Sunday, May 22, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 05, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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