar so that He might quench our thirst with the sweet wine of His blood given for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus declares that our salvation is finished so that we are rescued from every effort and attempt to save ourselves.

Jesus dies, so that we might have life. His side is pierced, letting blood and water flow, so that we might be washed at the holy font with this saving flood and drink from the cup His saving blood. Jesus gives blood and water from His side so that we, whose parents ate from the tree that brought death, might have the fruits of the cross, our eternal life. Jesus is wrapped in linen so that we will be wrapped in His robe of righteousness for a protection against death. Jesus is laid in the tomb so that our graves will be sanctified and be the place from which He will raise us from the dead, just as He is risen.

On this Friday, all that was Bad was heaped upon our Lord so that we might call this Friday Good. For all that He did, He did for you. By His life, you are rescued from death. By His death you are given life. Happy Good Friday in the Name of Jesus. Amen.  

April 1, 2010 - Maundy Thursday - St. John 13:1-15, 34-35

Why does Jesus institute this Holy Supper on this night? His Words give the answer: “Given and shed for you for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.” The salvation He won at the cross is delivered in this holy meal to our mouths. When we eat and drink Christ's body and blood, we have the forgiveness of sins. We also have Jesus' promise that He lives in us and we in Him and He will raise us up on the Last Day. But too many people, dear Christians, you and I included, come up to this meal thinking that this forgiveness we are given here is only to benefit us and not for us to receive it in order to benefit our neighbor, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. On the night when He was betrayed, our Lord gave His disciples His body and blood to forgive their sins. But He also showed them what this body and blood are all about: that such forgiveness that they receive is passed on in the care and serving of others.

See how after the Supper, Jesus takes a towel and some water and begins washing the disciples' feet. Jesus is teaching us here that His purpose on this earth is to save us and to serve us. Salvation comes in the Supper when but then He also does this service of washing their stinky, nasty feet. In a similar way, the Lord is teaching us that His love doesn't stop with the Supper in our lives. We come and feast upon His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, but that forgiveness is then passed on from us to others. When we wash someone else's feet, it doesn't mean we have to scrub them with a bar of Irish Spring. It means we are forgiving them when they “step in it.” The point is that the service Christ is doing for His disciples in feeding them His body and blood doesn't end with the meal but continues as He washes their feet. Likewise, our connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ doesn't end when we stand up at the end of Communion. It goes on in our lives together as we serve one another and take care of one another.

When the Passover Lamb was sacrificed in Egypt, that Lamb was killed and then eaten and its blood was the mark that kept the Angel of Death away from God's people. The Passover Lamb was the Lamb who set them free from slavery because right after the Passover, the Israelites left Egypt. Just so Christ is our Passover Lamb. He is sacrificed on the cross and He is eaten in the Holy Supper that is celebrated in the church. And it is that Lamb of God who rescues us from our slavery. For we are in slavery not to Egyptians but to sin and death. But His salvation also ends our slavery to sins against others. Now we don't have to be slaves to other people's sins, holding grudges, acting as if someone is our brother or sister in Christ in name only. When we're slaves, we're looking out for number one, trying to survive, trying to keep ahead of and above others. But with Christ' freedom comes a freedom from such slavery in which we treat others like slaves. Christ's sacrifice on the cross, delivered in His Holy Supper frees us from the worthless lives in which we are only concerned about ourselves. Christ's salvation not only sets us free but makes us servants to care for others. We are free before God. No longer condemned. And now we are true servants to our neighbors, forgiving them and helping them.

St. Paul says that we shall eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy way if we don't discern the body of the Lord. This means two things. It means we must never dare to eat and drink this Holy Supper as if it is not truly the body and blood of Christ given for the forgiveness of sins. You can't eat and drink Christ' body and blood if you don't believe that is what it is. That is to sin against Christ's body! But just as much as we shouldn't eat and drink without recognizing that Christ's body and blood are in, with and under the bread and wine, so we shouldn't eat and drink without recognizing that we are united with everyone else by that body and blood into Christ's body, the church. That is, if we eat and drink and then walk away and forget about those around us, being mad at them, hating them, ignoring them, or pretending they don't exist and are not our problem, we have despised Christ's body, the church. To eat and drink forgiveness and then to get up from the altar and then not pass that forgiveness on to others is contrary to what Jesus Himself is doing in the Supper! In the Supper we eat the true body of Christ and thereby we are His body the church, given to one another to serve and care for. To wash each others feet, that is, to forgive each other.

Now it's all well and good to say that Jesus gives us an example to follow. It's good to hear that when we get up from the Supper, we are to love and serve our neighbor. But when we don't? When we see that we don't want to smell someone else's feet, let alone wash them? That is why Jesus died. For your sins. That is why He gives you His body and blood. To take away your sins. That is why He went to the cross and left you a Holy Meal of salvation. When you fail at loving your neighbor, come and feast on Christ's body and blood. If you fail to forgive others, then come and receive forgiveness for that and with enough to spare to dish some out to your neighbor too. Here you see that these things go together: the Supper and loving others. Don't try to love others as if you have the strength and ability to do so on your own! Rather, you must live from the forgiveness that Christ gives in His Supper. Then again, don't come to the Supper with no intention of living to serve others, as if the Supper is just “you and God” and you don't need to worry about anyone else. The body and blood of Jesus are what set you right with God but also with your neighbor. Feast upon Christ's body and blood to know that you are forgiven. Feast upon Christ's body and blood to know that you are a part of His church in which you love others as Christ has loved you. When you sin, you need the Supper. From the Supper learn to serve your neighbor. When you sin in serving your neighbor, back to the Supper. And so it goes; that is our life as Christians.

Jesus' body and blood makes you a Christian. His death takes away your sins. His Supper delivers that forgiveness to you. But it is your loving your neighbor that shows the world you are a Christian. They can't see that just from you going to the Supper. So see how the Lord gives you your whole life on this night. He gives to you the holy food that delivers forgiveness and everlasting life. And He shows you how to live, not for His benefit, but the benefit and blessing or your neighbor. On this night, Christ gives you His body to eat for the forgiveness of sins. And He gives you His body, the church, to serve and love as you live in His grace and forgiveness. For your sake He goes this night to His suffering and death so that you might have new life in Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

March 31, 2010 - Wednesday in Holy Week - St. Luke 23:39-43

Someone once told me, “I just don't get what your church teaches about forgiveness. It makes it sound like you can just live a terrible life and then right before you die, repent and then you're in.” That's a pretty crass way of putting it but yes, that's the gist of it. That's because it's not us suddenly turning around our lives at the last hour. It's Christ's grace and mercy penetrating sinful hearts and saving us by His forgiveness. That's what happens when Jesus saves the thief on the cross. He probably didn't do much good in his life; he probably didn't contribute much to society but rather worked against it. He was a robber and in the last moments of his life, he learned who Jesus was and Jesus saved Him. That's what Jesus does by hanging on that cross. He saves sinners. Sinners who don't have a hope or a prayer other than that Jesus smiles upon them and says that His being on the cross is for them, too.

The thief that is saved bothers us. It seems too easy. It seems like there has to be some price. It seems like if that miserable and worthless man should get to paradise, he's got to do SOMETHING. But all he does is point out what a rotten guys he and the other thief are. How they're getting what they deserve. And how Jesus doesn't deserve anything that He's suffering. And then there is the prayer for mercy, for Jesus to remember this poor thief who knows he's only getting what he deserves. “Jesus, remember me.” He doesn't even say he's sorry. He just pleads for Jesus not to forget him. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can learn a lot about being a Christian from this thief on the cross. If it's about us, then we ought to talk about what we deserve: punishment and death and hell. But when it's about Jesus, we confess that He is perfect and holy. And yet, the thief knows that this innocent Jesus is the One who can save him. On the cross, Jesus doesn't deserve what the thieves are getting. Yet He suffers along with them because that's why He came: to suffer what thieves deserve. To suffer what you and I deserve. And it's that suffering for us that saves us. Because He suffers like the thief, and for the thief, He can say to the thief, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

It's a good prayer, “Lord, remember me.” And how could He forget you? He made you His own when you were born from above by water and the Spirit at the font. Jesus remembers you. He has issued you a divine pardon from your sins and eternal death by pronouncing Absolution upon you. He doesn't' forget you. He can't forget Himself and that means He must remember you when you are filled with His body and blood eaten and drunk for that same forgiveness the thief received. Lord, remember us. Never fear. Now that Jesus has gone the way of the cross and risen again, the only thing He will forget about you is your sins. You, He remembers because you have His name and seal upon you. And the same Lord whose word spoke the thief into paradise speaks you into eternal life too. By water, word, body and blood, you have the Lord's word that on the day you die you too will be in paradise with the Lord who was on the cross for thieves and for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.  

March 30, 2010 - Tuesday in Holy Week - St. Mark 15:2-5

St. Paul writes that we have made the good confession as Christ made the good confession before Pontius Pilate. What confession did Christ make? What did He say to Pontius Pilate? Mark points out the silence of Jesus when He is before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus questions and the whole time the religious leaders are there slinging accusations but Jesus doesn't say anything. He is silent. Pilate is amazed. This isn't how prisoners facing the Romans act! They beg for their lives. They cry and tremble in terror, making excuses for what they've done. Or they shout in anger and defiance, claiming their innocence. But not this one. It's almost like a lamb going to the slaughter. He walks along quietly not realizing he's about to be slaughtered. So this Jesus. He doesn't say anything. Doesn't beg for mercy. Doesn't argue His innocence. Doesn't make counter-accusations against His accusers. He just stands there. And gets scourged with the Roman razor-tipped whip. Crowned with thorns and smacked around by the bored soldiers and finally led out to be nailed to the cross. What kind of “confession” is that? How is that, as St. Paul says, the “good confession?”

The answer is in this: Jesus doesn't open His mouth in order to save us who do. We open our mouths and make excuses for our sins. We open our mouths to tell others how great we are, how much we do, how important we must be. Or we open our mouths to complain, to curse, to grumble against what God gives us or doesn't give us. We throw out words that defend ourselves and tear others down. We accuse others as the Jews accused Jesus. We boast in ourselves as Pilate boasted in his power. Because we can't keep our mouths shut, Jesus doesn't open His. He goes silently, like a lamb led to the slaughter because we can't keep quiet. We can't stop ourselves from saying things that profane God's name and hurt others. That's why the Son of Man makes this good confession, that He holds His tongue and endures what must come. Jesus does not go to Calvary grumbling and complaining and pleading and cursing! He goes as the Lamb of God led to the slaughter of our salvation. Jesus opens not His mouth and that saves us from all the times we open ours!

But now, having been raised from the dead, Christ sends His Holy Spirit to us by water and the word so that we too make the good confession. What is that good confession? What are we “confessing” with God's Word? We confess that we are sinners, to be sure, but that by Christ's death and resurrection we are forgiven. Our confession of faith is that Jesus is our Savior. Now, the Holy Spirit opens our lips to declare His praise and speak of the Christ who died and rose for sinners, who washes and feeds His people and gives us eternal life. Now Jesus' silence before Pilate along with all of His suffering and death, silences the accusations of the devil, death and even the Law against you. No one can accuse you before God because the Lord was accused before Pilate. No one can condemn you before the Lord because He Himself was condemned for you by the Roman Governor. Jesus suffered under these earthly authorities so that you will never suffer before His authority. Rather, by His authority, earned by His obedient work of suffering and death, Christ grants you an eternal pardon that cannot be overturned. Christ is condemned. You are set free. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.  

March 29, 2010 - Monday in Holy Week - St. John 12:1-43

The Pharisees were really upset! “You see we can't do anything! The whole world has gone after Him!” For all their holy talk of keeping the Law and being religious men, what really made the Pharisees mad was that Jesus was stealing their thunder. The common people flocked to Jesus for His healing and preaching of mercy and the Pharisees couldn't stand it. This Savior wasn't flattering them and patting them on the back! Some believed in Him, but they did so secretly, not wanting the Pharisees to put them out of the synagogues. They loved the praise of men more than the glory of God. Jesus comes and delivers a salvation that robs them of their glory. It doesn't flatter them. It doesn't flatter us either. The terrible crushing the Law does to us is to expose that we love the praise of men more than God. It bothers us when people don't recognize how hard we try to be godly. How religious we are. How pious. When we consider how much better we are than those around us, it can make us angry that God doesn't seem to notice what we do! The truth is, as sinners, one way or another, we love the praise of men more than God and our Old Adam hates it when the Lord gets all the attention in church instead of us!

But Jesus doesn't fear men. And He doesn't seek their praise. And He doesn't glorify Himself by showing off. Jesus comes to do as Isaiah says, to give His back to the smiters. He doesn't seek their praise or approval but patiently and humbly submits Himself to their cruel insults, their harsh slaps, their beatings, scourging, and crucifixion. When Jesus is mocked and has such hateful words flung at Him, He doesn't fight back. He commits Himself to the Father who judges justly. Who's right? The Pharisees or Jesus? Christ's resurrection on Easter answers that question! Jesus came to be the most hated, insulted and unflattered person because we love all the flattery for ourselves. Because we love to be the centers of attention, because we want God to pat us on the back and tell us how great we're doing, Jesus goes the way of sorrow. The way of mockery, pain and death. There on Calvary is the one Man who doesn't care what men think but only desires to do the Father's will. There on the cross is the Son of God who draws all people to Himself, not because He flatters them and they like to hear it. He draws them to Himself because He is our Savior from sin. His wounds and blood cleanse us and win for us the salvation that comes not because we deserve it but because of God's grace and mercy.

There is now no more need to fear men. Never mind what people say about you out there, being a Christian. There is now no more fear that God doesn't recognize you and all the great things you do. That Old Adam way of thinking has been buried with Christ. Now, in your baptism, you have something spoken about you by God—that you are His forgiven child. That is such a description of you that no other person will ever make. It's a conclusion about you that you could never draw about yourself. What the Father says about you because of His Son is so different, so undeserved and yet so powerful and saving that it forgives your sins, quenches your lust for flattery and calls you holy in Christ. God is not content for you to want the weak and sad glory of men! He gives you His own glory, the glory of His Son, the salvation of Jesus. This Holy Week is not our time. It is Jesus' time. His time to come and suffer for our wanting it to be ours. But it is His. All His. And He's doing it for you. To save you. To make you His. To throw down all false flattery and the love of men's praise and to lift you up to enjoy the glorious riches of God's grace and glory which are given to us for the sake of that Son who is lifted up on the cross. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.  

March 28, 2010- Palm/Passion Sunday - St. Matthew 26:59-61; 27:6-8

The Law of Moses says that you can't condemn anyone without two or three witnesses. So if they're going to convict an innocent man, they'd better find two or three witnesses that can lie about Him! The Law says you can't put blood money in the treasury. So don't put those thirty pieces of silver in the plate; buy a field to bury the John Does in. Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you see the vast and shameful hypocrisy in Jesus being sent to His death? The religious leaders, the men who are supposedly experts in God's Word and the examples of godliness are going to send innocent Jesus to death but they have to do it in a way that appears right. They are murdering an innocent man, the Messiah even, but they're going to dot their “i”s and cross their “t”s! What hypocrites! They want to act like ungodly men while pretending to LOOK like godly men. Sounds like us. We come to church. We sing along and pray. But out there we live as if we can't get rid of God fast enough. We live as if we're holy and pious while we murder each other with our words and actions and show that we not only don't love our neighbors as ourselves, we don't love them at all. But then it's back to church in a show of piety and clean living. No wonder some people say they don't want to go to church because of all the hypocrites.

But that's the religion of the Pharisees. They go to the church of “say one thing and do another.” That's the belief of Pilate: if I “wash my hands” then I'm not really guilty. That's not our faith. Oh, we live like it is. But that's our repentance: to acknowledge that we are good at being hypocrites too, saying one thing, living another. But that's not why you are here. This church is not for those who want to look holy. This is the church in which God's Word strips away all of our pretensions to holiness. Here, there is no arguing, no doubting that we don't love God and we don't love our neighbor. God's holy Law strips away any notion that we're “good Christians” or that we're particularly religious or pious. No illusions here. I don't love God. I don't love others. I only love me. But loving me won't save me. And it won't do my neighbor any good. So we need a God who comes to love others more than Himself. A God who will take on our flesh and carry our hypocrisy and every other sin to Calvary and there love us more than Himself. In Jesus we have such a God who comes and doesn't defend Himself but allows these evil men and their self-righteous hypocrisy to condemn Him. To crucify Him. To kill Him. Here is the ultimate in the opposite of hypocrisy: the Lord speaks mercy and His actions do what His Words say: He takes our sins upon Himself and takes them away!

Now it may be that we still come here and hear God's Word and try to live it and fail out there, looking for all the world like hypocrites. But what the Lord says about us is not what the world concludes. Jesus has suffered and died for your sins. Your Baptism is God's promise that He will never regard you as a hypocrite and Pharisee but as His child, overlooking and forgetting your sins for Jesus' sake. The words of Holy Absolution are Christ's promise that all that He suffered on Calvary was for you and that it worked: your sins are forgiven. The Holy Supper of Christ' body and blood is that wonderful promise that while you may be a sinful hypocrite, it is Christ who lives in you and through you and He's no sinner or hypocrite! Most people think that the reason you go to church is to learn how to live, but when you go out and live some other way, you're just being a hypocrite. That's true if such a church is run by the Pharisees. But in Christ's church, we don't come to learn how not to be sinners. We come to learn that we are NOT sinners any longer because we are in Christ Jesus. The hypocritical clergy sent Jesus to His suffering and death. Our being hypocritical sinners sent Jesus to His death. But He went to death for just such sinners. Now He who was condemned by the false testimony of two witnesses declares you forgiven and free and not guilty by the witnesses of His death and resurrection, the water and the word and His body and blood. Christ is sacrificed! And you are free. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.  

March 24, 2010 - Lent 5 Midweek - The Passion Reading: Calvary

“If He's the Son of God, let Him come down now from the cross! He saved others; He can't save Himself!” So they enemies of Jesus mocked Him. It does seem a bit silly. Jesus DOES have power. He could hop down from that cross and blast those enemies with His mighty power, causing them to melt with fear and be destroyed for their evil. But He hangs there. He could have called down twelve legions of angels in the Garden and not ended up on the cross in the first place. But He let Himself be taken. People like to get all excited about how mighty and powerful Jesus is. But He's not powerful now. Now He's weak and dying and almost dead and then dead. He's no big, powerful, lighting tossing, glory-shining God now, is He? He's just nasty. And scary. And horrible. And sad looking. He's naked on a cross, nails through His hands and feet, a head crowned with thorns. He's surrounded by people who hate Him so much they can't even find a drop of human pity at such suffering but instead mock and laugh at Him. What a sad and sorry sight that this is what the Son of God looks like: bloody, dying, nailed to a cross, the Roman Empire's sick version of capital punishment.

But the mockers have it half right. If Jesus comes down off the cross, He'll save Himself. Himself. Just Himself. If Jesus comes down of the cross He'll save Himself but not us. If Jesus saves Himself, we perish. We die in our sins. We are doomed forever. But if Jesus doesn't save Himself, He saves us. Can't be both. You can't have a God who doesn't touch sin and still gets rid of your sins. But you can't get rid of your sins unless there's a God who becomes man to touch them, to carry them, to get covered in them and be crushed to death by them. No, they're right. He can't save Himself and others. If Jesus saves Himself, others are doomed. If Jesus doesn't save Himself, others are saved.

This is our faith, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the God who became man to save us does it by not saving Himself. We would save ourselves. If we were being tortured on a cross, and we could somehow get down, we would. When we sin we always try to save ourselves. We try to ignore it. Cover it up. Blame it on someone else. Say it's not our fault. Make excuses why we did it. Just hide it and hope it goes away. That's why Jesus doesn't save Himself. He knows that we try to save ourselves and that's exactly why He needs to save us. If we try to get rid of our own sins, our own condemnation before God, then we're done for. So the Father sends the Son to do it and the Son comes willingly and does it. Jesus knows that the only way to save us is to not save Himself. So He does not come down from that cross. He hangs there until the bitter end, until the sins of the world are paid for and He can say, “It is finished” and then commends Himself into His Father's hands, knowing that He will be raised the third day, having triumphed over all things.

And now, the One who didn't save Himself so that He could save you, does for you what He did to the thief who saw that He could be saved if Jesus died. Jesus declares your eternal life. At the font, from the pulpit, at the altar, the Lord is saying to you: I gave myself up for you. Now you will be with me in paradise on the day you die. No working out some religion or way of life. No figuring out the part you have to play. No wondering whether you can be sure. Just this Good News: The Son of God who DIDN'T save Himself has saved you. The One who was lifted up on the cross and refused to come down now lifts you to the heavenly places and won't let anything bring you down from there. Happy Lent in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

March 21, 2010 - Judica: The Fifth Sunday in Lent - Genesis 22:1-14

So God promised Abraham that he would have a son and that through that son the Promise would be carried on. Even though Abraham was almost 100 years old, he and Sarah were finally given their son Isaac. Here he was! The child of the promise! The child they would never have thought to expect except for the Lord's promise. Here was the one who would grow up to have his own kids so that Abraham's family would be just like God said: more than the stars of heaven. Except when Isaac is just about grown up the Lord tells Abraham to go kill him! God has promised that through this son, Isaac, the Promise would be carried. And then God tells Abraham to kill Isaac! What do you do when God says one thing and then says something completely different! What are we supposed to think when God seems to so blatantly contradict Himself? What are we supposed to think when the Word of God tells us what a beautiful picture marriage is supposed to be and we are married in the church with the Lord's blessings and then it seems like the marriage is coming apart? What are supposed to think when God's Word says, “train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they won't depart from it” and we've brought our kids to church their whole lives and they just get to a certain age and decide they don't really need church anymore? What do we do when we hear over and over that God loves us and then we find out we have some terrible sickness or disease from which we might even die! What do we do when we hear over and over that our sins are forgiven and yet we carry around a load of guilt that just won't go away? These contradictions, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, between what the Lord says and what is, are our being tested as Abraham was tested. When you know God's promise but the exact opposite happens then pay attention: this is test. But this is only a test!

When Abraham was tested, what could he conclude? On the one hand, God said his son was the one who would be the heir of the promise. But God also said that Abraham had to kill the boy. So what does Abraham cling to? How does he reconcile these two completely different messages from God? The book of Hebrews says that Abraham believed that if God had to raise Isaac from the dead, that's what He would do. In other words, Abraham figured that even if he killed his son Isaac, the Lord would still keep his promise by raising Isaac from the dead and making him the father of many nations. Here's another one: We heard the Father's voice declare about Jesus, “This is my beloved Son!” And yet now the Father is going to let Jesus be arrested and beaten and mocked and scourged and crucified and die, forsaken on the cross! So is Jesus the Father's beloved Son or not? He says one thing and does another. But here is where the contradiction is overcome and answered. In Jesus on the cross you have the greatest contradictions joined. In Jesus you have the God who hates and despises sin and the God who forgives and has mercy. In Jesus you have the Law which promises punishment to those who break it and the Gospel which promises forgiveness to those who cannot earn it. In Christ we have the huge contradiction that Man is God and that God dies. Christ can cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!?” because He still believes and holds fast to the promise that He is the Father's beloved Son.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus died for you. His death is for YOUR salvation. Therefore, anything when you experience that seems to contradict God's promises to you in Christ, is ONLY A TEST. Christ has died and taken away all your sins. He has risen and conquered death. You are Baptized and that makes you a child of God. Your sins are forgiven for Jesus's sake. You have His body and blood in you. Therefore when you experience things in this life that contradict that, don't believe them! Don't think God has thrown you under the bus! Usually our first reaction is despair: “Why is God doing this? He says I'm His child so what did I do to deserve this?” Or “I've tried doing it the Lord's way and it seems like that only leads to misery and problems!” These are the devil's whisperings which want to teach you despair. The devil says, “See? God's not true. He's a liar! He says one thing and does another. That's God for you, Mr. Bait and Switch!” But we know that the Devil is the one who is the liar! As Jesus says, he's not only a liar but the Father of lies. He's always been a liar. So when everything in your life seems to scream “Not a child of God! God's lying! God's playing you!” then hold on tightly to His promises which cannot be broken. Here is the Promise Jesus gives, “If anyone keeps My Word, He shall not see death!” Not even death itself can harm you because the Lord's made such a promise. When these contradictions are thrown at you, run to church. Hear your baptismal name. Hear the absolution. Hear the preaching. Eat and drink more Jesus! These gifts of Christ will sustain you against the things that seem to contradict them!

And how is the contradiction finally resolved for Abraham? He says to Isaac, “The Lord will provide a lamb for Himself.” And then, when the angel stops him from actually killing Isaac, there is a ram caught in a bush that they can sacrifice. Then He names the hill “The Lord will provide.” An even better translation is “the Lord will be seen.” This is the hill where the Lord is seen. Because the angel of the Lord shows up and keeps Abraham from killing His Son. But also because this may have been the very hill that almost 2000 years later the Lord was seen upon, nailed to the cross. Upon mount Calvary the Lord is seen saving us. Suffering for us. Dying for us. Pouring out blood and water for us. On that hill, not Abraham's son, not a ram caught in a thicket but the Son of God is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. On the mountain of the Lord He will be seen. Calvary is that mountain. Calvary is the mountain where the Lord can be seen answering for our sins and forgiven them. Calvary is the mountain where the Lord can be seen taking the place of sinners in order to save us. Calvary is the mountain where the Lord is seen rescuing us from death and hell. Calvary is the mountain where the Lord is seen being Abraham's Savior and Isaac's Savior and ours too.

Jesus tells His enemies in today's Gospel, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He did see it and was glad.” That's because Abraham learned that on the mountain of the Lord it's not we who die or our kids who have to die. It's the Lord's lamb who dies. Brothers and sisters in Christ, because Abraham knew the promise of the Savior who would come, he was comforted when everything seemed like the Lord was contradicting Himself. When the crosses and trials of your life seem to say that the Lord says one thing and does another, then look to Christ and see that it's not true! Look to Christ and know what the Lord's heart toward you always is. Trust in your Baptism. Believe the absolution. Cling to Christ's body and blood. There you have the true promises of God that can never be overcome, even when it seems like they are being contradicted. For after all, you have Christ's resurrection to answer the question: Does God love His Son or not? He said He did but then He killed Him. But then He raised Him and that's the final answer! Life. Forgiveness. Victory. These things win out over whatever the devil has going. And they are your victory in Christ. Does God love you or not? He must. For He has provided a Lamb for you, His Son Jesus Christ! Happy Lent in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

March 17, 2010 - Lent 4 Midweek - The Passion Reading: The Praetorium

You've probably been told that all sins are the same. When it comes down to it, there's no sin that's greater than another one. They are all bad. That's not what Jesus says! Pilate says, “Don't you know that I have the power to crucify you or release you?” Jesus says, “You would have no power over me unless it were given to you from above, so the one who handed me over is guilty of the greater sin.” There. He said it. Who handed Jesus over? Here He is not talking about Judas but about the High Priest. Here is what it comes down to: Pilate had the power to stop the murder of an innocent man and didn't do it. In that sense Pilate murdered Jesus. But the High Priest, knowing that Jesus was the Savior promised by the Scriptures, rejected Him and handed Him over to die. Pilate sins out of cowardice and ignorance, breaking the Second Table, by harming His neighbor. The High Priest sins out of unbelief and hardness of heart, breaking the First Table and rejecting God Himself! Which one is worse?

Brothers and sisters learn carefully what Jesus is saying. We sin against the Second Table all the time. True, every commandment we break is ultimately against God. But every day we do things to hurt or harm our neighbor: dishonoring our parents, murdering, lusting, stealing, lying, and coveting in one way or another. We are constantly stepping on others' toes and for this Jesus goes to the cross. He goes there because we don't love our neighbors as He tells us to. And we sin against the First Table too, since we have other gods and despise the Lord's name and Word. Jesus went to the cross for those sins too. But the sin that damns, the sin that will get you and cut you off from Jesus forever is the sin of the High Priest, the confession, “He's not my Savior. He's not my King. He's not my God!” Every other sin, even sins as bad as Judas' and Pilate's, are covered by the blood of Jesus. But the sin of the High Priest is this very awful way in which he puts himself outside of Christ's sin-canceling blood by rejecting Him. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have many sins and they are no greater or worse than Judas betraying or Peter denying or Pilate wimping out and murdering. Confess them! Acknowledge that you deserve God's wrath and judgment. And then rejoice that His wrath and judgment fall upon Jesus.

When Jesus is handed over, when He is sentenced like a criminal even though there is no fault in Him, He is doing the Father's will. When Jesus tells Pilate that his authority over Jesus has been given to Him from above, He's acknowledging that the only reason He is going to die is not because of some Roman governor who has no backbone but because the Father wills it. It is the Father's will that Jesus suffer and die in order to take away our sins. It is God the Father's good pleasure to save you and me from our sins by sending His Son to take our place, just as He took the place of a murdering and thieving Barabbas. It is God's will that your sins be wiped out by the blood of His Son. That's why Jesus undergoes this suffering. That's why He is given into Pilate's hands and that is why He gives His life: for your salvation.

All sins are not the same. All sins send Jesus to the cross but the sin of unbelief cuts us off from Jesus. But don't you worry. He went to the cross for you. He Himself has chosen you at the font in Holy Baptism. He stands behind your pastor's word of forgiveness and preaching and He makes sure by His body and blood that He lives in you and you in Him and that you will be raised up on the Last Day just as He rose from the dead after His suffering and death. Truly Christ's kingdom is not of this world. Such a kingdom would be one in which we get what we deserve! But in Christ's kingdom, He gets what we deserve and we get forgiveness of sins, eternal life, joy and peace. Happy Lent in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

March 14, 2010 - Laetare: The Fourth Sunday in Lent - St. John 6:1-15

The Feeding of the 5,000 teaches us two things about Jesus. First of all we learn that it is our Lord Jesus who is the one through whom we have everything that we need. Those people on that mountain were hungry. They hadn't eaten all day. They needed food. But there wasn't any food except for a few loaves and some fish. So Jesus takes that food and makes sure they all get some. All 5,000 of them! Jesus takes care of their bodies and He'll take care of what we need for our bodies and lives. But the Feeding of the 5,000 also shows us that Jesus is the Bread of Life who feeds our souls and gives us bread that lasts forever. In His breaking of the bread and distributing it by His disciples, we have a picture of His church in which He feeds us with Himself, the Bread of Life, distributed by His pastors to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, and, as He says later on, so that He will raise you up on the Last Day. Jesus' main job is to give us this Bread of Life, His flesh, given for the life of the world, so that you will have eternal life. But He also feeds the people with bread and fish to teach us that if He is the One who is our Savior, then He's also the One who will provide what we need every day of our lives.

But look how much unbelief we have! How ungrateful we are, both for His bodily and His spiritual blessings! We ask with Philip: “Where are we going to get enough?” When we have some, we ask with Andrew, “How is that enough?” We worry and fret and grumble about how we don't have what we think we need and we have no idea where it's going to come from! The Lord gives us our daily bread and then when it gets low again, we wonder where we're going to get it, as if the Lord never gave us anything! And then we neglect what our Lord has for us spiritually too! Here in the church He gives us His own body and blood, the Bread of Life and we act as if we don't need it. Parents: You work hard to provide clothes and food for your kids. If you didn't, they would starve! But what do you think will happen to their faith if you don't insist they come and eat the Bread of Life! Anything and everything becomes an excuse for neglecting the bread of life: I'm too tired. I just needed to sleep. I had something more important. Sunday is my day off. Believe me, I've heard them all. Is the Bread of Life so unimportant that you can skip it so easily? Faith that is not fed by Christ's body will do nothing but wither and die. It doesn't matter whether it's Jesus's bodily gifts, which we complain we don't have or His spiritual gifts which we act like we don't want—either way and for both, repent! Turn from the complaining that got the Israelites killed in the desert and cling to Christ who has all these things for us!

Jesus is the provider of our daily bread. Sure, we have jobs, we work, we make money, we buy what we need. But if we think this is all our doing, then we are denying what Christ is teaching us. He is the One through whom we have all that we need. And He does it even despite our complaining! Look at the children of Israel. There they were grumbling in the desert. They wanted bread. So the Lord sent them manna, day after day for forty years. They grumbled for meat and the Lord sent them quail, day after day for forty years. Then here on the mountain with Jesus. The people are hungry and Jesus' own disciples can't figure out that they should trust Jesus to take care of it. So He does. He feeds them. And there's even a basket of leftovers for each of His twelve doubting apostles. And how about you? Does the Lord take care of you or does He let you starve? When we have to beg our kids to “take one more bite” or push away half a plate of food at a restaurant, I'm pretty sure that the Lord is providing our daily bread! But while Jesus is indeed the Provider of our daily bread, that's not all He has for us! We sell Him short if we believe like the TV preachers tell us that Jesus came so we can have lots of money and nice cars and houses! Daily bread, sure, but He has so much more. And I'm not talking “stuff.”

Gathered around Mt. Sinai, the Lord fed His people with manna. Gathered on the mountain with Jesus, the Lord fed them fish sandwiches, as much as they wanted. Feeding the people from the mountain two times like this points us to a greater mountain from which our food comes: Mt. Calvary. Jesus, later in chapter 6 explains to the people that He is the Bread of Life. His flesh, given for the life of the world is the true bread which, when we eat it, gives us eternal life. Jesus says, “Sure, I can make sure you've got enough to eat. So never mind that. Don't get all worked up about having enough groceries! Rather, eat my flesh which is the true Bread of Life and I will live in you and you in Me and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” When Jesus gives His life on the cross for our sins, He is giving His flesh as our food. Just as He told His disciples: “Take, eat; take, drink.” Here is a feast from God on the mountain, given to us in His Supper when His church is gathered together. Here is Christ's promise that His death on the cross is for you, when He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink. The amazing thing is not that Jesus gives us what need to eat and drink; it's that He takes away our sins and gives us eternal life and that is a bread that lasts forever. That is sustenance not just for the body but for body and soul together. Here is a treasure greater than anything we could buy at the store, for it is given to us freely as a gift: Forgiveness of sins. Eternal life. Salvation. That beats fish sandwiches every time!

And the grace of God is seen in that Jesus knows what we need even before we ask. He knew He was going to feed those 5,000 but He was testing Philip and Andrew. They failed. He knows that He is going to give us what we need even before we ask. But we fail too, doubting that He'll provide for us. But He still does, because that's the kind of Jesus He is! But more than that, before we even knew we were sinful, before we would ever have thought to ask for a Savior, He came in the flesh to give that flesh up into death for our life. He came to be the Bread of Life when we didn't even know we needed THAT kind of bread! When things seem tight, when you don't know how you're going to make it, remember that the Lord already knows how He's going to provide for you. Instead of grumbling and complaining, turn to Him in faith and say, “Lord, I don't know how you're going to do it but since you prove over and over that you can provide for me, then do so!” You can pray that way. That's faith that takes hold of Jesus and doesn't let go. But more than that: Here is a promise: There will never be a shortage or a testing with His body and blood. It is always available to you here in His church. Whenever the doubts and worries and all the other sins of your life pile up, come here and eat this holy meal, rejoicing that because the Father has given His Son to die for you, He will graciously give you ALL things that you need.

Jesus dished out bread on the mountain to a hungry crowd. He'll make sure you have what you need for this life. But more than that, better than that, He gave His flesh for the life of the world on Mt. Calvary, to be a holy food by which we don't just survive another day in this life but have life everlasting. It is easy for us to doubt whether the Lord will provide. But His going to the cross is His promise that He will give you all things. He has taken away all of your sins. He has rescued you from death and the Devil. He has accomplished and delivered to you the fruits of eternal salvation. He gives you His holy body and precious blood as the meal of salvation. For such a Lord and Savior who does all that, what's a bag full of groceries to Him? See, then, in Jesus, the One who is your provider both for you body and for your soul, for this life and the life to come. He who is the Bread of Life will feed you now and forever. Happy Lent in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Lent 3 Midweek - The Passion Reading: The Palace of the High Priest

It matters where you go to church. If you don't believe that, then behold Judas this night. Judas betrayed Jesus. He handed him over to His enemies because he was greedy. He got paid to do it. Judas thought only of Judas and how he might get some money by giving Jesus up to those who wanted to kill him. But how is this different than Peter? Peter was asked if he knew Jesus. He cursed and said, “No way!” Three times Peter denied Christ. How is that different than what Judas did? Both denied Christ. Both betrayed Him. Both let him die. Both turned their backs on Him. And how is that different than us? We deny Christ. By our words and actions we shout to the world that we don't know Him and at the first sign of something more interesting or exciting, we are ready to hand Jesus over and go running after it. The truth is, Judas' sin, Peter's sin, our sin is the same: we have sent our Lord to the cross.

So what is so different or bad about Judas? What causes him to perish? It's where he goes when his sins trouble him. Was Peter sorry for what he did? Sure. He went out and wept. Was Judas sorry for what he did? Sure. He went and gave the money back. But listen carefully. Judas is faced with his sin. He stands horrified at his betrayal of the Lord. So he goes to the church of the Jewish religious leaders. He confesses his sins: “I have betrayed innocent blood!” Their reply? “How is that our problem? What is that to us? See to it yourself. Judas, if you have a problem, if you've sinned, then you fix it. You're on your own. It's all on you, Judas.” But Judas, seeing that he could not get rid of his own sins, despaired and hanged himself. The tragedy of Judas is not what he did. It's the preaching he heard. For when Judas' sins crushed him, there was no one to comfort him. They just left him to his own sins, to despair and to death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when you bring your sins to Christ, His answer is not, “What is that to me?” His answer is, “Your sins are everything to me. They are why I came. They are mine now. Don't worry; I'll take care of them.” Christ comes to be betrayed, to be denied, to be mocked, tortured and sent to the cross to die because we are sinners. Because we are traitors. Deniers. God-haters. But that is why He came! He didn't come to teach us how to deal with our own sins. He didn't come to show us the right way of handling the things we've done wrong. He came to deal with and handle our sins Himself. He came to touch the rotten, wicked, filthy, contaminated, nuclear waste filled sewage of our sins Himself. To die for our sins. To blot out our sins. To rise again and declare our sins dead and buried and you alive in Him! Whatever you have done, your Lord has taken it upon Himself and you are forgiven.

So now live in that forgiveness. Don't avoid your pastor as if he's not about your sins. Bring them to him and say, “I have betrayed innocent blood. I have murdered. Lusted. Coveted. Stolen. Denied God and despised His name and Word.” Whatever it is you have done, confess it and hear not “Hey, that's your problem!” Hear what Jesus says, spoken by your pastor for your comfort. Here in Christ's church, He's all about taking your sins away. So He says, “I forgive you all your sins!” And so I say, “I forgive you ALL your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Happy Lent in the Name of Jesus! Amen.