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.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 22, 2011 - Good Friday - St. John 18:1-19:42

Your sins are Jesus' suffering and death. The commandments teach us plainly and simply to love God above all things. We don't. The commandments teach us plainly and simply to love others as ourselves. We don't. The commandments decree that the punishment for breaking them is the awful wrath of God. But there, on that cross, that suffering, that death, that's yours. But now it's His. Your sins. They're His.

Therefore Jesus' sentence is your “not guilty.” Christ who is innocent takes the place of a guilty man, Barabbas. You. Me. Christ is given the sentence of a guilty man. He is condemned. But His condemnation, the judgment and verdict of “death” is your “not guilty” from God. Because He has taken your place.

Jesus' nakedness is your covering. Those soldiers took those garments of Jesus. Sinful men received the clothing of Christ. On the cross, naked and covered in shame, Jesus, by His death as the Lamb of God, provides for you a robe of righteousness. A covering of perfection and holiness so that when you stand before the Father, you stand there dressed not in the filthy rags of a sinner but in the spotless and untorn robe of your Savior.

Jesus' leaving His mother behind is your adoption into His family. As St. John was commended into Mary's care, so you are given into the care of your mother, the church. By grace, you have been adopted by your heavenly Father, under the care of your spiritual mother, the church. Christ, who leaves behind His mother and is forsaken by the Father on the cross, suffers these things that you might no longer be an orphan because of sin but once again in the family of God, the Christian church.

Jesus' thirsting is your being refreshed. The one whose parched lips touch a sponge filled with vinegar in order to fulfill the Scriptures is the One who gives you the Holy Spirit, to well up in you as a fountain of living water, a fountain that means you'll never thirst but always have Christ's unfailing and refreshing forgiveness.

And finally, Jesus' death is your life. His “It is finished” is your promise that there is nothing you need to try to do to get right with God. It's done. His giving up His spirit at the moment of His choosing means that this is not some random act of violence; our Lord fulfilled the Father's will and died for you. And the blood and water flowing out of His side are your life. The life given in the water of the font and the life given in the blood of the cup. All that Jesus has suffered, all that Jesus has undergone, all that is BAD for Jesus—is GOOD for you. Happy GOOD Friday. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 21, 2011 - Maundy Thusday - St. John 13:1-15,34-35

When Jesus washes the disciples' feet, he's not giving us an example of how to wash other peoples' feet. He's giving us an example of forgiving sins. The foot washing is just an example and picture of this. We know this because Peter objects and Jesus tells him he has no part of Him unless He washes His feet. Peter, ever impetuous says, “Well then wash my hands and head!” To which Jesus replies, “You're already clean. You don't need a bath. Just a foot washing because you step in it.” In other words, Peter is already baptized. He doesn't need to be baptized again. But as he goes around stepping in sin, Jesus must wash him again, that is, forgive and absolve him. He does this in preparation for this special Supper in which He then gives them His body and blood to eat and drink, body and blood that are about to be given into death on the cross for them and for the world.

So what about you? Would you wash someone's feet? You might. But here's a tougher question: Would you forgive someone when they step in it? Your husband or wife; your kids or parents; your other family members? The dirt and crud on someone's feet doesn't seem half bad compared to the things people do against us. The hurtful words we can't let go. The pain of having someone let you down. The promises not kept. The awful attitude and bitter disappointment that come when others go against us. We'd touch a person's smelly tootsies faster than we'd forgive them and treat them like they DIDN'T sin. It'd be much easier to scrub the grime off someone's feet than to put away whatever it is they did against you and stop holding a grudge and forgiven them. Repent of such unforgiveness to whomever and hear Jesus' Words again. Jesus tells His disciples and us, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

And how did He love us? How does He still love us? On this night, He loved us by giving us a holy Supper of forgiveness from His Body and Blood. On this night He let Himself be arrested and taken before evil men. He allowed Himself to be beaten and slapped around and to be dragged before Pontius Pilate and tortured some more before finally being humiliated and nailed to a cross. And He has washed you in Holy Baptism and still washes your feet by Holy Absolution as you daily step in stink piles of sin. And all that is not merely the EXAMPLE of how you're supposed to love others. His forgiveness is the very forgiveness which you pass on to those around you. When they step in it, wash their feet. Forgive them. Don't hold their sins against them. That is hard to do. Which is why Christ did and still does it for you: so that by HIS strength, the blessing of His forgiving you will be the blessing of your forgiving someone else. Now come to the feast of forgiveness. After all, you're all washed up for dinner!

April 10, 2011 - Tuesday of Holy Week - St. Mark 15:29-32

It seems so despicable. Cruel. Evil. Those wicked men standing their mocking Jesus. Laughing at His torment on the cross, making fun of Him and His apparent inability to save Himself. “He saved others; let Him save Himself. Let Him come down off the cross if He's the King of Israel.” That's Satan talking again. “If you're the Son of God, turn these stones into bread. IF you're the Son of God, come down off the cross.” See? That's the devil mocking. The funniest or most disappointing thing people can think about Jesus is that He could save others but then He couldn't save Himself. He can heal the blind and deaf and dumb and even raise the dead but He somehow couldn't avoid getting Himself crucified? And once He's crucified, He can't get down off the cross? Some Savior He is! What a joke! They mock. They ridicule. They hate. And when we see it, we think to ourselves, “I'd never do that!”

Oh, really? When you're sick and God doesn't seem to answer your prayer for healing do you get upset with Him? When you want something that is going wrong in your life to go right, you don't demand from God to do things your way? “If you're really God, then why don't you help me? Heal me? Fix me? Save me?” If God is really God, why does He let bad things happen? Why doesn't He prevent them? Oh, it's not that you would tell Jesus to come down off the cross. You'd just tell Him how best to run your life. Work things out. Make things happen. And when He doesn't do it, perhaps you consider He can't because maybe He's not everything He's supposed to be. No, we wouldn't mock God on the cross; we would just question His grace and mercy all the other times of our lives!

But once again, those who mock Jesus speak the truth. “He saves others but Himself He cannot save.” Yep. That's how it works. Jesus COULD save Himself. But then you would be doomed. It's you or Jesus. Someone's going down for your sins. Someone's going to pay the price. And it won't be you. That's why Jesus doesn't save Himself. He doesn't save Himself so that He DOES save you. His not saving Himself means you are saved. His not coming down from the cross means your sins are paid for by His blood. His suffering means you being spared. That's just how it works. Jesus won't save Himself in order that He saves you. Jesus not coming down from that cross means there will be a washing to forgive you and give you new life; a Supper of broken body and shed blood to give you forgiveness and life and salvation. Jesus' undergoing the mockery of evil men means evil ones like us have our sins forgiven. It all comes down to this. He IS the Son of God most of all not because He can save Himself but because He saves others. Saves you and me. The devil doesn't get it. But then again that salvation isn't for him. It's for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 18, 2011 - Monday of Holy Week - St. John 12:1-43

Jesus is troubled. Does that trouble you? Jesus is troubled. Upset. His suffering has already begun. He knows what He faces. And there's a way out. He could ask. He could bail. He could abandon ship and escape before it's too late. He's that troubled. BUT...That's why He came. He can't leave it. He came to do it. “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour?' But for this purpose I came to this hour.” What purpose is that? To be the grain of wheat that dies to bear fruit. To be the Lamb who is sacrificed for our sins. To be the Savior who suffers horribly and has it all topped off by being crucified. To be the object of wrath and the curse of the Father as He bears our sin. To be the fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets. To be the God who dies for His creation. To be your Savior. Your Lord. Your Lamb. That's the purpose for which He came to this hour.

He came to be troubled because we are not. We live in an age where we can fight wars around the world and they're hardly mentioned on the news. We live in a world where as long as things are working out for us, there's not much reason to be troubled. We live in a world which teaches us not to be troubled over our sins and so we aren't. We daily despise God and His Word. We daily pick and choose whom we'll love and whom we'll ignore and have nothing to do with and acting that way doesn't really bother us, does it? And if something does go wrong, we may be troubled but only because in our selfishness, we think whatever is wrong is the end of our world. When it comes down to it, we are not so troubled by our sins. We aren't even really troubled by Jesus' death. If our eyes glaze over to the tragedies we see far away on a new broadcast, how much more do we not get worked up about Jesus death for our sins?

Repent of not being terribly troubled at your sins. But more than that, recognize the reason Jesus is troubled. It's not just because He's going to suffer a whole lot of pain and He's not looking forward to it. Our Lord is troubled by our sins. He takes them as His own and feels their guilt upon Him. He makes our sins His own and suffers the weight of God's judgment upon those iniquities and transgressions. We ought to be troubled by our sins, but only in the sense that we realize how bad they are: They killed God Himself in the flesh. But then hear Jesus' words again: “It is for this purpose that I came to this hour.” You can't get Jesus off track. He came to be troubled by our sins, to be crushed and bruised and stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us. His one entire purpose was this: to be troubled for you. In your place. On your behalf. And having taken the trouble of our sins upon Himself, He trades it for a pure and clean conscience. Washed clean at the font. Fed and strengthened at the altar. The grain of wheat goes to die. It fulfills its purpose by dying and then producing a plant. The Lamb goes to His purpose. To His sacrifice. The Savior goes to His cross. To his suffering and death. To make what was yours, His, your sins and death. And to give you what He has for you: forgiveness and life. Jesus doesn't ask the Father to save Him from this hour. Rather, He goes to His hour, to His purpose, for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 17, 2011 - The Sunday of the Passion - St. Matthew 27:24-25

There are two reactions to Christ being sent to death. The first reaction is that of Pontius Pilate washing his hands. “I am innocent of this man's blood!” It's not MY fault. I can't do anything about it. He's the ROMAN governor. He can certainly stop it. But he's had too many run ins with the Jews and they hate him. And the Emperor told him to keep the peace. So let's make a grand show of washing our hands and pretending we can't do anything to keep an innocent man from getting nailed to a cross. Sound familiar? It's not MY fault. Jesus' death wasn't caused by MY sins. Or maybe a little bit but hardly as much as someone else's sins! No, Pilate, you don't get off the hook like that. And not us either. We don't get off the hook like that. We are responsible for sending Jesus to the cross. It was for our sins that He suffered and died. You can't say those words you said to someone aren't your fault. That it wasn't your responsibility. You can't get away with “they did it first.” There is no “I'm not to blame” or “I have an excuse.” We sin against God and others all the time and it is because of those sins that God is nailed to the tree. We don't get a pass just because we think it's a bit uncomfortable to say that it's our fault.

The other reaction is that of the Jews. “Fine! Let His blood be on our heads!” They so hate and despise Jesus that they don't care if they are judged for killing God Himself. They so hate and cannot stand God in the flesh that they want Him dead and they'll gladly take the blame as long as it gets done. Pilate's answer is to pretend we don't have sin. The Jews' answer is to not care about their sins. Even if they know it's wrong, they'll do it anyway. And that's our reaction too. I know what I'm about to do is wrong but I'm going to do it anyway. I know that I have a Savior who forgives my sins but I don't care. I'm going to sin anyway and I'm not really sorry for it. I'll take responsibility later. What matters now is what I want to do. I don't care if my sins killed Jesus. You can't tell me what to do! Don't call me a sinner. I don't care. I just want Jesus out of my life so I can do what I want. How'd that work for those who cursed themselves. Forty years later the city of Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans and the inhabitants, men, women and children were slaughtered. How will that end for you if you think like that?

But here's the twist in all of this. Pontius Pilate and the Jews just show us pictures of ourselves and how we react to sending God Himself to suffering and death. And yet, in a deeper way, both what Pilate and the Jews say is true! Jesus goes to suffering and death to take away our sins after all. So when Pilate says that He is innocent of this man's blood, He really is! And when the Jews say that His blood be on their heads, it really is. And you, whose sins sent Jesus to the cross, because He shed His blood for them there, YOU are innocent of His death. God doesn't count your sins any longer as your own but Jesus' sins. You are innocent and He is made guilty. And His blood IS on your head. It's sprinkled upon your head in the waters of Holy Baptism. It's forgiveness is preached into your ears and it is even given you to drink in the Sacrament. The very death that is caused by those who try to claim they're innocent and those who are so angry they don't care; the very death that is caused by ALL of our sins, takes those sins away. Wipes them out. They are no more. Understand this, dear Christians, that it was YOUR sins that sent Jesus to Calvary. But when He was there upon that cross they were no longer your sins but His. And now, washed by His blood, you have everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. It's not that we got away with out sins. Our sins were taken away by our Savior. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 13, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 5 - The Sacrament of the Altar

In the Ten Commandments we learn to confess our sins. With the Creed, we learn what God has done for us. In the Lord's Prayer we cry out for our heavenly Father to keep us in the faith. In Holy Baptism we confess that we are the Lord's and in Confession we have the opportunity to hear the sweet words of Holy Absolution. Then, finally, in the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ is truly present among us to forgive us and bestow upon us what He won at the cross. What is it and what does it do for us? Let's read in the hymnal page 326 and 327, the first and third questions about the Sacrament of the Altar...Every question or misunderstanding about the Sacrament of the Altar can be answered by Jesus' words. His Words tell us what this Sacrrament is: His Body and Blood. What to do with it: Eat and drink. What good it does: gives the forgiveness of sins. The Catechism reminds us that everything we need to know about this gift is all there in those words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” With those words, Jesus gives His gift to us and guards us from all false teaching and misunderstanding of this gift.

“Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Given and shed. These words point us straight to Calvary where God Himself in the flesh bled and died for us. There, on the cross, He gave Himself into death to take away our sins. His body was mocked, spit upon, crowned with thorns, pierced with nails and a spear. From those holy wounds His blood spilled forth, washing away our sins. As the Passover Lamb was slaughtered and eaten in the Old Testament, so this Lamb of God is slain upon the cross and gives His Body and Blood as a holy Passover food that rescues us from death. When we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, have no doubt that it is the same Body and Blood that was upon Calvary. When Christ's Words are spoken, the bread and wine that sit upon the altar now has with it the true Body and Blood of Jesus. Then our Lord who was on the cross 2000 years ago and is now at the right hand of God is yet here with us now, today, not just in our memories or imaginations but really and truly present is this special and sacramental way.

Given and shed. FOR YOU. For the forgiveness of sins. It's not just that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. His death wouldn't do you any good if its fruits and benefits weren't ever given to you. You weren't there when they crucified the Lord. But He is here now in His Body and Blood for you. And what does His Body and Blood bring us? Forgiveness of sins. Again, in yet one more way, the Lord bestows upon us His forgiveness, His promise that He will not treat us as our sins deserve but rather has cast them into the depths of the sea and made them white as snow. But along with that forgiveness comes eternal life and salvation. Jesus said quite clearly: “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood I will live in you and you in Me and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” (John 6). There it is. The Lord's Supper is not JUST that whatever sins you committed this past week are wiped out. It's so much more. It's the promise that Christ Himself now lives in you and that because He overcame death by His resurrection you will too. So it is perfectly acceptable to say, “Because I have eaten and drunk the Body and Blood of Jesus, my sins are forgiven. I am saved. I am in Christ and He is in me. I will rise on the Last Day and be alive forever!” All of those things are the gifts and promises Christ gives with that Body and Blood that were given and shed for you.

Now we all know what will happen if we stop eating. Not just dieting or even fasting, but just don't eat. We'll become malnourished and eventually we'll die. Now I don't know many people who decide they want to stop eating and let their bodies waste away. But there is always the temptation that we despise the Sacrament and think little of it and so let ourselves drift away from it. Many people do this and they are putting themselves in spiritual harm because eventually their faith that is sustained and made strong by Jesus' Body and Blood will wither away. Therefore let us never despise this holy gift of Christ's Body and Blood, the Sacrament of the Altar! But let us hunger and thirst for it as the medicine of immortality and the cure for our sin and death.

The Sacrament of the Altar is not just a ceremony or something we do in church. It is the highlight and center of our life as Christians that here, at His own altar, Christ Himself feeds us and strengthens us and nourishes us in Him. Here at Christ's altar is not a symbol of something but the Lord Himself, letting us feast upon Him for salvation. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Those are Jesus' words that mean what they say and give what they say: His Body and Blood that were crucified and raised for you so that you your sins are gone and you have eternal life. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It's all there in His Words. At His altar. His gift to you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 10, 2011 - The Fifth Sunday in Lent - St. John 8:42-59

If the season of Lent is about anything, it's about our Lord's fight against the Devil. Jesus says that the Devil is a liar, and the father of lies and a murderer too. The father of lies and a murderer. The way that the Devil murders is by being a liar. If the Devil can lie to you about God's Word and get you to believe it, then you die, because you are cut off from Christ's Word. The Devil may try to get you to believe the lie that you live a good enough life for God to love you. He may try to get you to believe the lie that all religions are the same and it doesn't matter what you believe. He will lie to you and tell you that there is no God and that all religions are a joke and to be avoided. He will lie and tell you that you can't be a child of God with the sins you've got. He will lie by trying to get some pastor to say that what the Bible teaches is old and outdated or irrelevant. Or he will lie and try to get you to focus on the Law instead of the Gospel as your salvation. It doesn't matter. The Liar and Father of Lies will lie to you in any way, shape, or form can make you doubt Christ's Word and fall into unbelief.

So that is why Jesus says THREE TIME in this Gospel lesson to the Jews who hated Him, that those who are belong to God keep his Word and will not see death. The thing that saves us from the Devil's lies is the Word of Christ. That is the Word that says that God Himself has come in the flesh to carry our sins to the cross and die for them. God dies so that we shall not taste death. Just think of that! Because Jesus died for our sins and rose again, we will not taste death. Wait...does that mean we won't die? No. At least not unless Jesus returns first. What it does mean is that for you who are in Christ, death becomes nothing more than a nap, a falling asleep, a brief passing from this life to eternal life. Being baptized into Christ and having feasted upon Jesus' Body and Blood, know this: for you, death has been overcome. Its power has been neutralized. When the moment of your death comes, it is no more than falling asleep in Jesus. That may not be a pleasant thing to think about, but it's the truth: your death, when it comes, is nothing more than falling asleep in Jesus.

But there is more death than physical death from which Jesus' Word rescues you! There is eternal death. Eternal death is the death that comes after Judgment Day, the eternal separation from God which comes for those who'd rather hold on to their sins than let Christ carry them. Eternal death is everlasting punishment which results from being unrepentant. And from this horrible and eternal death Christ's Word also saves you. Christ's Word delivers His forgiveness so that on the Last Day the verdict you will hear is “not guilty.” Christ's Word is the word that is combined with the water to wash you in Holy Baptism and rescue you from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. It is Christ's Word that your pastor speaks, declaring your sins to be forgiven. Christ's Word is the Word which delivers His Body and Blood for you to eat and drink with the promise that He will raise you up on the Last Day. It is Christ's Word that promises you shall not see death; that physical death cannot harm you and that eternal death is not yours either. It is Christ's Word that gives life and protects us from the lies of the devil.

Now, all this Jesus talk sounds good as long as it's theoretical. But as soon as the rubber hits the road, the Devil is right there to accuse us of...having a devil! Just like the Jews did to Jesus. All Lent Jesus has been casting out the Devil and now they say he has a Devil! That's the Devil's trick. As soon as you try to tell someone that Christ's Word is right, that His Word is true, they will accuse you of being “unloving” and “closed-minded.” In today's world, there's almost nothing worse than being called THOSE things! Don't believe me? Talk to your Baptist friends about Baptism. It matters whether Jesus baptizes and saves babies or He doesn't. “That stuff doesn't matter,” they say, “As long as we all believe in Jesus. Talk to your non-Christian friends about Jesus being the only way to heaven and they will likely reply, “You can't say that someone who doesn't believe in Jesus will go to hell. You're close minded!” Tell someone else in our own church body, the Missouri Synod, that they shouldn't be giving Communion to just anyone and they will accuse you of meddling and questioning their intentions. In short: the moment you confess that Christ's Word is the truth, the absolute, unchanging, saving Truth, the Devil goes into overdrive to throw his lies at you and wear you down until you just want to give in and say, “It really doesn't matter!” And if the Devil can't get you with that, he'll go after you some other way. Just as the Jews, when they couldn't argue with Christ's Word, became so enraged they grab stones to kill Him!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take this battle seriously! Repent of any despising of God's Word or not learning that Word which protects and saves you! Here, in Christ's church, where His Word is preached and His holy Sacraments are given out, you need not fear the Devil and his lies. Here you have the Truth of Christ delivered to you from God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. Here in your Baptism, Absolution, Supper and the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, you have every weapon against the Evil One who seeks to confuse you and lie to you and ultimately murder you. In the end, the Devil is a total fool. He worked so hard through evil men to get a hold of the Son of God and kill Him! And yet it is by that every death that Jesus tramples the Devil and his kingdom and swallows up death in the victory of Easter. You are of God, for you have God's Word. And Christ's Word means that you will not taste death. It's a fact that the Devil hates but that he can't do anything about, for you are safe in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 9, 2011 - Higher Things "Baptismal ID" Retreat Matins - Psalm 130

Are you ever down in the dumps? Life's the pits? Feelin' low? In over your head? That's all what the psalmist calls “the depths.” The “depths” are the deep places where the devil, the world and our sinful nature overwhelm us. The depths are where you are when your parents are mad at you, your friends stab you in the back, and you're troubled by something you said or did or thought and think that God is mad at you and won't forgive you. Yep. The depths. Not a fun place to be. So what do you do when you're there? Whine? Complain? Cry? Sob? Get in a foul mood? The Psalmist gives us some help: Cry out to the Lord! “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Lord, I'm sinking in the depths! I'm drowning! Going down! Help!”

Look around. Not here. I mean look around those depths. See who else is there? No, not just pretty much every other kid you know. Jesus is there. In the depths. That's right. Right there in the depths with you. Because Jesus knows all about the depths. He knows that down there in the depths, the Devil is swimming around like shark waiting to gobble you up with despair and sadness. So that's where Jesus is. In the depths. To save you. And He can do that because He's been in even deeper depths than you. First of all, even though He's the sinless Son of God, god Himself, He came down to this world, to the depths of where sin lives here among sinners. Then He went even lower. He went to the cross and even though He was lifted up on the cross, He was sunk down in the depths. Our sins were like a great block of concrete or some other weight chained to Jesus dragging Him down into the depths of our sins and God's judgment and finally into death. He went even lower, but this time not to suffer. He descended into the depths of Hell itself to let the Devil know that he has no claim on you. Then He came bursting out of the depths of the grave and was alive again. The depths aren't so deep now, because Jesus has been through them.

So what about your depths? The psalmist says that with the Lord there is forgiveness. With the Lord is abundant redemption. Jesus has pulled you from the depths once. He pulled you out from the depths of sin and death on the day you were baptized and pulled, as it were, from the water. On that day, with water and the Word, your Savior has rescued you from the depths so that even when you think life is the pits, Jesus is right there with you by His Word and your Baptism to rescue you from despair and unbelief and everything else that seems like it's going to completely overwhelm you. Remember what we sang just a bit ago? “The deep places of the earth are in His hands.” Remember that: when you are down in the dumps, the pits, the water's over your head and you are in the depths, the Lord has those in His hand. And that means you in His hand. And that is the hand that was pierced with a nail for you and the hand that splashed the water and Word upon you. It is the hand of Jesus that lifts you up out of the depths and puts you at the highest place alongside Him, where sin, death, devil and hell can't touch you. So when you're in the depths, make the sign of the cross and remember you Baptism and cry out to the Lord. He'll save you. He already has! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 6, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 5 - Confession and Absolution

The struggle that we face as Christians is NOT one of trying to improve ourselves but rather learning to believe that our sins which would condemn us are truly and completely forgiven in Christ. That needs to be repeated: The struggle of being a Christian is not one where we try to improve ourselves but rather learn to believe that the sins which would condemn us are truly and completely forgiven in Christ. The gift that Christ has given us for this battle and the focus of our Catechism tonight is that of Confession and Absolution. Let's read on page 326 in the hymnal... Now, all of the Gospel and Sacraments—Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel and the Lord's Supper—all give us forgiveness of our sins. But each one has something special about it. The special thing about Confession and Absolution is that it is forgiveness targeted to the sins that bother us in particular. My sins aren't the same as your sins and your sins aren't the same as someone else's. So in Confession and Absolution, in particular, PRIVATE Confession and Absolution, the Lord delivers forgiveness to you for the sins which trouble you. You see, the Devil wants you to believe that because of your sins, you're out. Out of God's kingdom. Out of God's family. Out of the church. Out of luck. Doomed. You know what I mean. We have all done something or said something or thought something about which the Devil whispers, “You did, said or through that. You're no Christian. It's Hell for you!” We all have sins of which we're ashamed, or by which we are burdened or bothered. Absolution stands between you and the lie of the devil because by Holy Absolution, the minister that Christ has ordained speaks as Jesus' own representative to declare that your sins are forgiven and not held against you.

So what's the deal with Confession? How does it work? Well, it has two parts. First, we confess our sins. We admit and acknowledge that what the Commandments say we should do we haven't done or that we shouldn't do we did. Now the truth is most people don't like to go to private confession. Why not? Because when you tell the pastor what you've done, you suddenly realize that God really DOES see and know what you've done. As long as we avoid Confession, we can pretend that not even God sees and hears our words and deeds and thoughts even though we say He does. As long as we hang onto our sins and hide them, we think no one, least of all the Lord Himself will know. But when we confess our sins, we come to the awful realization that they are known. They're known to the pastor and God Himself too. But perhaps more than that, we realize that if we are telling our sins to the pastor, they must be really bad. In fact, so bad that they killed the Son of God! Put another way, the sins we confess are the cause of Christ's suffering and death and so we don't like confession because it brings us to the realization not only that our sins are not hidden from God, they are bad enough to kill God! After all, it was for the words we say, and the deeds we do and the thoughts we think the deny God and our neighbor that Christ shed His blood on Calvary and died.

And yet the very sins that caused Christ's death are the very reason He gave Himself up as a sacrifice: to take those sins away! To wipe them out! To blot them out! To forgive them so that they no longer accuse and condemn us. To rescue us from the devil and the eternal punishment we deserved. Notice that when the Catechism talks about the two parts of Confession, it says a few words about Confession but a whole bunch of words about Absolution! Yeah, sure, we confess, we speak what sins are bothering us and admit that we are sinners. But the BIG DEAL, the whole reason for going to confession, is the Absolution. What is Absolution? It's when the pastor forgives our sins and we know that His forgiveness is from Christ Himself. And if that forgiveness is from Christ Himself, not the devil, the world or even our own sinful nature can contradict it or say otherwise. In Absolution, the death of Jesus for our sins and the forgiveness He won is personally and uniquely bestowed upon you, robbing the devil of any chance he has to accuse you! Absolution is the pardon from God just as certainly as if you were a death row inmate and received a call from the governor pardoning you, told you by the warden! Absolution declares that you are free. Forgiven. It's a reminder of what God has given you in your baptism and it's an invitation to come and receive more forgiveness in the Supper too! When you are absolved, you are pardoned by Christ Himself.

Now I know that private Confession and Absolution are often seen as “Roman Catholic.” Sometimes people say to me, “Lutherans do that?” Yes, we do. But the emphasis isn't on your sins. Bring the sins that bother and nag you, the ones the devil is hanging over your head, the ones you can't even admit to another person. Bring those sins and have the comfort and relief of absolution applied directly to you and you alone! To go to Confession is to battle sin the only way we can: in Christ, to defeat sin and take away its power by Christ's forgiveness. Tomorrow your pastor has set times for you to come and confess your sins if you want. Remember, we never say you HAVE to! Confession is a gift, not a law, not a curse, not a burden! If you look at your life according to those Ten Commandments, you'll find something that accuses you! So bring that tomorrow at noon or six o'clock to have it wiped out by Holy Absolution. And when you struggle with that sin, and fall back into it, then come to Confession and be absolved again. Over and over as much as you need. THAT is the real Christian struggle; not that we can fix ourselves but that Christ forgives us and then by that forgiveness gives us His Holy Spirit to work in us to make us love God and our neighbor more and more. And if you've never been to private Confession? No problem. We do it straight out of the book so that we're guided entirely by God's Word. Our Savior left us with this gift, that His pastors loose our sins. So come and make your pastor work! Come and make him do that joyful job of laying his hands on your head and pronouncing that all of your sins are gone for Jesus' sake. For Confession and Absolution are the Lord's gift; one more in His pile of gifts by which He forgives you and strengthens and comforts you unto life everlasting. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 04, 2011

April 3, 2011 - The Fouth Sunday in Lent - St. John 6:1-16

Remember back at the beginning of Lent how we heard the devil trying to tempt Jesus. “Turn the stones into bread. Bow down and get all the kingdoms of the world!” We hear something very similar today when Jesus feeds the 5,000. Everyone had as much as they wanted to eat and so they tried to seize Jesus and make Him a king. A King who provides unlimited free groceries. Who wouldn't want to avoid standing in line at Kroger or Wal-Mart if they could? But that's not why Jesus came. And it's not why He fed the 5,000. If we were to go on and hear the rest of John chapter 6, we'd hear Jesus say “I am the Bread of Life” and be talking about forgiveness and salvation, not the all-you-can eat catfish buffet!

Jesus fed the people their daily bread so that He could teach them His Word. But the people got stuck on the bread and fish. That's all they wanted. They chased Jesus around the lake to find Him because they had eaten and been full. That's what they want! A King who will give them whatever they need without them having to work for it. Jesus promises to provide for us our daily bread but people instead think that's all there is to the Christian faith. I can prove this is true by turning on the the TV and seeing a preacher who flat out tells people that if you are a Christian and especially if you give to his “ministry,” you'll have all kinds of “blessings” like money and cars and happiness. It's as if the Word of God is used to lure people in to a religion where it's really about the stuff you can have. But Jesus teaches us not to worry about the stuff because what's most important is His Word. He's got the stuff covered; so really He's rescuing us from a love of worldly things that doesn't give us what we really need. Just as in the desert, He promise to feed and take care of them but they tried hoarding the manna and gathering it on the Sabbath when it wasn't there. Their hearts were turn to the love of the STUFF rather than the Lord and His promises. Stop for a moment and consider what good things the Lord has given you in this life and how much of an idol you make out of them. And repent!

The feeding of the 5,000 gives Jesus the opportunity to talk about true bread. The true bread is not the manna the Israelites ate. That didn't keep them from dying. The true bread is not the barley loaves Jesus multiplied for 5,000 people either. They wouldn't keep them from dying. No, the True Bread is the Bread of Life, which Jesus says is His flesh which is given for the life of the world. Jesus says that to eat His flesh and blood is to have life. What's so special about His flesh and blood? Why is it the Bread of Life? Because it gives life. Consider a loaf of regular bread. Grain is planted in the ground and essentially dies so that it can grow up and produce more grain which is then harvested and crushed and milled and made into flour and into bread; all to give us nourishment. So it is with Jesus. He is crushed for our sins and planted in the ground to become our life. Our bread. By His flesh, we overcome death. That's because His perfect flesh was crucified for our sins and rose again on the third day. But His flesh is not just true bread by analogy or comparison. His flesh IS true bread and food for He gives it to us to eat and drink in the sacrament of the altar. Of course, this is no cannibal way of eating His flesh; it's a sacramental way in which He gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink when His Words are spoken over the bread and wine. But then they are no mere bread and wine but along with them the Body and Blood of Jesus by which Jesus promises that He will raise us up on the Last Day. His flesh is really given to us in the holy sacrament so that all that He won for us on Calvary is delivered to us.

So let's realize that our daily bread, the things we need for this life, are taken care of. The Lord's got that covered. In most cases, the Lord provides us a job by which we can earn the money to provide daily bread to our families. But when that is not possible, the Lord provides our parents or sometimes our children to help us. Or even our brothers and sisters in Christ. I surely hope that if anyone here fell into such a need, there would be no hesitation among the rest of us to generously provide for them and help them, in much the same way we provide food for children who don't get enough at school. If you consider that even the poor and homeless in our nation are often well fed and have shelter if they want it, you will quickly realize that our Lord is gracious in providing our daily bread. So the Lord is teaching us that He will indeed take care of our bodily needs, our daily bread. And since He does, we just don't need to get all worked up over it or obsessed with it or turn our daily bread into an idol.

Rather, the most important thing that Jesus gives us is His Word and forgiveness. He gives us Himself as the Bread of Life which gives us life way beyond our Pop-tarts and cheeseburgers. The Bread of Life gives us everlasting life by taking our sins away and providing the promise that He will raise us up on the Last Day. By feeding the 5,000, Jesus is teaching us that we just don't have to worry about that stuff; He's got it covered. Rather, our greatest joy and treasure is to be Jesus Himself and His gifts. It's sad how many people even try to be thankful for God's gifts but still neglect the most important. How many do you know who might honestly say they are thankful for what God gives them and yet they are never here in the Divine Service, feasting upon the Bread which will give them everlasting life. There is simply no greater gift that the Lord has for us than to gather us in His church and fill our ears with His Word and our mouths with His Body and Blood. By doing that, He is giving us something far greater than food for our bellies. He is giving us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. What a promise! The Lord says that those who eat His body and drink His blood will be raised to everlasting life. No wonder the early church fathers named the Sacrament the “medicine of immortality!” This life-giving feast is what the Lord truly has for us. By it we overcome the devil and have eternal life!

So rejoice today that Jesus came not to be a king just for this life, just for our bellies. Rejoice that He has come as the Savior-King, the One who gives His own flesh for the life of the world. He's got all the daily bread stuff covered. Don't worry about that! Jesus has way more for you than your next sandwich! He has forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. He has bread which does not perish and that even keeps you from perishing forever. Thanks be to God for our daily bread but even more so for the Bread of Life! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.