Tuesday, April 22, 2014

“The Christian Life- Death and Life in Jesus” Colossians 3.1–4, Easter Day Sermon, April ‘14

1.      He’s risen!  He’s risen, indeed!   Alleluia!  The message from God’s Word for us this glorious day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is taken from Colossians 3:1–4.  Here the Apostle Paul writes, 1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  The message is entitled, “The Christian Life—Death & Life in Jesus,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.      Did you notice how two times St. Paul says we’re supposed to be heavenly minded? He says it right away, “… set your hearts on things above … Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Set your mind, set your heart … In other words, set your focus on heaven. Be heavenly minded.
3.      Now in our day, the whole idea of heavenly mindedness is unappealing. Almost every phrase that we use in our modern language has to do with getting down to earth… To have your feet on the ground, to be a down-to-earth person … Everybody says, “That’s a good person, a down-to-earth person, feet on the ground.”  But, what does it mean to have your feet on the ground? You’re in touch. You know about reality. You understand how things really work. What does it mean to be heavenly minded? Well, we don’t even use the term, but there is a phrase, “That group of people is so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” Have you not heard that?
4.      So in our modern age we think of heavenly minded as people who are out of touch. People, who because their minds are, “set up in the clouds” really aren’t able to live life as it is. But that’s not true of what Paul is talking about. That’s not true of what he calls true heavenly mindedness. Not at all.  No, for St. Paul our lives are caught up in Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead.  Because of this the Christian life is set towards the goal of heaven, since we have died and have been given new life in Christ!
5.      If you were to read on in Colossians 3 from verse 5 and on, you will see that once he tells you to be heavenly minded in the way he describes here, “Then, you’ll be able to put off greed. You’ll be able to put off lying. You’ll be able to put off anxiety. You’ll be able to put off anger and bitterness. You’ll be able to put off worry about material things.”  In other words, St. Paul says, “Those who are most heavenly minded, those who are most heavenly minded are the most earthly good.” They’re the people who are able to live life with the most freedom. They don’t get bitter even though things happen to them. They don’t get worried even though things happen to them. They move about in the world with freedom and power.  Now, why do you suppose that is?  Well, let’s look a little closer in our text from Colossians 3…
6.      In the Apostles’ Creed we confess that Jesus Christ died and rose again. Just suppose that on a given Sunday each of us substituted the word “I” for the name of Jesus. It would go like this: “I died and was buried. I rose again from the dead.” Sounds heretical, doesn’t it? And yet this is exactly what the apostle Paul is saying in our text.  The Christ who was delivered to death for our sins was raised to life for our salvation (Rom 4:25).
7.      On Good Friday we heard how God’s Son who had no sin became sin for us. We saw him on the tree of the cross, where he took our guilt and our punishment and died for our sins. We saw from a distance as he was buried.  If that is all there is to the story, we have been taken in, our faith is useless, those believers who have died are lost, and we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor 15:12–39).  But there’s more to the story, much more. On that first Sunday after Good Friday, our Savior Jesus defeated death and rose from his grave. The tomb was found empty. Jesus lives. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
8.      This brings us great joy, for it means that God has accepted the atoning sacrifice of his Son. We’ve been forgiven. We’re all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26).  This brings us great joy for it means that Jesus has destroyed the power of death over us (see Rom 6:23; 1 Cor 15:21, 26, 55; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:14; Rev 20:6).
9.      History tells that when the battle of Waterloo was being fought, people in England were dependent on a system of signals to learn how the battle was going. One such signal was on the tower of a cathedral. Late in the day it flashed the signal “Wellington defeated!” Just at that moment fog obscured the rest of the signal. The news of disaster spread throughout the city, leaving despair. Suddenly the fog lifted, and the remainder of the signal could be seen. The completed message read “Wellington defeated the enemy!” Sorrow was turned to joy. So it was on Easter when the gloom of Good Friday was turned to joy. Jesus had defeated the last great enemy, death (adapted from Herman Gockel, My Hand in His [St. Louis: Concordia, 1961] 20).  This brings us great joy for it means we will be raised to live with Christ in glory forever, where we will at last be free of all burdens (see Jn 6:40; 10:28; 11:25–26; 14:1–3).
10.  An elderly man with many burdens often walked in the park, stopping at a bench to rest. One day he found a piece of chalk and began to list his various burdens on the back of the bench. At last, he wrote: If there be any who have no burdens, would they please remove one of mine. Each day he returned to the park and the bench only to discover that his list of burdens was still complete. One day it began to rain and soon his list was washed away. Looking up he exclaimed, “That’s right; only in heaven will my burdens be removed.”  That man learned that the Christian life is death and life in Jesus!
11.  As children of God through faith in Christ, our lives are a daily dying and rising with Jesus.  We’ve become so heavenly minded that we are of some earthly good.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, working in our Baptism, we died to sin (the old nature) and came alive to Christ (the new nature; see Rom 6:3–4; Col 2:12).
12.  This impacts our lives on a daily basis.  As people who belong to the living Christ, we say a daily no to sin, which St. Paul refers to as earthly things in Col. 3:2. In Colossians 3:5-9 Paul writes, “5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.”   As people who belong to the living Christ, we say a daily yes to God’s will.  And what does this new life in Christ look like where we are so heavenly minded that we are of earthly good?  St. Paul says later in Col. 3, 12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Our motivation for such a life is the cross of Christ and His empty tomb and not a set of laws by which we hope to justify ourselves (Col 2:20–23).
13.    Although our lives are now hidden with Christ in God, we shall fully enjoy our Lord’s glory when he comes again (vv 3–4).   Within two weeks a family lost three of its four children from disease. Only a four-year-old was left. The third child had been buried two weeks before Easter. On Easter the parents and remaining child went to church. The mother told her Sunday school class about the resurrection of Christ. The father read the Easter story as he led devotions. People who knew of their loss wondered how they could do it. On the way home, a 16-year-old asked his father, “Dad, that couple must really believe everything about the Easter story, don’t they?” Of course they believe it,” responded his father. “All Christians do.” “But not as they do,” said the boy (adapted from Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations [San Jose: Resource Publications, 1992] 55).  Easter means that we’re forgiven. Easter means the assurance of God’s love and the certainty of eternal life in heaven. Oh, the joy! He is risen! He is risen, indeed!  Amen.

“It’s All about Life,” Mark 16.1–7, Easter Sunday Sunrise, ‘14

1.      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Today each of us says it with great joy, “It’s all about Jesus and it’s all about life!” We see it in the life of the disciple Peter, with whom we’ve traveled these past weeks of Lent. We’ve seen Peter in all kinds of sins—pride, complacency, misunderstanding Jesus’ mission, distant discipleship, keeping bad company, denial, even turning down Jesus’ gift of cleansing. On Friday we saw Peter declaring the penalty of all those sins: death. But today we see Peter being welcomed back to life. We see it for ourselves as well, because that’s what Easter is all about.  Easter is about life—life after sin and life after death
2.      Early Easter morning, three women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Mark 16 says, “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (v 5). They get a message straight from an angel: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (vv 6–7). 
3.      Go tell his disciples and Peter. Why did the angel single out Peter by name—Peter who boasted he would never forsake Jesus (pride!), Peter who slept when he should have prayed (complacency!), Peter who thought he was the one to save the day by striking out with a sword at Jesus’ arrest (misunderstanding!), Peter who followed only from a distance as Jesus was condemned (distant discipleship!), Peter who lingered with Jesus’ enemies (bad company!), Peter who denied the Lord three times, Peter who didn’t think he needed Jesus’ cleansing? If the angel had excluded Peter, we would understand. 
4.      But this is the Gospel. There’s life after Peter’s sin. Go tell his disciples and Peter that he has risen. Peter, who wept bitterly after his denial of Jesus, is to hear, “He has risen.” The cross was for Peter. Jesus’ death was for Peter. The resurrection was for Peter. Now there is forgiveness for Peter. Now there is life after sin’s death for Peter. 
5.      Peter’s experiences are a mirror in which we see ourselves. Sin had caused many of Peter’s responses. Sin causes many of our responses as well. Sin tells us a great variety of lies.  Here are some examples. Sinful pride tells me I’m number one with God because I’ve sinned less or done more good than all the rest. Sin tells me that God and the spiritual side of life can wait. Work, sleep, fun, and making it in life come first. Sin tells me I know better than God what I need, what I should do, or what’s right or wrong. Sin tells me it’s all right to follow Jesus at a distance—following Jesus only when there’s no persecution or when it doesn’t cost me anything. Sin tells me I can handle bad company, I can handle the drug scene, I can handle pornography, and I won’t get hurt. Sin tells me it’s all right to turn my back on God when I’m in a tight spot, when it seems that I’m safer or better off or accepted by people if I’m an anonymous Christian. Sin tells me to blend in with the crowd, even when it’s wrong. Don’t say, for example, that you’re opposed to abortion and why. It’s not politically correct. Sin tells me all this is all right, this is the way to life that’s real. 
6.      But sin is telling me lies. This is not life. This is death to everything and everyone I touch with my sin. This is death to me. Sin is walking with death, and the destination is hell.
7.      But this day is about life. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! What a turnaround from Good Friday’s death. Take one more look at that death. Everything that sin does was done to Jesus when he hung on that cross. All that sin has done in us, with us, and to us was on him on that cross. All the sin that is lived out in our thoughts, words, and deeds was on Jesus when he hung on that cross. He was guilty with it. Jesus suffered for it. He died for it. Now Jesus is alive again! There’s been a resurrection! That validates the cross and what happened there. Look what happened to sin. Jesus absorbed it, paid for it, and overcame it in his death and resurrection. St. Paul says, “[He] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
8.      The cross and the resurrection mean that now there’s life after sin. Life is great after sin. You are justified. That means God says you’re not guilty. You are right with God. You are at peace with God. You’re no longer hell-bound. You’re heaven-bound. You are alive in Christ, and Christ is alive in you. Your sins are no longer unto death. You can repent. “If we confess our sins,” writes St. John, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
9.      Peter, who fell so deeply in so many ways, is called by name. Tell his disciples and Peter. God knows you personally, by name. Hear God speak to you through the pen of Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Is 43:1).
10.  This day is all about life. It’s very practical for life, both today and tomorrow. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (v 7). Galilee was home to the disciples. Today Galilee means home to you, where you live, where you work, where you go to school. The living Christ goes before you. He, who mastered sin and death, is your resource. You are alive in him, and he is alive in you. Is it hard to love, to forgive, to care, to give of yourself in your marriage, in your home, at school, in your work, in church? He enables you for all of that. You grow into it, because you’re alive in Christ. St. Paul put it this way for us: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
11.  This day is all about life—yes, also life after physical death. Christ died in his body and rose in his body.  In his appearance to his doubting disciples, he said in Luke 24, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (Lk 24:38–43).
12.  The crucified Christ is alive again. Resurrection has already begun. We who are joined to him in Baptism are next. We go through death and burial as Jesus did. Until the resurrection, we’re with Christ. But resurrection is coming. Physical death is temporary. We will live again, in our bodies, at the resurrection. Right now the clock is ticking toward that day. Listen to St. Paul: “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). It won’t be long. Your name is written in heaven (Lk 10:20).
13.  This day is all about life, life after sin, life after physical death, life in the risen Christ. It’s all about life now and more life to come.  Amen.

“God Justifies the Ungodly” Is. 52.13-53.12, Good Friday Sermon for St. John Chester Midday Service, April ‘14

1.                        In the name of Jesus!  Amen.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the message from God’s Word for us on this Friday we call GOOD is taken from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and it’s entitled, “God Justifies the Ungodly.” 
2.                       Many people believe that God punishes bad people and rewards good people. But, the gospel says that God justifies the ungodly. What does that mean? It means that God declares guilty people innocent. It means that God treats bad people as if they were good people. That’s a scandal. Are you open to the miracle of the gospel? However you define virtue and vice, you have a sense of right and wrong because of the conscience God has given you. You form judgments. You expect God to. But, how can he justify the ungodly
3.                       It’s a good thing he does. Every one of us is ungodly, and we know it. We’ve failed to be the people we ought to be. A deep unease about ourselves is why we live in denial. When we discover the excuses of our politicians, for example, we demand their honesty. But do we require the same honesty of ourselves? Isn’t cover-up the self-righteous strategy of every guilty conscience? Isn’t that why we blame others? Finger-pointing is one of our favorite devices for self-justification. The next time you have a fight with your spouse, one of your other family members, a member of your congregation, your coworker, or whoever, ask yourself this: Why are you so passionate to be found right? Isn’t it because you’re not sure you really are? Isn’t it because you need to reassure yourself?
4.                       There’s a reason why we shift the blame.  Why we try to justify ourselves. There’s a reason why our problems are always someone else’s fault. There’s a reason why parents blame their children and husbands blame wives and so forth. The reason we continually pass the buck is that we know we can’t bear our own guilt. We want so desperately for others to bear it for us. So we dump it on them, without even noticing what’s happening in our thoughts. This is a major source of tension in our homes, workplaces, and churches.
5.                       Every one of us needs a scapegoat. In the gospel Jesus says to us, “I’m the willing scapegoat of the world. At my cross, it’s my business to be crushed under the unbearable guilt of others. It’s my role to bear away other people’s guilt. That’s what I do, because I love guilty people. If you’ll trust me, here’s the deal. I’ll take your sin, your guilt your shame and in exchange I’ll give to you my righteousness and holiness.  Is that arrangement acceptable to you? Or, will you continue to cope with your guilt by your own devices?”
6.                       So do you believe what Isaiah tells us on this Good Friday that God justifies the ungodly through Jesus’ death on the cross? One reason why people will always object to the Bible’s message is that it begins by telling them the truth about their sin. It’s bound to make more enemies than friends because it always humbles before it helps. It shames before it saves. Listen to some of the words Isaiah used to explain the nature of the sin for which Christ suffered punishment.  In Isaiah 53:5 the prophet writes, “He was pierced for our transgressions.” God the Father had designed our first parents, Adam & Eve, to belong to him. But, Adam & Eve, just like us, preferred to be independent instead of finding their place in life surrendering to a loving Father.  They said to God, “Not your will be done Lord, but Adam & Eve’s will be done.”  So Isaiah 53:5 continues, “He was crushed for our iniquities.” The word translated “iniquities” refers to the load of guilt our sin brought upon us. Sin isn’t only the action of breaking faith with God, it also makes us guilty before him.
7.                       In Isaiah 53:6 the prophet writes, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Creatures designed for God have chosen instead to turn in upon themselves and attempt to live independently of God. And God considers that rebellion. It’s God’s nature to hate evil and to destroy it, not because he has a violent temper but because evil is the opposite of what God is.  A holy God, who is without a trace of wrong, punishes every sin. He’s therefore, a God who must punish you for your sin. This is the harsh message God’s law announces.
8.                       But, the message of God’s law isn’t God’s final word to us. The One who has the right to condemn us found a way to pardon us without violating his own justice. God the Father worked out a costly solution involving the principle of substitution. He asked his Son Jesus to accept as his own our ungodly status, to accept the curse that our sin had brought upon our heads.
9.                       Isaiah paints a great picture of what this exchange meant for Christ. Jesus was despised, rejected by God and man, pierced, crushed, and wounded. He endured the full punishment of the law, but not because he deserved it. No, we deserved what he endured. So from his perspective, the exchange was brutal. In exchange for our sins, we receive what we don’t deserve.  Isaiah reminds us that the cross of Jesus justifies ungodly people like us.
10.                   Here in our text Isaiah is telling us that Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. It means that God has declared every person who ever lived to be perfectly covered with Jesus’ perfection. Martin Luther puts these words into the mouth of the Savior: “Sin has only two places where it can rest—either on your neck, or on mine. If it rests on your neck, you bear the punishment. If it rests on my neck, I bear the punishment, and you go free. Choose, therefore, which it will be.”
11.                   The cross of Jesus isn’t a dreamy religious ideal. The cross is a power. Through the cross Jesus is saving guilty and ungodly people like you and me today. He treats transgressors as his friends and shares his victory with his former enemies. He stands before the Father, making intercession for the very ones who drove him to death. His cross is a power that evil can’t conquer or even understand, but to God it’s everything. Nothing will ever rob our Lord Jesus of his hard-won right to justify the ungodly.  Who else can love you so miraculously and helpfully? Who else would willingly serve as your scapegoat?
12.                   We can respond in either of two ways to what Isaiah tells us about the cross of Christ. One response is to say, “No, that can’t be true. It can’t be that simple.” Isaiah reminds us that it wasn’t that easy or simple. On the cross Jesus did the most costly thing ever. He suffered the hell of God’s holy wrath against sinners like us, rather than we having to bear it ourselves. If there had been an easier way, God would have found it.
13.                   And, what’s the other response? We believe the gospel. We stop making excuses for our sins against God and our neighbor.  We stop trying to self-justify ourselves. That pile of garbage called our moral superiority over other sinners, which can’t offset our guilt before God but only make things worse—we admit the ugly truth of it all. We believe in Jesus crucified for sinners like us and receive his grace with the empty hands of faith through God’s Word and Sacraments.
14.                   So how should we respond to what Isaiah tells us about Jesus our Suffering Savior this Good Friday?  Isaiah reminds us that we all must admit that we’ve all gone too far to get ourselves off the hook. Let Jesus your Scapegoat bear your guilt away through his death on the cross, and God will never bring it up again.  Jesus’s cross justifies ungodly people like us.  When you feel burdened by the guilt and weight of your sins, take your sins to Christ. Tell him everything. This is his promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  May the message of the cross of Christ give you comfort that your sins are forgiven through the blood that he shed for you on this Good Friday.  Amen.

“It’s All about Death,” Acts 2.22–24, 37–38, Good Friday, ‘14

1.                  Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.  From the viewpoint of Pentecost, Peter helps us to understand the crime, the criminals, and all who are involved. Who is involved in this Good Friday murder scene? God the Father is involved. Jesus is involved. The Jews are involved. Pontius Pilate is involved. Anyone else? Peter addresses his hearers on Pentecost saying in Acts chapter 2, “This Jesus . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (v 23). And the well-known spiritual won’t let it go: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” (LSB 456:1). The answer: “They crucified my Lord. Yes, they did. But, yes! You! Me!” We crucified the Lord, just as Peter said.
2.                  The physical murder weapons in this crime were the scourging, the nails, the cross. But, the weapon behind those weapons was sin, the sin of all humanity. That murder weapon accuses us all. The net of guilt reaches everywhere, all the way back to the first man who lived, and all the way forward to the last person who will yet live. That means you and I are also caught in the net of guilt.  What a terrible weapon we have with our sin. The weapon is turned on ourselves. It’s all there in our heart—malice, hatred, greed, lying, gossip, slander, pride, and self-righteousness. All these things set our lives on a course of death.
3.                  Look how we step out on that course of death with our words and deeds. Look what murders marriage and family life—lovelessness, selfishness, unfaithfulness, words and deeds that stab and wound. Look what murders life in the workplace—greed, envy, jealousy, dishonesty, making a god of material things. Look what murders life in the Church—grudges, hard feelings, neglect of Word and Sacrament, lack of participation, the attitude of “I’m not available for anything.” And we are the murderers. 
4.                  After a killing rampage across our lives, sin kills us. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek l8:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Sin is thorough. It’s the weapon of total death—spiritual, physical, and eternal death. Even then sin isn’t finished. Listen to Peter: “You killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). Has there ever been a greater crime? You killed the Son of God! We were there when they crucified our Lord. The murder weapon is our sin. 
5.                  What’s the reaction? “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (v 37). Do you hear the concern, the alarm, and the panic in those words? There was no question of the verdict. They knew they’d been caught holding the smoking gun. And their desperation echoes in the hearts of each of us. 
6.                  But listen. Here’s the reason to call this Friday good. It’s here in Peter’s answer for those first hearers and for you and me. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v 38). Doesn’t that make you breathe a huge sigh of relief? Do you know what that means? It means sin, that lethal weapon, has been neutralized. It means there’s hope. There’s a way out of death. There’s forgiveness! 
7.                  What we see on Good Friday is sin at large—evil, injustice, pain, suffering, and death. But Peter tells us God is in control of everything. Sin is carrying out its terrible mission, but Peter tells us it all has to serve God’s purpose. Peter says in Acts chapter 2 that it all happened with God’s “definite plan and foreknowledge” (v 23). 
8.                  What’s God doing here? One of our Lenten hymns puts it well. “ ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread Of guilt and condemnation’ ” (“A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” LSB 438:2). The Son answers, “Yes, Father, yes, most willingly . . . I’ll do what You have asked Me” (st. 3). So Jesus goes to the cross with all our sin and guilt. He “[bears] our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). He suffers the death that follows sin, more than physical death, the death of hell. He tastes death for everyone (Heb 2:9). This is the Father’s wrath and judgment on our sins, but borne willingly by his Son, all for our salvation. Because Jesus was guilty with our sin, the Father declares us not guilty. The theological word for that is justification. The practical meaning for us is this: because God made Jesus to be sin for us, he now sees us without sin. Because Jesus suffered hell for us, we don’t have to go to hell. How do we know for sure? Acts 2 says, “God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (v 24). 
9.                  Over the darkness of Good Friday we see the dawning of Easter, the rising glow of the sunrise—acquittal, new innocence, a new life with God.  This day is all about murder, death, our death, inflicted by our sin. This day is all about his death, for us, in our place. So bask the amazing verdict. Look at the cross and hear Isaiah’s “not guilty”: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:5–6). Hear St. Paul: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). Hear the “not guilty” from St. Peter: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Hear the verdict from St. John, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). This is God’s good work through that bloody, sin-scarred cross. 
10.              St. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized” (v 38). See in your repentance godly sorrow for sin and then forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus. See in your Baptism all God has to give. You are born again to be a child of God. You are reconciled to God. You have forgiveness from God. You have new life with God. See in all of this the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has worked repentance in you.  The Holy Spirit, who made you alive with God in your Baptism, who continues to keep you growing as a person who is no longer dead, but alive in Christ. 
11.              This day is all about death, our Lord’s death. But more than that, it’s about how he died. “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23:46). Good Friday ends in death for Jesus, but a release for us.  This is the story of Jesus, Peter, and each of us. Amen.

“It’s All about Cleansing,” John 13.1–15, Maundy Thursday, Holy Week ‘14

1.             In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  When it comes to giving out gifts, we usually like to be on the receiving end. Our hearts delight to receive gifts at Christmas, on birthdays, and on anniversaries—or on no particular occasion at all.  But, God is the ultimate giver, and Jesus delivers God’s gifts. On this day, Maundy Thursday, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, an act that points to a deeper cleansing, a cleansing that goes all the way to the heart. Tonight each of us can say with gladness, “It’s Jesus, Peter, and me; and it’s all about cleansing.” This is God’s gift.  Jesus gifts us with cleansing from all our sin!
2.              But, tonight, we see a different reality. Peter says to Jesus, in effect, “I don’t want your gift.” It was the Passover feast. The traditional foot washing was usually done by a servant, and when no servant was present, it was done by the humblest person in the group. But, not one of the Twelve rises to perform this humble task. Instead, Jesus does. Strangely, the disciples allow the master to wash their feet. Until Peter. We don’t know exactly what was in the mind of Peter. Maybe it was a mixture of reverence for Jesus and an element of self-will. This isn’t how Peter thought it should be. “You shall never wash my feet” (v 8).
3.              Do we say no to God’s gifts? Of course, when our sinful self is in control. We pray, “Thy will be done.” But a part of us wants to say, “My will, not thine, be done.” God promises strength and patience to help us when we’re sick or when we’re bearing some heavy burden. But that’s not what we want. We want immediate healing or deliverance. We feel at home with some of our sins—how we speak, what we say about others, our goals that center on material things, the lusts and sinful desires of our heart. We don’t like to hear God say, “Repent!” That’s not what we want. We may pray only now and then. Our devotional life may be on again, off again. We may keep ourselves away from worship and the Sacrament and think nothing of it. Something is more important right now. We don’t need God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament right now. We don’t need it that much—these are all polite ways of saying, “God, I don’t want your gifts.”
4.            Notice how Jesus answers Peter here in John 13, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v 8). To say no to God’s gifts is death. It’s having no share with Jesus, no share in his sacrifice for our sins, no share in his forgiveness. Nothing, nothing, nothing at all with God. Only the death of being apart from God. 
5.            Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v 8). Those words of Jesus now go all the way to Peter’s heart. And here is Peter’s response: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (v 9). Peter, the impetuous one, needs to be reigned in. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (v 10). I believe that Peter now sees his total need for cleansing in the deepest core of his being, cleansing not merely of dirt from the body but of the filth of sin from the heart and soul. The foot washing was a symbol, only a picture of Jesus’ ultimate humility, his ultimate gift. Jesus humbles himself to the death of the cross for Peter, for all the disciples, for us, to make us clean from all our sin.
6.            The Twelve are eating the Passover with Jesus. But, only Peter and Judas are mentioned by name. The contrast is great, between the disciple who is saved and the disciple who is lost. Judas, too, received the foot washing, but was cleansed only of the dust from his feet, not the soil on his soul. “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (v 2). He was untouched by Jesus’ deeper cleansing. 
7.            Here’s the lesson for us. Don’t let the devil put into your heart a hardened attitude toward sin. How does the thinking go? My sin is everywhere. I’m only one of many. There’s no harm in it. It’s only now and then. Nobody’s getting hurt. Judas started out with a little dishonesty. He dipped into the treasury. But his sin grew and grew—into betrayal, despair, and finally suicide. The thoughts, desires, words, and deeds of sin will form a callus over our heart. The progression of sin takes us farther and farther from God. Until we no longer hear Jesus’ words: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” When that happens, we’re untouched by Jesus’ deeper cleansing. 
8.            But we do have a share with Jesus—now.  John 13 begins saying, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (v 1). The end is the cross, where he died for our sins. We’re included in that. How? Through his gifts of Word and Sacrament. Our Baptism, that divine washing, put us in union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God continuously gives, and that means we continually receive. Baptism’s washing never stops. It embodies the divine detergent of our Savior’s blood, which makes us clean from all our sins.  We have a share with Jesus now. The love that brought us to our Baptism keeps coming through his Word. What a great message we hear in his Word! “Look at Jesus. See your sins on him. See him on that cross for you. You are cleansed, forgiven, free from the guilt of your sin.” So Christ speaks to your heart through the gift of his Word.
9.             This night, during the Passover meal, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood. Jesus is the Lamb foreshadowed in the Old Testament Passover. They ate the Passover lamb and painted the blood on their doorposts, and the angel of death passed over, leaving them untouched. So too, we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, and the angel of death passes over us, leaving us untouched. We receive Christ’s true body and blood as a pledge from God that our sins are forgiven. To eat and drink the Lord’s Supper is to have a share with Jesus now. A most precious gift!
10.        We have a share also in giving Christ’s gifts of love. Listen to Jesus: “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’ ” (vv 12–15). The foot washing is an example of Jesus’ humble and loving service to his disciples. It’s a call for us to a love that never stops, a love that doesn’t quit when it’s hard to love, a love that includes all—spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbors, friends, enemies, fellow Christians, and the lost. It’s compassionate, giving love that gives time, effort, and money. It’s tough love when saying no is the most loving thing you can do. 
11.        What motivates us? Where do we get the strength? “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). His gift of love calls us to repentance, forgives us, and draws us to follow him and love others as he did, to the end.  This is the story of Jesus, Peter, and each of us.  Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

“Opening Our Ears to Hear Jesus” (Isaiah 50:4-51:8) Sermon notes for Isaiah 50.4-9, Palm Sunday, Confirmation Day ‘14

1.      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Well, today is the day confirmands you will confirm your faith you received at your Baptism.  You’ve had three years of instruction and now you’re ready!  But, I want you to know that this isn’t your graduation day.  It’s not the day you graduate from Church like you do from school.  No.  Your learning and growing in the Christian faith isn’t finished.  It’s my prayer, the prayer of your families, and of this congregation that you will continue to hear the words of our Lord Jesus all the years of your life, until Christ calls you to His heavenly home.  That you would remember the catechism that you’ve been taught and continue to put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  The message from God’s Word this morning is taken from Isaiah 50:4-9 and is entitled, “Opening Our Ears to Hear Jesus,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.      Why do we have ears on the outside of our heads? Why not on the inside? Because we’re not supposed to listen to ourselves. I wonder how much of our misery stems from our almost religious devotion to our own thoughts and feelings. We spend every moment of our lives within a mental universe. The quality of that environment matters. Are our ears open to the Word of God? Do we understand what it means to listen to God?
3.      Confirmands, do you remember studying your memory work these past few years?  Do you remember how you worked so hard to memorize those verses of Scripture?  To learn the 6 chief parts of the catechism?  Why did you do that?  So that your ears, your heart, and your mind were focused on the Word of God and on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  You may not think that your memory work means a whole lot now, but you’ll be surprised at how it will reappear in your minds later in life when you’re faced with a difficult situation, where the words of the Lord will instruct you on how to act and live.  I’m still amazed at how the 80 and 90 year old homebound members I visit are still able to recite the catechism to me and the verses of Holy Scripture they learned so many years ago.
4.      In the New Testament we are told, “He who has ears, let him hear.” If the Bible urges us to use our ears, they must be important. Think of the words of the prophet: “Hear the word of the Lord” (e.g., Jeremiah 2:4). Go all the way back to the foundation of Israel’s faith: “Hear, O Israel” from Deuteronomy 6. At least 394 times the Old Testament refers to the word of God coming to us.
5.      The Christian faith has come to us in words, not images that we see on the computer or TV screen.  If God’s way of getting through to us is the Word, then we need to learn what it means to listen.  Isaiah brings us to the third of his four Servant Songs in Isaiah 50. It’s about listening. The nation of Israel had a hearing problem, and it was their undoing (48:8). But the Servant of the Lord was a good listener. He had an ear constantly open to God (50:4, 5). The one who fears the Lord also listens obediently to the servant (50:10). All who seek righteousness are good listeners (51:1, 4, 7). Dr. Isaiah is calling us in for a hearing check. He wants to retune our ears so we can hear the word of God again.
6.      The Lord’s servant appears first in Isaiah 50:4–9.  Here Isaiah writes, 4The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.  5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.  6I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.  7But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.  8He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.  Who is my adversary?  Let him come near to me.  9Behold, the Lord God helps me;  who will declare me guilty?  Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.”  Only Jesus can open our ears so that we may believe in Him and His Word and gladly hear and learn it.
7.      The truth is we’re disobedient servants.  We often despise preaching and God’s Word.  Being a Christian is hard work.  We’re constantly at war against our Old Adam, our old sinful nature.  Because of our sin we will often find other more entertaining things to do rather than hearing and receiving the life giving Word of God.  Our sinful nature wants us to despise the faith that was given to us in our Baptisms, to think that the Lord’s Supper is merely bread and wine and not also the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8.      Like hired servants, we rebel against God’s Law.  We don’t want to learn and listen to our master’s teaching.  Confirmands how hard was it to come to class week after week for the past three years?  We rebel against our master in sinful disobedience.  We run away from our Lord Jesus if we feel that our lives are threatened like the disciples did when they abandoned him in his hour of need.  Our disobedience and unwillingness to listen to God’s Word has made us servants of sin.  Those who sin are servants of sin (Jn 8:34).  And, because we’re servants of sin, we don’t serve our neighbors in love.
9.      But, thanks be to God that Jesus is the true Servant.  Jesus is obedient to his Father’s teaching.  He’s given the tongue of those who are taught (v 4), and he speaks the Father’s Word.  He’s given the ear of those who are taught (v 4), and he listens to the pleas of his people.  Jesus is obedient to his Father’s will (v 5).  He actively obeys by serving God and his neighbor.  He passively obeys by giving his back to those who strike, his cheeks to those who pull out his beard. He didn’t hide his face from disgrace and spitting (v 6).  And what’s more?  Jesus is even obedient unto death all for you.  When he was accused and tortured, he “set [his] face like a flint” (v 7).  Jesus remained in faithful service to his Father, even though it ended in his death on the cross.
10.  Christ, the true Servant, serves us with his perfect obedience.  Baptism connects us to the obedience of Jesus.  Baptism gives us obedient ears to hear Christ’s Word rightly.  Baptism gives us obedient tongues to confess Christ’s Word to a disobedient world that surrounds us.  The true Servant serves us his body and blood to forgive all of our disobedience.  Christ’s Divine Service to us moves us to serve him and our neighbors in love.  As Christ’s perfect obedience was vindicated, so will we who are in Jesus be vindicated (vv 8–9a).  Christ was vindicated when he was raised to life at the end of this holy week.  We will be vindicated when, in the resurrection, all will see that God has declared us perfectly obedient by our incorporation into Jesus.
11.  The true Servant is the one we see on Palm Sunday, riding into Jerusalem in humbleness on the colt of a donkey. He’s the Suffering Servant, who goes forward to the cross in obedience to his Father’s plan of redemption. The hymns proclaim, “A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth” (LSB 438:1) and “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die” (LSB 441:2). It’s for us sinful servants that Jesus obediently goes forth to die. The faithful Servant will die for us sinful servants, an exchange of sorts.  But, the true Servant is also the risen Servant, who is present here to serve us with his perfect obedience. Because of his Divine Service, we’re no longer servants of ourselves and servants of sin listening to our own sinful nature, but we’re transformed into servants in his likeness. We’re freed from listening to and serving our sin in order to serve God and our neighbor.  Amen.

“Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Genesis 2:18-24; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Colossians 3:12-17), Sermon for Jacob Eckart & Samantha Buch’s Wedding, April 12th, 2014…

1.            In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  Dear Jacob and Samantha.  Well, this is it! You’re getting married. You’ve gathered together your family and friends for this special occasion. You’ve asked them to join you as you make these solemn vows of marriage with one with another.  As you’re probably aware, there are some here this day, probably your grandparents and maybe your baptismal godparents, in addition to your own parents, who are seeing this as an answer to their prayers. They may have prayed on the day of your birth and at your baptism that someday, someplace, you would stand before the altar of the Lord and pledge your love to another and receive the public commitment of another without doubt. This is that day. Their prayers are being answered.  But, this isn’t the end of their prayers for you, of course. This day their prayer becomes that in this marriage you may each always be a source for each other of God’s blessings, and that through the two of you, God may bless many. In just a couple of minutes you’ll be making such a public promise, and for such purpose we’ll be making prayer.  In this wedding ceremony we remember that is our Lord Jesus Christ who binds you together as husband and wife.
2.            Did you notice how Genesis 2 reveals to us that God the Father is very sensitive to us humans and personally involved with his creation. It portrays a God who not only gives us the world, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creatures in the water, but who gives us one another as well.  If you asked me to summarize in one word the purpose for which God gives a woman to a man and a man to a woman, the word I would choose is the word LOVE. God gives people to people in order that they may love one another.  Colossians 3:14 reminds us, 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” But, there’s another word that, for all practical purposes, means the same as love. That is the word serve. God gives people to people so that they may serve one another.
3.            On a day such as today, I doubt that the word I chose to describe God’s intention for you surprises you. Love is in the air in this building. The two of you look at each other lovingly. The music is lovely, the flowers are beautiful, your families are supportive, and your friends don’t look bad either. The setting is almost like being in the Garden of Eden. You are surrounded by symbols and feelings of love. It’s enough to make you think that loving each other for the rest of your lives will be very easy.
4.            But, the Scriptures, don’t speak of sentimental love or emotional love but of a love that’s intentional and self-giving. In 1 Cor. 13, Paul admonished the Corinthians to practice self-sacrificing love. He wrote of a love that’s patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. “[Love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:5–6). Paul urges us to love one another with a strong love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (v 7).
5.            But, Jacob and Samantha as you begin to live together with one another as husband and wife you must remember that you are a sinner living with another sinner. In spite of all your efforts, there will be lapses in your Christian living and in your duties to one another as husband and wife. Failures and faults will show.  Jacob, one morning you’re going to roll over in bed and remember the disagreement you had with Samantha the day before. You’ll risk opening just one eye as you look at your wife lying next to you, and you’ll ask, “Lord, is this the woman you gave to me on the day of my marriage? Is this the woman you want me to spend the rest of my life with? Do I really have to love her as Christ loved me and his Bride, the Church, and gave himself up for her on the cross? Do I really have to sacrifice myself for her?” It’s not going to be as easy to love her that morning as it is this afternoon.  And Samantha, Jacob also isn’t going to be as easy to love each day of your marriage as he is today. One morning you’re going to wake up and see the pile of laundry Jacob has left lying on the floor instead of in the hamper, you’re going to see the cap to the toothpaste left off of the tube, and you’re going to say, “Lord, in all of your mixing and matching of husbands and wives, are you certain this is not more of a mix than a match? Are you certain that this is the man that you want me to spend the rest of my life with? Do I really have to follow those words of St. Paul from Colossians 3:14,14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony?”  In your marriage Jacob and Samantha I pray that you will remember that it’s our Lord Jesus who binds you together as husband and wife with the love that he gives to you.
6.             Remember that there will be occasions when you’ll hurt one another and complaints against one another will arise. But, with the help of our Lord Jesus the two of you will learn to “bear with each other” and help one another, lovingly overlooking slights and injuries. You will help one another grow, and you’ll strengthen one another rather than tearing one another down. And you will cheerfully “forgive whatever grievances … against one another,” just as Jesus has forgiven you through his death on the cross.  It’s the love of Jesus that binds you together as husband and wife, for when your love fails, his unconditional love will endure for the both of you.
7.            Jacob and Samantha, Your marriage makes you one flesh with each other; Jesus became flesh not only to dwell among us, but also to give his flesh for our lives, and to live in us in such fashion that we’re never alone. As husband and wife, you are not in your marriage relationship alone. You are one, not only with each other, but with your Savior Jesus.  When emotional love fails you and sentimental love isn’t enough to sustain you, then cling to your Baptism, through which you’ve put on Jesus and have received the blessings of his life, death, and resurrection. Because of your Baptism, sin is not your master; Jesus is. You can affirm in words and actions the love of Christ, which is the will of God for your life together as husband and wife.
8.            If you live together in Christ’s love and stay connected to him, his promise to you is that your marriage will bear fruit. You will continue to be bound together as husband and wife in Christ’s love.  Jesus is the most important guest attending your wedding today.   And, I’m confident that Jesus will remain a welcomed person in your marriage. Together as you remain connected to Jesus, you will not only be one forever, you will also be one for good. Amen.