Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (B)

May 24, 2015
Text: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

            Jesus promises the Helper will come (John 15:26).  The “Helper”… The word, actually, is Paraclete.  You may know Him from other translations as “Advocate,” “Counselor,” or “Comforter.”  He is all these, and more.  We are speaking, of course, of the Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness, advocates for us before God, counsels us by His holy Word, comforts us with the Gospel of Christ.  “Paraclete” literally means one who is called to the side.  When a child falls off her bike, she calls for Mommy.  Mommy comes to her side to paraclete.  She helps, counsels, and comforts.  She advocates getting back on the bike.  The Holy Spirit is at our side as our Paraclete.  He is poured out upon us in Holy Baptism.  He works on us and through us in His Word and the Holy Supper.  He dwells with us and makes us His temple.  He proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Jesus promises the Paraclete will come, “whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (v. 26; ESV).  The Spirit proceeds from the Father, through the Son, a little foretaste of next week’s Feast of the Holy Trinity.  And though the Spirit is from all eternity, and has been here in His creation from the very beginning, “hovering over the face of the waters” when the earth was without form and void (Gen. 1:2), He was poured out upon the Church in His fullness that first Pentecost after our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 2), blowing through the house like a mighty rushing wind, bestowing tongues of fire on the disciples and loosing their tongues to preach… To preach Christ crucified for sinners, Christ Jesus risen from the dead… To preach, not just to Jews, but to the whole world, each visitor to Jerusalem hearing the Gospel of Christ in his own native language.
            “(H)e will bear witness about me,” Jesus says (John 15:26).  That is what the Holy Spirit does.  He always points us to Jesus.  He is often called the “shy” Person of the Holy Trinity, because He does not seek attention for Himself, but for Jesus, by whom we are restored to the Father.  The Spirit is always helping us with Jesus, advocating for us through the blood of Jesus, counseling and comforting us with Jesus.  “He will bear witness about me,” Jesus says.  “And you also will bear witness,” the Lord promises His Apostles, “because you have been with me from the beginning” (v. 27).  The Apostles were the official witnesses of Jesus Christ.  The qualification to be an Apostle is to have been with Jesus from the Baptism of John until the Ascension (Acts 1:21-22).  You actually had to have seen the risen Christ with your own eyes.  That is what made you a “witness” in the full sense of the word.  And now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostles’ mouths were opened to speak this eyewitness testimony to the world, to preach Christ, the Savior.  That is how it works with the Spirit.  He is poured out on us in our Baptism.  He bears witness to us about Jesus.  He gives us living faith in Jesus.  And though we are not witnesses in the same technical sense as the Apostles, we witness His resurrection in His Word, and as the risen Jesus gives us His Body and Blood.  By His Word, we’re with Him, from the Baptism of John to the Ascension, indeed, from the creation of the world to its consummation at Christ’s return.  And the Spirit opens our lips and looses our tongues to speak; some to preach in the Office of the Holy Ministry, some to confess in their daily lives and vocations, one and all to testify of Christ.  The Spirit bears witness about Christ first to you, then to your neighbor through you.  But He’s always pointing to Jesus.
            The Church needs the Holy Spirit because we can’t see Jesus face to face.  Our Lord has ascended into heaven.  He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  He is coming back soon, to judge the living and the dead.  But in the meantime, we cannot see Him with our eyes, as the disciples did during His earthly ministry.  He is with us, to be sure.  He is with us in a very real and tangible way.  But that way is hidden in Words and water and bread and wine. So we need the Spirit.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t believe Jesus is with us.  This kind of thing is spiritually discerned, as the Apostle Paul reminds us (1 Cor. 2:14).  The natural, unconverted person cannot accept it.  It is foolishness to human reason.  It is a miracle of the Holy Spirit that you believe any of this.  That is the Spirit bestowing faith in Christ where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V:2-3).  You cannot believe this by your own reason or strength.  The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ (SC II: Third Article). 
            Notice that it is through the Gospel that the Holy Spirit brings you to faith.  Now, the Holy Spirit is God.  He is bound by nothing in and of Himself.  He can do what He wants.  But He has graciously bound Himself to means, the Means of Grace, the Gospel, so that you can always know how to find Him.  He has bound Himself to preaching and God’s Word, and to the tangible Gospel of Baptism and Supper.  There you can be sure that it is the Holy Spirit giving you comfort and counsel in Christ, not some other spirit, some evil spirit giving you false comfort and counsel in someone or something other than Christ.  This is important: If a spirit speaks to me in my head or gives me a feeling in my heart, how can I know this is the Holy Spirit?  I can’t!  It could be a delusion.  It could be an evil spirit.  But when I hear the Gospel, I know it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to me.  I know it without a doubt.  And when I receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, I know it is the Holy Spirit who takes possession of me, with the Father and the Son, one God, now and forever.  The Spirit works through means, and He has told us what they are, so we can always be certain.
            And that is how He testifies to the world, too.  By His means.  By the Word.  In preaching.  In your confession.  In this way He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.  Concerning sin, “because they do not believe in me” (John 16:9).  The only sin that shuts a person out from God is unbelief.  The forgiveness of sins is given freely in Christ who died on the cross as the payment for sin, and who has been raised from the dead.  He convicts the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v. 10).  The only true righteousness that avails before the Father is that of Jesus Himself.  Jesus is vindicated in His ascension to the Father.  His righteousness is demonstrated before all.  And in the preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit declares to the world that Jesus’ righteousness results in justification of the sinner before God.  Believe in Him, and God counts you as righteous.  You shall not die, but have eternal life.  Finally, the Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).  The devil is defeated.  The world judged Christ to be THE Sinner, and executed Him on the cross.  The great mystery is, so did God.  He made Him to be sin who had no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  But now, having paid for the sins of the whole world in His bloody suffering and death, Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  God’s Judgment is for Him!  And for us!  And against Satan.  Satan and the demons are damned.  The Gospel publishes the judgment.  The Spirit bears witness to Christ.

            And He leads the Church into all truth (John 16:13).  Again, this is always and only through the Word, through the Holy Scriptures.  If anyone comes proclaiming a new truth revealed to him by any other means, run.  Run away, and don’t look back.  That one is a false teacher.  The Spirit guides us into all truth through the Word.  It is not a truth that evolves.  It is not a truth that changes with the times.  And it is not dependent on your feelings about it, as if what is true for one is not true for you because you don’t feel it’s right, and you feel better about another truth.  No.  The Truth is One.  The Truth is Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  And it is all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded us, which we are to teach the baptized until our Lord comes again (Matt. 28:19-20).  The Spirit speaks to us in the Scriptures.  He speaks what He hears from the heart of God (John 16:13).  All that the Father has belongs to the Son.  The Spirit takes what is the Son’s and declares it to you (v. 15).  The Spirit, poured out on you in Baptism (your own personal Pentecost), brings you into the very life and love of the Holy Trinity, by washing you with the blood of Jesus.  God’s own child, united to the death and resurrection of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, your Paraclete.  It is right there in the Words spoken over you at the font: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (B)

May 17, 2015
Text: John 17:11b-19

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            Our Holy Gospel this morning is a portion of our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer.  Jesus is our High Priest.  The High Priest represents the people of Israel before God in prayer and sacrifice.  So Jesus represents us, His Church, before the Father.  He makes the sacrifice of atonement for our sins by His death on the cross.  And here in our text, on the night in which He is betrayed, the night He institutes the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, Jesus prays for us.  It is a sneak-peak into what Jesus always prays for us now, as He sits in glory at the right hand of the Father.  Jesus continues to pray for His Church.  And, of course, the Father hears and answers His prayer.  How could the Father fail to hear His Son?  He says “yes” to Jesus’ prayer.  He bestows upon the Church whatever the Son asks for us.  And here in our text there are three particular petitions that Jesus lifts before the Father for our sake.  He prays first of all that we be kept as one in God’s Name (John 17:11).  Second, He prays that we be kept from the evil one, Satan (v. 15).  And third, He prays that we be sanctified in the truth of His holy Word (v. 17).
            Jesus prays: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11; ESV).  He prays that we be kept in the Name of the Father which is given to and revealed in the Son: That is the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is a prayer that we be kept in our Baptism!  This is a prayer that we not wander away from our Baptism into Christ, in which all of our sins have been washed away and each one of us has been made God’s own child.  It is a prayer that we return to our Baptism daily in repentance, as once again we drown the old sinful nature that the new man daily emerge and arise to newness of life in Christ by faith.  Now, the world does not want this.  There is a reason the penalty for Baptism is death in those countries where persecution of Christians is the hottest.  The world hates Baptism, and the world hates the Baptized.  The world hates you because the world hates Jesus.  The world wants to tear you away from Jesus.  And the most effective way the world can do that is to lure you away by enticing your sinful flesh, so that you come away all-too-willingly.  These allurements can be money, power, influence, sex, altered consciousness, you name it; but whatever it is, the allurements are captivating.  They appeal to your lust, your covetousness, your selfishness.  And they trap you.  But upon closer inspection, these things are ultimately empty and unable to give you the pleasure they promise.  That is why you are always itching for more. 
            Our Lord knows how weak we are.  And though our Lord Jesus is very much with us in His Word and Sacraments, with us in all His fullness as God and Man, still, He is no longer visible to the naked, fallen eye.  We do not see Him and hear Him in precisely the same way the disciples did during His earthly ministry.  So Jesus prays for us that we not fall away from our Baptism.  He prays that God keep us by His Spirit from the allurements of the world and the weakness of our flesh.  He does not pray that God would take us out of the world.  That is interesting.  It seems like it would be easier if He just took us out of the world the moment we are baptized so there would be no danger of us falling away.  But He doesn’t do that.  He want us in the world, confessing Christ and serving our neighbor in our various vocations.  But He prays we would not be of the world, that we wouldn’t be at home here, but remain His own in Baptism.
            He prays this so that we might be one, even as the Father and Son are one along with the Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God, the Holy Trinity.  Jesus wants us who are baptized into Him to enjoy an intimate unity and communion with one another in Him.  As we heard last week, we are a family, the Holy Church.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  Actually, the Communion of the Baptized is even more intimate than that.  In this Communion, we are one Body, the Body of Jesus.  There are many members of this Body, each with our own particular functions, but we are one Body.  That is the reality of our Baptism.  And so, just as it is in the human body, when one member suffers, we all suffer.  When one member rejoices, we all rejoice.  When you stub your toe, your whole body hurts with that injured member.  When your stomach is satisfied after a delicious meal, your whole body relaxes and delights in the goodness.  St. Paul reminds us that we are one Body, the Body of Christ, and individually members of it (1 Cor. 12).  That’s the reality of our Baptism and our Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ around His altar.  We sometimes rebel against this notion.  Sometimes we fight.  Sometimes we offend one another.  Sometimes we hurt one another.  Brothers and sisters, this should not be.  When this happens, repent.  And forgive.  Forgive, as you have been forgiven by God.  And stick it out.  That’s what families do.  My family hasn’t cast me out yet, even when I’ve deserved it.  The Father has made us a family, one Body, in fact, in Baptism.  And He keeps us in His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 
            And He keeps us from the evil one, the devil.  The devil is our main enemy, the driving force of the unholy trinity: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  Needless to say, the devil does not want us to remain in God’s Name any more than the world does.  He wants to sever us from Christ and divide us from one another.  If he can’t do it with the help of the world’s allurements, he’ll try to do it by causing divisions among us.  When such division begins to rear its ugly head in our midst, we need to recognize it for what it is: Another trick of the serpent!  Don’t turn against your brothers and sisters.  Stamp it out!  Repent!  Return to your Baptism.  Die to yourself.  Live in Christ.  Forgive your neighbor.  Love him.  Pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil,” or more accurately, “Deliver us from the evil one.”  Jesus, our Praying Priest, gave us that prayer to use against the devil whenever he afflicts us.  He also prays that prayer for us in our text: “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  And the Father answers by sending the Spirit to keep us by the Means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, in the one true faith of Jesus Christ; to be ever pointing us to Jesus Christ our Savior; to guide us into all the truth (16:13).  This is the Gift of God we celebrate especially next Sunday on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out in all His fullness upon the early Church to guide them into all truth, even as He is poured out on each one of us in Holy Baptism.  This is what Jesus prays for us: Keep them in Your Name.  Keep them from the evil one.  And finally, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17). 
            Jesus prays that we be kept steadfast in His Word of truth, the Holy Scriptures.  In this way, Jesus prays that the Father would sanctify us, make us holy.  God makes us holy by the Word.  That is why you come to hear the preaching.  That is why you read the Bible.  By His Word God gives you the righteousness of Jesus.  That’s justification.  And by His Word God gives you the holiness of Jesus.  That’s sanctification.  By His Word you are sanctified, consecrated, set apart for God as the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, and keeps you in the true faith.  The Word gives you faith in Jesus and keeps you in that faith.  The Word gives you to know the truth and hold it sacred, putting it into practice.  The Word gives you to love and serve your neighbor and seek to do what God commands.  Jesus consecrated Himself, set Himself apart, for the saving work of our redemption, so that we might be sanctified in the truth of His Word (v. 19).  In that Word we have eternal life, because the Word imparts Christ.  And He sends us out with that Word into the world as His Body, the Baptized, the holy Christian Church.

            Jesus prays for us.  And what a comfort.  We know that the Father will not deny the prayer of the Son.  He hears His Son, and He answers Him.  He keeps us in our Baptism.  He keeps us from the evil one.  He sanctifies us in the truth; His Word is truth.  And so we have eternal life.  All our sins are forgiven.  We have peace with God.  We have peace with one another in love and the unity of the Spirit.  And we gather in that unity for the Communion around the altar.  The Body of Christ eats and rinks the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is the answer to Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.  Because here at the altar, with one another, with Christians throughout the world, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we are one.  And the joy of Jesus Christ our Savior is fulfilled in us.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (B)

May 10, 2015
Text: John 15:9-17

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            “Love” is perhaps the most abused word in the English language.  I love my wife, and I love pepperoni pizza.  Can that possibly be the same kind of love?  We say “I’m in love with you,” but we really mean “I’m in lust with you.”  We love the idea of love, but we have no idea what love is.  There are four Greek words that mean different things, all of which we translate with the English word, “love.”  “Love” is always supposed to be a good thing, but in fact our abuse of it often makes it a bad thing.  “Love,” in our culture, can mean obsession or possessiveness.  Harm and abuse and perversion are done in the name of love.  The physical act of love is often anything but.  And of course, love in our culture particularly means tolerance for anything and everything, even if tolerating that thing harms the person we love.  Because not tolerating it is considered unloving, and that we simply cannot tolerate.  We’ve done a great job screwing all this up.  Love is one of those slippery words that can mean whatever you want it to mean at any given moment, which means that unless you carefully define what you mean by the word, “love” is meaningless.
            But not to Jesus.  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; ESV).  You want a definition of love that pins it down, the real thing, real and true love? Look at the crucifix.  That’s it.  Jesus lays down His life to save His friends.  Jesus goes to hell and back to save His friends.  And the thing about these friends is that they’re only His friends because He says they are.  They certainly aren’t friendly to Him.  He’s talking about sinners.  He’s talking about those who despise Him, reject Him, mock Him, kill Him.  He’s talking about you.  For you He lays down His life.  For you He is pinned to the Tree, suffers, and dies, precisely so that you can live and be His friend, forgiven of all your sins which are now covered by His blood.  That’s love.  Love is not a feeling.  Love is not an emotion.  Love is not your heart going pitter-pat when your beloved walks into a room.  Those things are all very nice, but they are not love.  Love is decision.  Love is action.  Love is Jesus deciding you are His friend and taking the action to make it so.  The Greek word used here is agape.  This is love bestowed on one who is wholly unworthy, entirely unlovable.  It is a love that expects nothing in return.  It makes no demands.  It gives everything.  This is love unto death.  It is the love that sacrifices the lover for the sake of the one loved.  It is love that goes to the cross at the hands of the beloved, for the sake of the beloved.  This is Jesus-love.  This is love of which you are entirely incapable.  I mean, if you’re going to love someone, you expect at least a little love in return.  And if you’re going to die for someone, well, it better be worth it.  St. Paul puts it this way: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8).
            Mother’s Day is a great day to talk about this kind of love, because mom’s love is the closest thing we have to agape outside of Christ.  Even this isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s parallel.  Moms, you know this, you will love your children and die for your children no matter what they do, even if they reject you or disown you, even if they do horrible things to you.  You’ve said it to them ever since they were little ones.  Maybe you’re disciplining them (which, by the way, is an act of love), and they shout something like: “You’re doing this because you don’t love me!”  And you say, “I’m not happy with you right now, but I’ll always love you.”  And you mean it.  You don’t feel it.  But you mean it.  Love is not an emotion.  It’s a decision and an action.  Now, just to be clear, you love them because they’re your children, so even this is not agape.  God loves us even when we’re not His children.  His love is that He goes into action to make us His children, the action of the cross, the action of death and resurrection, Word, Baptism, and Supper, for you.  That’s love.  Remember that line from the Lenten Hymn, “My Song is Love Unknown”?  “Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be” (LSB 430:1).  It’s not that there is something lovable in you that makes Jesus comes and save you.  It is that you are so completely unlovable that Jesus comes to save you, that you be made lovable, that you “might lovely be.”
            Beloved in the Lord, Jesus loves you.  Can anything give you greater joy than that precious phrase?  Jesus loves you… yes, even you.  He loves you with the love of the Father Himself.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9).  And He gives you to abide in His love, as we talked about last week in the verses leading up to our text this morning.  He gives you His Word, preached, read, sprinkled, eaten, and drunk, that by these means you abide in Him and in His love.  And incidentally, our translation says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (v. 10).  That is certainly a literal and legitimate translation, but it can lead to a huge misunderstanding.  It makes it sound as if we have to prove our love to Jesus by doing what He says, and if we don’t do what He says, if we sin, we don’t love Him.  And that can lead to a big crisis of faith.  The sense, actually, is this: If you keep, treasure, meditate upon my Words, everything I’ve said and taught and done for your salvation, then you will abide in my love.  Because the Words of Jesus are the vehicle of His love.  His love flows to us in His Word.  And this is joy, true joy, full joy that cannot be taken away from you, not even in the midst of sadness or tragedy or pain.  Because you always have Jesus’ Word.  “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (v. 11).
            Jesus loves you, and He calls you His friend.  That gives you joy!  You did not choose Him, but He chose you and appointed you to be His own (v. 16), and He makes known to you, again, by His Word, all that He has heard from the Father.  You’re His confidant.  You know things about Jesus and about His Father that no one else knows, because He has revealed it to you in His Word.  You have access to God that other people don’t (Scaer), because you are Jesus’ friend.  That’s why you pray to Him confidently, and you know He hears and answers.  That’s what friends do.
            And the thing about being Jesus’ friend, is that it necessarily makes you friends with all the rest of His friends.  This is the reality of the Church, the Holy Communion, the group of forgiven sinners Jesus calls His friends.  So He tells you to love one another (v. 12).  The word, again, is agape.  Now, wait a minute!  We just heard that we are incapable of this kind of love.  And we are.  We are.  But when you abide in Christ and in His love, this is what happens.  The love of the Father for the Son flows to you through the Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments, and then it flows through you to one another, and to the world.  Jesus doesn’t want you to love one another with just your own kind of love.  That will never work.  It would be a disaster, and we’d all be operating on our own meaningless definitions of love, whatever they happen to be.  No.  Jesus wants you to love with His love.  He wants you to abide in His love so that you’re always being filled with it, so that it overflows to one another.  Jesus wants to love your neighbor through you.  That’s the fruit He wants you to bear: His love poured out for your neighbor. 
            You don’t do it very well.  Your love keeps getting in the way of Jesus’ love.  You know this.  Confess it.  Repent.  Your love doesn’t want to do hard things that bring you hateful responses, rejection, and mockery.  Remember, Jesus’ love is the love of the cross, the love that dies for those who hate Him.  That’s the love that now flows through you.  This love disciplines children, speaks the truth to your spouse, and confesses Christ to loved ones who don’t want to hear it.  This love says, “Because we love you, you shouldn’t come to the Lord’s Supper today, because we don’t want you to eat and drink spiritual harm on yourself by not discerning the Body of Christ.”  This love says, “I’m saying this because I love you, but what you’re doing is harmful to yourself and others, and it is sinful.  It cuts you off from Christ.  I love you, and I don’t want that for you.”  Love does hard things, and then it takes the consequences.  It suffers the anger, the resentment, the rejection.  It pays the fines, loses the business, and does the jail time.  It marches willingly to death.  It is not an emotion.  It is an action.  Your love can’t do it.  Repent.  But Jesus’ love can.
            And Jesus’ love has.  He bore His own cross to Calvary.  He stretched out His arms on the cross-beams.  He took the nails.  He took your sins.  He took your death.  He took your hell.  That’s love.  No one else has a love any greater.  He died for you.  And He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)

May 3, 2015
Text: John 15:1-8

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            Every branch gets cut, one way or another.  There are the branches that have cut themselves off, preferring to go it alone apart from the Vine.  And there are the dead branches in whom is no life of faith in Christ, no fruit of love.  These the Vinedresser, the Father takes away and throws into the junk pile.  Then there are the living branches, the Christians, who remain connected to the Vine, our Lord Christ.  These, says Jesus, the Father prunes.  I don’t know enough about gardening in general, nor vine dressing in particular, but I do know that if you want a plant to remain healthy, you have to cut away whatever is dead or diseased in it.  What is dead or diseased in you?  All that remains of the sinful flesh.  All that is not of faith.  All that is not of Christ.  These the Father must strip away by pruning.  And it hurts.  Using other pictures, we call this the daily drowning of the Old Adam in the waters of Holy Baptism, the crucifixion of the Old Man.  This is repentance.  This is the cross.  This is any suffering or affliction the Lord uses to cut away all that is dead and diseased, so that you grow into a healthy and thriving branch of the Vine, Jesus Christ. 
            But everyone gets cut.  As I mentioned, there are some branches that cut themselves off completely.  Now, if you cut a branch off a vine and lay it aside, it will appear to go on living for a time.  It will still be green.  The leaves will still look fresh.  But not for long.  Because you’ve cut that branch away from its source of water and nutrition.  The roots belong to the vine, not to the branch.  So the cut-off branch will very soon wither and die.  The leaves will shrivel and fall away.  And there is no chance of the branch bearing fruit.  For all practical purposes the branch is dead the moment you cut it.  So it is with those who cut themselves away from Christ.  It may appear that they remain alive, even apart from Christ.  Maybe they’re still nice people.  Maybe they still help their neighbors and give to charity and send cards to the moms on Mother’s Day.  But their faith is dying.  Maybe it’s so gradual, they don’t even know it.  They may not know it until it’s too late, when they breathe their last and find themselves cast into the outer darkness.  It is tempting, sometimes, to cut yourself off from Christ.  It would be easier to conform to the world and cater to the desires of the flesh.  You could do what you want.  You wouldn’t have the Sunday morning obligation.  The world would embrace you.  No more danger of persecution.  It might be nice for a few years (and let’s face it, your earthly life is only a few years in the grand scheme of eternity).  But then what?  What happens in the end?  You find yourself eternally dead, eternally dying.  That’s hell.  Eternally separated from the Lord and Giver of life.  That is why the Church prays so earnestly for people who have cut themselves off from Christ.  Lord Jesus, bring them back to Yourself!  Rescue the lost sheep!  Grant them repentance and restoration!  It doesn’t always happen.  But it does happen!  I’ve seen it.  Never give up praying for the lost, loving them, and confessing Christ to them.
            Then there are those branches that are still connected to the Vine, but are dead nonetheless.  Somehow they’ve cut themselves off from the nourishment of the Vine without actually, physically separating from it.  The thing is, it takes the expertise of the Vinedresser to tell the difference between a truly dead branch that needs to be cut off, and a diseased branch that needs pruning.  In other words, you can’t tell the difference.  Only God can.  So don’t set yourself up as Judge.  That is God’s job.  Your judging is dangerous, because it could actually make you one of these dead branches.  Repent.  The dead branches still superficially connected to the Vine are hypocrites by the true definition of the word.  They appear to be Christians, they belong to a church, maybe they even come to Church every Sunday.  They lead pious lives and do nice things for people.  But their dark, dirty secret is that they don’t finally believe in Christ.  Not as their Savior.  Now, I will say, if you’re worried you might be one of these people, you’re not.  The thing about hypocrites is, it doesn’t worry them that they’re hypocrites.  What happens to these is that God Himself eventually cuts them off from the Vine.  The Church earnestly prays for these, that the Word of God would be like unto a hammer upon their hearts of stone, to break them into pieces and make of them new and living Christians, branches connected to the true Vine, Jesus Christ, receiving of His life-giving and nourishing sap, the Holy Spirit.  This happens, too.  I don’t know if I’ve seen it, because you can’t tell the difference between the hypocrite and a believing sinner.  Only God can see into the heart.
            What happens to these branches if they don’t repent, is that God Himself cuts them off and throws them into the refuse pile, along with the other branches that cut themselves off.  And in the end, what happens?  Jesus says “the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6; ESV).  Again, that’s hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).  Beloved, do not cut yourself off from Christ.  Do not do it outwardly, separating yourself from the Communion of Saints, absenting yourself from Church and denying yourself the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation dispensed in His Word and Sacraments.  And do not cut yourself off inwardly, secretly denying your Lord while outwardly maintaining the appearance of Christianity.  If these dead branches are you, repent.  The Lord is calling you to life, breathing His Spirit into you now by His holy Word.  It’s not too late.  But the Day is coming, the Day of Judgment.  Now is the time of salvation.  There may not be a tomorrow.  Do not delay.  Confess your sins and receive the Holy Absolution, which connects you once again to your Savior, Christ, the Vine. 
            But as we said, everyone gets cut.  Even the faithful Christians.  Because the thing about faithful Christians is, they often look more like hypocrites than the hypocrites.  They look diseased and dying.  Your sins are deadly.  But the Father tenderly cares for these branches.  He tenderly cares for you.  Now, what He has to do to you is painful.  He has to cut you.  He has to prune you.  He has to call you to repentance.  So He gives you trial and tribulation to endure.  He leads you to despair of yourself, so you are not tempted to cut yourself off and go it alone.  He leads you to despair of others, so you are not tempted to seek salvation in some other vine, as if you could hop off one and connect yourself to another.  Every sorrow, every misfortune, every sickness, disease, or catastrophe, is a gracious call from the Father to repentance, to abide in Christ as your only Savior, to stay connected to His Word and Sacraments here in the holy Church, in the Body of Christ, with your fellow branches.  It is only here in the Church, where Jesus forgives your sins, waters you at the font, feeds you with His Word and with His Body and Blood, and imparts His Holy Spirit, that you stay alive, and bear fruit. 
            Because here His cross and death and resurrection life flow into you and enliven you to bear much fruit.  The cross is the source of it all.  There our Lord Himself was pruned, more than that, cut off by the Father and thrown into the fire.  The whole Vine was uprooted and burned on the cross.  On the cross, the whole Vine dies.  And if the Vine dies, the branches die.  You died with Christ, you branches, you who are baptized into Christ.  And since that is true, you are also risen with Christ, you branches who are baptized into Christ.  You have new life.  You have eternal life.  You already possess it in connection with Christ, the Vine.  It will appear fully on the Last Day.  Your life flows from the Vine, Christ Jesus, who is risen from the dead.  In Him your sins are forgiven.  Your flesh is pruned by God, your heavenly Father.  And you bear fruit, the fruit of faith in Christ and love toward your neighbor.  Your fruit looks outwardly an awful lot like the same things the cut-off branches are doing.  You help your neighbor, give to charity, and send a card to your mother.  But you do it in faith.  You do it in Christ, connected to Him.  And so your works are sanctified.  It is His love flowing through you to those you serve.  Apart from Him, those works are not pleasing to God.  But in Christ, they are heavenly fruits, a pleasing aroma, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, holy, and acceptable to God.  Because they are made in and with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.  “I am the Vine, you are the branches,” says Jesus.  “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

            So abide in Him.  Which is nothing else than to say, receive the gifts He gives you here.  Do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it (Small Catechism, 3rd Commandment).  Remember your Baptism and rejoice that you are washed clean of all sin and made a beloved Child of God, your heavenly Father, upon whom you can call at all times for help and blessing.  Come to the Feast of our Lord’s true Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and be strengthened and nourished for LIFE in this dying world, life in the midst of the pruning, life that outlives death, eternal life that will result in your bodily resurrection on the Last Day.  You abide in Christ when His Words abide in you.  The Word does it all.  By the Word you are cleansed.  By the Word you are connected to Christ.  By the Word His life flows into you and bears much fruit.  Be in the Word, and let the Word be in you, and you will be in Christ, and He will be in you.  And you will live.  Indeed, He is at this very moment in you, giving you life.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

April 26, 2015
Text: John 10:11-18

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Does God actually care about the nitty-gritty details of my life?  Or, in the grand scheme of things, am I so insignificant that God cannot be bothered in the midst of all His running of the universe to help me find my keys, give me the strength to endure another day at my lackluster job, and relieve the pain in my joints?  Should I even pray about these things?  What about the things I consider to be larger concerns?  Cancer?  A struggling marriage?  Rebellious children?  Are these things worth my bothering God?  The devil would like you to believe that God doesn’t care about any of that.  The world can’t even agree if there is a god somewhere out there, much less if he or she or it cares about you.  And your flesh?  You have an extraordinary handicap when it comes to faith.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are incapable of believing in Christ.  You can’t even make a beginning.  What do we confess in the Catechism?  I believe that I cannot believe… “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”  It is a miracle of the Spirit that I even believe in Christ.  So it must be just as miraculous if I am to believe the God who became a Man, Jesus Christ, cares for my daily struggles and heartaches, my joys and sorrows, or that He even takes notice. 
            Here is what the Gospel says, the Gospel by which the Holy Spirit calls you to believe: “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus.  “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15; ESV).  He knows you by name!  What does that say about His care for you?  Every individual sheep in His fold is of immediate concern to Him.  This is why Jesus chooses the shepherd/sheep imagery to describe His relationship to His Church and to each of His sheep individually.  A good shepherd always knows each one of his sheep intimately.  He knows their characteristics and their eccentricities.  He knows when his sheep are sick or injured.  And he knows the dangers that face his sheep.  Hired hands, shepherding assistants who are only doing a job, don’t consider the nitty-gritty details of the sheep and flock to be all that important.  They don’t love the sheep, like the shepherd does.  In fact, when danger comes upon the flock, the hired hand flees.  Better to lose your job than your life.  But for the shepherd, shepherding is his life.  The sheep are his life.  A threat to his sheep is a threat to him.  He loves his sheep.  He cares for his sheep.  He doesn’t just have a general knowledge of their needs or a general care for their welfare.  He knows them, each one.  He cares for them, each one.  When a sheep is lost, he goes and finds it.  When a sheep is injured, he binds its wounds.  When a predator is loose among the flock, a good shepherd will face even mortal danger to defend his sheep.  Remember King David when he was a boy out shepherding the flock, how he wrestled with lions and bears to save his sheep, preparing him for battle with Goliath and his work of shepherding the sheep of Israel.  “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus.  First of all, note that He says “I AM.”  This is one of the “I AM” sayings in John.  Jesus is YHWH.  He is Almighty God, the God who runs the universe.  But then He immediately states what He is for us.  “I am the Good Shepherd, the One who knows His sheep by name, the One who cares intimately for His sheep, indeed, the One who lays down His life for the sheep.” 
            David’s Son follows in His father’s footsteps.  Jesus does mortal battle with the predators that threaten His sheep.  Not just lions and wolves and bears.  Not just robbers or even the stupidity of the sheep that we’ve talked about before: the sheep who don’t even know to run away when danger approaches, but lay down helpless; the sheep who soak up water into their wool as they drink and fall into the stream and drown; the sheep who will eat anything, even it it’s poison.  A shepherd has his job cut out for Him.  Much more so Jesus.  He defends us against giant predators like death, the devil and his demons, and the yawning jaws of hell.  He saves us from our own stupidity, our willing surrender to our enemies, our coming too close to the sins that drown us, our feeding on the poisonous weeds of hatred, lust, covetousness, selfishness.  He defends us against these, as He says, by laying down His life.  He defeats our enemies by submitting to them.  He is no hired hand.  He does not flee.  He confronts the danger head on.  Satan throws his worst at Him.  Hell claims Him for its own.  He embraces the death of the cross.  His feet trod the Calvary road.  He holds the spikes in the palms of His hands.  It all happens according to His will, according to His love for the sheep, for you.  He lays down His life.  He gives up the Ghost, the Holy One, who calls you by the Gospel. 
            And then He takes His life up again, just as He said He would. The enemies thought they won.  They gathered to feast on the sheep and little lambs of the Lord’s flock, now that Jesus had been safely neutralized.  There was one thing they didn’t count on.  When death swallowed the Lord, Jesus punched a hole right through the other side.  He walked through the valley of the shadow and came out of it alive.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He won.  The enemies are defeated.  Satan is His captive.  Hell has no power over Him.  And it has no power over you.  And just as He came through death alive, so will you.  Because He will make it so.  The risen Christ will raise you from the dead.
            Jesus died, but Jesus lives, and He is still your Good Shepherd.  He gathers His sheep into the sheepfold of His Church, and here He tends them.  He gathers other lost lambs into His fold.  That is what He means by the “other sheep” He must bring, so that they listen to His voice (v. 16).  He means the Gentiles.  The Church is for Jews and Gentiles.  The Church is for all nations.  He makes of them, of us, one flock, and He is our one Shepherd.  And here in the Church He does for us all the wonderful things He describes in the 23rd Psalm.  He provides for your every need of body and soul, so that you are never in want.  He makes you lie down in the green pastures of His holy Word.  He leads you beside the quiet baptismal waters and restores your soul.  He leads you in the paths of righteousness: His righteousness given to you as a gift, your justification; for His Name’s sake, because He placed His Name on you in Baptism.  And you need not fear death, for you know that He is with you and will lead you through the valley of the shadow to Himself in heaven, and He will raise you on the Last Day.  He comforts you with His rod and staff: His Word, His cross, His pastors sent to distribute these things to you in His Name.  He prepares a Table before you, even here in the presence of your enemies, the Table of His true Body and Blood.  He anoints you with His Spirit.  Your cup overflows with the good things your Good Shepherd bestows upon you.  And, of course, the promise is that He will do this forever.  He will forever pour out upon you His goodness and mercy.  Because this fold, this flock, this Holy Christian Church, is your home.  This is where you gather with your brother and sister sheep, under the loving eye of your Good Shepherd, in the Kingdom of your Father who art in heaven.

            And since that is the case, don’t you think it’s true that your Good Shepherd cares for all the other things that concern you: Your health, your marriage, your kids?  Your family, your job, and even those elusive car keys?  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  Don’t you know that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30)?  The Lord cares.  Your Good Shepherd loves you.  He wants you to pour out these things to Him in prayer.  He hears.  He will answer.  He will deliver you.  In His way, of course, in His time, according to His wisdom and will.  But even the suffering He gives you to endure is for your good.  Fear not.  Jesus never abandons His sheep.  He died for you.  He lives for you.  He tends you.  Jesus cares for you.  This is the charge He received from the Father (John 10:18), to be the Good Shepherd of His sheep.  He is faithful.  He will do it.  He does it all for you.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (B)

April 19, 2015
Text: Luke 24:36-49

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            This morning we get St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Easter evening appearance to the disciples.  It is probably the same event we witnessed from St. John’s perspective last week (John 20:19-23).  Jesus appears in the midst of His disciples and greets them with the all-important Absolution: “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36; ESV).  “Shalom” is how we would say it in Hebrew.  Peace, health, wellness, safety, fullness, fulfillment, completion, tranquility, rest; these are all included in the meaning of that word, “shalom.”  And this is what Jesus delivers when He forgives your sins.  You are at peace with God, and so you can have peace in your heart and mind and soul, and peace with one another.  You are ultimately well, safe, fulfilled, complete, and at rest in the salvation of the Lord.  This is, as we noted last week, precisely what is needed by disciples who are locked away in fear; who have just endured the crucifixion of their Teacher and Lord, and worse, now have heard from women and angels and several of their own number that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  That’s a pretty unsettling notion when you get right down to it.  Just think about your dearly departed loved one suddenly walking through the door, or like Jesus, appearing out of nowhere.  You’d be overjoyed, for sure, but also scared to death.  The disciples are startled and frightened.  They think He is a ghost (v. 37).  They think He is out to get them!  And that is why what He does next is so important for the disciples in that room, and for you in this one.
            He shows them His wounds.  “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” (vv. 38-39).  This is no spiritual coming back from the dead.  This is a real Body, a real Body with real wounds, wounds that killed Him, but behold, He lives.  This is the Crucified.  This is the real Lord Jesus standing before their very eyes, speaking to them, bidding them touch Him, showing them His hands and His feet.  “Go ahead, poke around.  They’re real.  I’m real.”  It’s all real.  A real death for the real sins of real sinners.  A real resurrection of the real Lord Jesus for real life forever with God.  Just to prove it, He asks for something to eat.  Ghosts don’t eat.  They give Him a piece of broiled fish, and He takes it and eats it before them.  He takes and eats real food, even as He turns the tables on you, giving you the real food of His true Body and Blood, that you might really live and not die.
            It is profoundly important that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a real, bodily resurrection.  Otherwise this is all for naught.  We are still in our sins and doomed to die.  If Jesus is not bodily risen from the dead, He’s a worthless Savior.  After all, you are a real sinner with real sins that need real forgiveness.  You have real problems in a world that is really fallen and a flesh that is just as real and just as fallen.  Abstract higher powers, spiritual sentiments, and good moral teachings don’t really help you.  Imagine you’re in a horrendous car accident and the first responders try to comfort you by telling you, “Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s someone or something out there watching out for you who will rescue you.  We’re all sending good thoughts your way for your help and healing.  And as far as those life threatening injuries, we’d just like to remind you that you should really heal up and be whole, because that’s just the right thing to do.”  None of those things make any sense in this context, do they?  You need real help, tangible help, physical rescue.  But that’s the abstract higher power-ism, spiritual sentimental-ism, moralism that passes for Christianity here in America.  You’ve probably bought some of their books and thought they were great because they touched your heart.  Repent.  Because you need real, tangible help from a real Savior who can rescue you from your mortal peril of body and soul in death and hell.  Jesus comes to you with His wounds, in a real Body, to rescue you from all the real things that hurt you.  Nothing theoretical, abstract, or meaningless about your Savior.  He’s God, to be sure, but He’s God who is a man!  For us men and for our salvation.  He is the Word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).  He gets His real hands really dirty with your real sin and death.  Indeed, He saves your soul.  But He also saves your body.  And when He raises you from the dead, He’ll raise you body and soul. 
            He is a Body and Blood, wounded but living, tangibly present, taking and eating kind of Savior.  That is the Jesus who fulfills all that is written of Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (in other words, the whole Old Testament).  That is the Jesus who opens up your mind to understand the Scriptures, that all these things are real, that they had to take place, that the Christ had to really suffer and really rise from the dead on the Third Day.  That is the content of all Christian preaching: The real, bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).  That is the “For you” of Christian preaching.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Repent of your sins, your fear, your doubt, your denial of Christ, your living in opposition to His holy will given for your good in the Ten Commandments.  Repent of your “spiritualizing” the real things of Jesus.  And know that Christ’s blood and death wipes all that away.  Your sins are forgiven.  And He is risen from the dead.  You will not die.  You will not be abandoned to the devil and hell.  Christ’s life is your life.  You are baptized into Christ.  That is your new reality.  Jesus sends the Promise of His Father upon you, namely, the Holy Spirit, the Power from on high with which you are clothed in Holy Baptism.  By this Spirit He opens your mind to understand the Scriptures, and He calls you to take and eat, real food for your body and your soul, His true Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins. 
            Your salvation is no theoretical hypothesis, sentimental hope, or pious wish.  It is as real as the risen Body of the Lord.  When you are alone with the Lord, there are two human bodies present in the room, yours and His.  When you speak to Him in prayer, you are speaking to a Man.  He is a Man with a Body, and so He can actually help.  He is a Man who can actually save.  When we confess that we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament, we mean just what we say, because that is what Jesus says.  This is My Body.  This is My Blood.  If it isn’t really that, He’s lying.  But Jesus does not lie.  It is what He says, and it is for you, for the forgiveness of sins, and it is real.  Jesus shows His disciples the wounds.  Jesus puts His wounded, risen Body in your mouth and says, “Take and eat.”  It’s all true.  It’s all real.  Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your heart?

            Christ is risen from the dead.  It is His true Body by which He deals with you.  And here is why it matters.  Here is why you need not fear or doubt.  He will raise you in the same way.  Your resurrection on the Last Day will be as real as His.  Real body.  Real heaven and real earth, the true Promised Land (really, Land!).  And by the way, real food.  You won’t need to eat in the resurrection, but you will eat.  And unlike our experience in this fallen world, where the best food is the worst for you, and too much of a good thing can kill you, the food of the resurrection will be choice meat and vintage wine (Is. 25:6), milk and honey (Song of Sol. 5:1), the fruit of the tree of life for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).  It will all be good for you.  You will eat and be satisfied.  Real food for your real body.  How do I know?  Jesus took the fish and ate it before them.  And the Table set before us this morning is but a foretaste of the Royal Wedding Feast to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.  It is the Feast of Shalom: peace, health, wellness, safety, fullness, fulfillment, completion, tranquility, rest.  “Peace to you,” Jesus says.  Shalom.  He is really in your midst to announce a real peace.  And He bids you come to the Table for the real Food He sets before you.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (B)

April 12, 2015
Text: John 20:19-31

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            “I just want a little peace.”  You’ve said it more than once.  You think it all the time.  Peace and quiet.  Peace of mind and heart.  Peace in your marriage and your family.  Peace for a nation divided.  Peace in a scary world full of violence.  Why is there so much turmoil on every front, on every level of your life?  Why is peace so hard to find?  The lack of peace, which varies in intensity from this time to that, from situation to situation, is actually a symptom of an even greater need.  What you really need is peace of conscience, which is to say, what you really need is peace with God.  The conscience is a vestige of God’s image in man.  Your conscience is the Law of God written on your heart (Rom. 2:15).  Those feelings of guilt, the emotional burdens you carry, your anxiety caused by the lack of peace all around you, these are actually the accusations of the Law that you have broken.  You know you are a sinner.  You know your sin separates you from God.  You know that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  And you know that the death of a sinner ends in hell.  Now, you don’t consciously think through these things most of the time.  In fact, if you can help it, you avoid thinking about these things at all.  But that doesn’t change the truth.  What you need first and foremost, what you need above all else, is peace with God.  And that is the peace Jesus announces to you in the Holy Gospel this morning: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV). 
            The disciples need the Lord’s peace on the evening of that first Easter.  The doors are locked where the disciples are for fear: Fear of the Jews, fear of the Romans, fear that Jesus is dead, fear that they have wasted the last three years of their life, fear that the women and some of their own number have seen angels and maybe even the risen Lord, fear that their doubts and their abandonment of the Lord in His hour of need can never be forgiven.  In the midst of this fear, the risen Lord Jesus stands among them.  You see, it is not that He has to come in from the outside, somehow gain entry through the locked door, or sneak in through the window.  What the disciples do not realize is that He has been with them, in their midst, the whole time.  Ever since His resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus always and fully uses His divine powers.  He is everywhere, in His risen and glorified Body, as God and Man.  He is with you now, and with you always.  And He is with His disciples in the locked-up room, with them in the midst of their fear.  Only now, suddenly, He is with them visibly and tangibly.  And He speaks audibly.  His Words are extraordinarily important.  “Peace be with you.”  It is a Holy Absolution.  It is as if He is saying, “For all your fears, all your doubts, all your failure to listen to Me and learn My teaching, all your locking yourself away and hiding, indeed, for abandoning Me in My hour of suffering… Peace.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have peace with Me.  You have peace with God.  Let your heart now be at peace.  Let My peace take possession of you whole.  For mine is the hard-won peace of the cross, the peace of the empty tomb and resurrection from the dead.  And this, My peace, I now give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
            Then Jesus does a very important thing for you, there in that room behind the locked doors.  He ordains the Apostles to speak His peace on His behalf through the whole world.  And that speaking is to create the very reality it announces.  Jesus institutes the Holy Ministry for the preaching of the Gospel, for the proclamation of peace.  “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” He says to His Apostles (v. 21), and the very word “apostle” means one who is sent as an official representative with all the authority of the one who sent him in the matter for which he is sent.  So when an Apostle speaks peace, Jesus speaks peace.  And so also those who stand in the apostolic Office of the Ministry.  When a pastor speaks peace, Jesus speaks peace.  This is especially important for what Jesus does and says next: Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’” (vv. 22-23).  Our Lord gives pastors to His Church to forgive sins in Jesus’ Name.  When the pastor forgives your sins in the stead and by the command of Jesus, you can believe it.  For it is valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.  For He has, and He does.  The Absolution is His.  And this Absolution gives peace: Objective peace with God, for God has nothing against you anymore; subjective peace in your heart, for you know you have a gracious heavenly Father who loves you and wants you for His own.  And He will work all things for your good, and for your salvation.
            The apostles are ordained to speak the peace of the crucified and risen Christ to the world.  But Thomas was not with them.  Thomas does not believe their preaching.  And so Thomas has no peace.  Only doubt.  You know the story.  “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).  Seeing is believing, we always say, and Thomas would agree.  But that is not how it works in Jesus’ Kingdom.  In Jesus’ Kingdom, hearing is believing.  You do not come to faith in the risen Jesus by seeing Him.  That is why, even though He is just as substantially with you in this room this morning as He was with the disciples in the locked room so long ago, He is hidden.  He does not appear to the naked eye.  He appears to you in His Word.  You see Him with your ears.  He appears in the preaching that He has been crucified for your sins, and that He is risen from the dead.  He appears in the announcement that all your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  He appears in His proclamation that the water in the font is a sin-cleansing bath that gives you new birth and new life, that the bread and wine on the altar are His own Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  By that Word, He breathes on you, and you receive the Holy Spirit.  You hear Him, and hearing is believing.  Thomas resists that.  He does not believe the preaching.  Could it be that Thomas’ doubt is the fruit of fear?  So Jesus does for Thomas what He had done for the other Ten one week before.  The substantially present, though hidden, Lord Jesus stands visibly in their midst.  He comes right into the midst of the fear and doubt, to dispel it.  There is only one medicine for this deadly disease.  Absolution: The peace of Jesus Christ.  “Peace be with you,” He says (v. 26), and then He shows Thomas His hands and His side, for the peace of the risen Lord Jesus flows from the mortal wounds He received for our sins.  Thomas falls on his knees and confesses: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  Finally, Thomas believes the preaching.  And now Thomas is ordained to preach that peace to the world.

            And oh, how the world needs that peace!  Oh, how you need that peace!  You need the peace that flows form Jesus’ wounds.  Your sins were nailed to the cross in the Body of Jesus.  They are all forgiven.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  You have peace with God.  Your conscience can be at rest.  You need no longer fear.  None of the problems that plague your life, your family, the nation, the world, can ultimately harm you.  For, as St. Paul writes, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).  Your peace comes from the wounds, from the crucified and risen Body and Blood of the Lord.  And so, as you come to the Lord’s altar to eat and drink at His Supper, Jesus says to you what He said to the apostles in our text: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  Then, after your hunger and thirst have been satisfied, He bids you “Depart + in peace.”  You can and you do, for you have been bodied and blooded with the Body and Blood of Jesus.  You do not see Him with the naked eye, as did the Apostles and Thomas.  Still, He appears to you, right in your midst, hidden in the Supper.  You know this by His Word.  You see Him with your ears.  And hearing is believing.  The world cannot give you peace, but Jesus does.  Let not your heart be troubled.  The risen Lord Jesus stands in your midst this morning to calm your fears and forgive your sins.  Peace, beloved, peace.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunrise

April 5, 2015
Text: John 20:1-18

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            Mary weeps.  Outside the tomb, stooping to look inside, knowing the Lord Jesus is not there, she can no longer control her grief.  So great is her sadness, it does not even startle her that two angels in white are sitting where the Body of Jesus had lain, one at the head, and one at the feet.  Angels rarely go unnoticed when they appear visibly to humans.  The angels ask a question, but it is not as though they don’t know the answer.  They are calling Mary to reflection.  “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13; ESV).  Why?  “Because my Lord, my Hope, my Joy has died.  He is gone forever.  And now they have taken away His Body, whoever they are.”  Mary’s sadness blinds her.  Her ears are stopped.  Her mind is clouded.  She does not remember the Scriptures or the teaching of Jesus, “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:7).  She cannot see the evidence all around her that the Lord’s Words are true: The empty tomb, the neatly folded grave cloths (grave robbers would never take the time to neatly fold the laundry!), the angels clothed in white!
            Of course, in one respect, her reaction is quite beautiful.  Behold her love and devotion to the Savior.  See how His absence grieves her.  She hangs her whole life on Christ.  Every hope, every dream, every desire, her very existence depends on Him.  And in this she serves as a model for us.  We do well to imitate her love and devotion.  But the fact remains that she is looking for a dead Savior.  And that is why she weeps.  There is a point behind the angels’ question.  Think Mary; think, O Christian: If this grave is empty, why do you weep?
            We weep when graves are full.  We aren’t used to them being empty.  Resurrection is foreign to our experience in this vale of tears.  And so we, like Mary, act as though Christ is not risen, as though His Words promising this very thing could not possibly be true, as though death could rob us of all hope, joy, and salvation.  We act as though the devil won, as though sin and death have not been defeated, as though Jesus Christ does not live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  And we act as though He will not come again to raise us, in our bodies, from the grave, to be with Him forever.  Repent.  Wipe away your tears of sorrow.  Let them be now tears of joy.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  The grave could not hold Him in.  His death has been accepted by the Father as payment for your sin.  You are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  All is not lost.  Not at all.  All is yours, for you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.  Christ is risen.  Jesus lives.
            Mary does not recognize Him at first.  For one thing, He is the last person she expects to see alive.  For another, His Body has been glorified.  He has shed every appearance of lowliness and humiliation, except for the scars that are the trophies of His victory.  He asks her the same searching question as the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15).  Mary thinks He is the gardener.  Maybe He moved the Body.  Still, she does not recognize Him.  Until He speaks her name.  “Mary” (v. 16).  Jesus had said, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me” (10:14).  “(H)e calls his own sheep by name… and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (vv. 3-4).  “Mary,” Jesus says, and now she knows Him.  She knows His voice.  She knows Him in His Word.  Her eyes and ears and mind are now open.  So it’s all true!  The Lord is risen, just as He said!  She clings to Him for all she is worth.  But for now she must let go.  Our risen Lord will ascend to our Father in heaven.  He will no longer be with us visibly, as He was in His earthly ministry.  But with us He shall be.  In His Name.  In His Word.  In His Body and Blood.  And now Mary has a job to do.  “Go to my brothers,” Jesus says (10:17).  He calls them brothers, all those who had deserted Him, all those who did not believe.  It is a Holy Absolution.  There are no grudges with Jesus.  All is forgiven, erased by the Blood of Christ.  Go to them, Mary, and tell them all that you have heard and seen.  That is the calling of every Christian.  “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her” (v. 18). 

            Mary’s story is your own.  Why do you weep, beloved?  Why your great sorrow?  Do you not know that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead?  Do you not know that that sets right all that is wrong in the world and in your life?  Hell is vanquished.  The serpent’s head is crushed.  Sin is ended.  Death is swallowed up by life.  All that is left is to wait out the “little while” between our Lord’s ascension and His coming again.  Then all the leftover symptoms of the fall; sickness and disease, injury and sadness, brokenness and tribulation, all of that will be done forever.  And God will wipe every tear from your eyes.  Jesus calls you by name in Holy Baptism.  You know His voice.  You recognize Him in His Word.  And so you follow Him to eternal life and joy.  It is not by accident that Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  He is re-planting Eden.  Paradise is restored.  All that is wrong is made right again.  Jesus makes all things new.  He makes you new, too.  Rejoice.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday Tre Ore

Good Friday Tre Ore

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 3, 2015

Text: Luke 23:32-38 (ESV): “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”

            The work of a priest is to represent the congregation before God in sacrifice and prayer.  The High Priest in particular was to come before God with sacrifices of atonement.  On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest alone would enter the Holy of Holies, always with the blood of the sacrifice, which He offered for his own sins and those of the people (Heb. 9:7).  The High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.  Thus the blood would come between the people and the Commandments contained in the Ark, the Commandments the people had broken.  The blood was vital.  For “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).  The priest represents the people, confessing their sins, making the sacrifice of atonement, pleading the blood of the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. 
            Jesus is our great High Priest.  He comes before God as our representative, making the once-for-all, perfect, sin-atoning sacrifice of His Body on the cross.  His is the Sacrifice to which all the other sacrifices pointed.  They were but a shadow of the things to come in Christ, the Savior.  He comes before His Father with His own precious blood.  Of course, He has no sin His own for which to offer sacrifice.  He is unlike other high priests in this regard.  He is the sinless Son of God.  But He offers the sacrifice for us.  And on the basis of this sacrifice, Jesus prays for us.  Jesus prays for you.  In His Office as High Priest, Jesus prays: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
            The prayer is not just for the soldiers as they pierce His sacred flesh, though it is for them, too.  The prayer is not just for Pilate, who condemned Him, or the Jews, who handed Him over, or Judas, who betrayed Him.  Nor is it only for the disciples who deserted Him in His hour of need.  It is for all of the above, and for all sinners of all times, all who by their sins crucified the Lord of glory.  And this is a great comfort.  Jesus prays this prayer for you.  He is your priest.  All of this that He suffers, He suffers for you, to make atonement for your sins.  And so, when He prays “Father, forgive them,” He is praying that the Father forgive you and restore you to Himself, that He be your Father and you be His dear children.
            As our Lord is lifted up on the cross over the place called “The Skull” (v. 33), Golgotha in Aramaic, Calvary in Latin, crucified between two criminals, one on His right, and one of His left, Jesus prays for you.  And it is a picture of what the crucified and risen Christ always prays for you now that He sits at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you.  He prays, “Father, forgive them.”  He prays by the Blood of His sacrifice.  He is crowned with thorns for all your sins of the mind: your bitterness and resentment, your hatred and malice, your worry and anxiety.  His hands receive the spikes for the guilt of yours, taking what does not belong to you, striking your brother in anger, touching what is forbidden you, clinging to all that is worthless and transient.  His feet are fastened to the wood for all the times your feet have carried you where you should not go, carried you away from your home, from your spouse, from your family… carried you away from Christ and His Church.  He thirsts to atone for every lie, boast, bitter word, or juicy piece of gossip that has passed through your lips.  His eyes are blurred by sweat and blood for your every lustful glance, every hurtful stare, every salacious website or movie or book.  His ears are polluted with the mockery and jeering of the religious leaders and bystanders for every time you’ve leant your ear to the lies of the old slippery serpent, the unbelieving world, and your own sinful nature.  His side is pierced, He is speared through the heart, for every evil thought that proceeds from your own: “murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).  In body and soul, He suffers the hell that you deserve in body and soul as a born enemy of God, a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve.  He suffers your sentence.  He dies your death.  That His death be yours, and that your sins be forgiven.  He is your substitute.  He is your representative before the Father.  He is your High Priest.  He makes the sacrifice.  He prays the prayer.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
            And the Father says “Yes” to Jesus’ prayer.  He hears and He answers.  How could He do otherwise for His beloved Son, with whom He is well-pleased?  He accepts the sacrifice.  There is forgiveness in the Blood.  There is life in the Blood.  Easter is coming.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  The Father forgives you for Jesus’ sake.
            And now everything is new.  Jesus, your High Priest, has ordained you a priest for your neighbor.  Now you represent your neighbor before God in sacrifice and prayer.  You love your neighbor.  You sacrifice for your neighbor.  You shed your blood, if necessary, for your neighbor.  And you pray for your neighbor.  To be sure, you make intercession for your neighbor’s needs of body and soul.  But chiefly you pray this prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  You pray this prayer for your neighbor’s sins against God.  You pray this prayer for your neighbor’s sins against you.  Because the Father has forgiven you for Jesus’ sake.  You actually say it this way: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  That is a priestly petition, and it flows from the cross of our High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

            Jesus is our High Priest.  The sacrifice has been made, the Commandments covered in the Blood of the Atonement.  The Holy of Holies is open to you.  Jesus prays for you.  And you have peace with God and eternal life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.