Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 29, 2011
Text: John 14:15-21

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

Our Lord says to us this morning, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; ESV). It makes sense. If you love the Lord Jesus, you will want to do what He says, both to please Him, and because you know that if He commanded it, it must be good for you. But there is a problem. You don’t keep His commandments. Even as a Christian, you try to keep them, you want to keep them, but as St. Paul says of himself in Romans 7, you do not do what you want to do (Rom. 7:15). The old sinful flesh continues to get in the way, and again and again you fall into sin. It’s very frustrating. And then a terrible thought enters your mind… Does this mean you don’t love Jesus? You begin to question your own heart, because you know after all that your heart is deceitful. “I think I love Jesus… don’t I? But I don’t keep His commandments. I try, but I fail. Maybe I don’t love Him.” Beloved in the Lord, recognize these thoughts for what they are… Lies of the devil! The devil is great at quoting Scripture to his own advantage. He knows the Bible better than you do. And he is very good at twisting it, taking what happens to be quite true from the Scriptures, and turning it against you to lead you to doubt and despair. Of course you love Jesus. How can you not love Him after all that He has done for you, giving His very life into death for you after suffering all the torments of the holy cross and hell itself, in your place? He is risen, and He continues to give Himself to you as He comes among you here in His gifts in the holy Church. Of course you love Him. But it is true, your fallen flesh continues to drag you down into sin. You do not keep His commandments. And for this, for these many and grievous sins, you are heartily sorry and sincerely repent of them. That godly sorrow, of course, is a fruit of your love for the Lord Jesus. So don’t let the devil misinterpret this text for you and thus lead you to despair. It is rather imperative that you gain a right understanding of this text so that you can revel in the treasures your Lord here presents to you in His Word.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But don’t stop reading there. Take careful note of what Jesus promises in the very next verse. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper” (v. 16). Paraclete is actually the word, and it can mean Helper, Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, and really all of the above together. Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. Because if you are to keep His commandments, or even begin to desire to keep His commandments, this must come from the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Jesus is promising Pentecost here, which we will celebrate on June 12th, which for us is also Confirmation Day. And Jesus is here promising that you also, in your Baptism and in hearing the Word of God and in the Holy Supper, will receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus asks the Father, who sends the Holy Spirit through the Son. It is a Trinitarian action. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. He is the Spirit of truth (v. 17), and will guide you into all truth (16:13), ever pointing you to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), your only Savior. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit, because they are unbelieving. But you believe. You have been given faith by the Holy Spirit, and you receive the Holy Spirit by that Spirit-given faith through the divinely appointed means of such reception, the Word of God and the visible Word of God, the holy Sacraments. By these means of grace you know the Spirit, and He dwells with you and in you (v. 17). He calls you to faith by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies (which is to say, makes you holy) and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers, and He will raise you up to eternal life on the Last Day. That is what Jesus promises the Spirit will do and is even now doing.

So if you are to demonstrate your love for Jesus Christ by keeping His commandments, you must have the Holy Spirit, whom the Father pours out on you through the Son in your Baptism and in the other means of grace. It is important, also, however, to understand what is meant by the word “keep,” as in “you will keep my commandments.” This doesn’t mean simply to obey the commandments, but to hear, heed, honor, observe, consider, meditate upon, believe, and yes, put into practice. And not just the Ten Commandments summed up by Jesus’ admonitions to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31), but the whole instruction of the Lord, the whole Word of God, Law and Gospel. Through which Word alone, by the way, the Spirit of God works, not because He couldn’t work otherwise, but because He has graciously tied Himself to the Word, to the means of grace, so that you can always know where to find Him, and always know how to discern between the Holy Spirit and other, sinister spirits.

We sang in the Introit: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). That is because through the Word of God the Holy Spirit enlightens us so that we believe in Jesus, love Him, and actually begin to do what He commands. We prayed in the collect that by God’s inspiration (literally His putting the Spirit into us) we may think those things that are right and by His merciful guiding accomplish them. Having been forgiven of all our sins in thought, word, and deed, we now pray that our thoughts, words, and deeds may be right, righteous, sanctified, made holy. We are not forgiven or saved by our good works, but we are always concerned to be doing good works and putting sin to death within us. We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. It is always active in love and good works. It is always returning to Baptism to put the old sinful flesh to death.

Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The Christian’s keeping of the commandments comes not from fear of punishment, but from love. And this love comes from faith. For Jesus’ words here are not a threat, but a promise. If you love Jesus, you will keep His commandments. He will make it so. So you see, sanctification, too, is by grace alone. It is God’s gift to us, God’s action in us. It is a gift given and nourished in God’s Word and Sacraments. You come to church to be forgiven all your sins. But you also come to be strengthened in your Christian life. Because by the gifts of Christ, the Lord frees you from sin, from damnation, from the threats and punishments and compulsion of the Law. He frees you to love. He frees you to keep the commandments according to that same love. It is the love of God poured out on you and flowing through you in concrete good works. Now, you will never do this perfectly in this earthly life, as you well know. Again, this is because you always have the sinful flesh to contend with, which you continually need to crucify. But don’t let that stop you. Remember, Jesus died for you. All your sins are forgiven! Christ is risen. You have eternal life! All of this is by grace, without works, received by faith alone. So now you’re free to go do works without worrying about whether they are perfect (because they’re not!), or rightly motivated (because they’re not!), or whether they please God (they do, not because they’re so wonderful, but because they are the fruit of faith). Just go out with joy and serve your neighbor in love. Just rejoice that you are a child of God, and live the life of a child of God. That is what the forgiveness of sins does for us. It frees us from bondage. To forgive actually means to release. You’re released, freed from all bondage, when Jesus forgives you your sins. What a marvelous life of freedom and joy the Lord has given to us.

And He is with us in this Christian life. He does not leave us as orphans; He comes to us in His blessed Word and Sacraments (John 14:18). The world no longer sees Him, because His visible presence has been removed from us in His ascension into heaven. But He is still with us, just as present with us as He was in His visible earthly ministry. Now we see Him by faith. He is in the Father, and we are in Christ, and Christ is in us (v. 20). His Spirit is in us and moves us to keep His commandments. The Christian life is that life in which God is active in His Christians. And this is a gift bestowed by the Father in love, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Of course you love Jesus. Don’t let the devil tell you otherwise. You love because He first loved you (1 John 4:19), and gave Himself for you, that you might be God’s own child. You love Him, but more importantly, He loves you and has redeemed you by His death. But He is not dead. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! And that means you are not left in death. You have eternal life now, a life of love and the sanctification of the Spirit. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 22, 2011
Text: John 14:1-14

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

“Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1; ESV). Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. There is much that troubles your heart in this fallen, sin-filled world. Your heart has been broken. You have felt abandoned. You have felt alone. And you have wondered where God is in the midst of all that troubles you. You have wondered about the way to God. In other words, doubts have plagued you. You have said to yourself, “If only… If only I had more money, if only I had a different job (or any job), if only I were younger, or older as the case may be, or retired, or had married someone else… If only (you fill in the blank), that would be sufficient for me. Then I would be set. Then I would be at peace. Then I would know God loves me.” You are not unlike the disciples in the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed. Jesus was going away. He had clearly indicated that He would be betrayed by one of them, handed over to suffer and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. The disciples did not understand. The mood was somber. Their hearts were troubled. Jesus said to them what He also says to you this morning: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

Jesus is the answer for your troubled heart. Now, I suppose that isn’t very surprising coming from me. The answer is patently obvious. And yet, like Thomas and Philip and the other disciples, how quickly you forget, how quickly you begin to doubt. That is why Jesus speaks His comforting and enlivening Word to you, to remind you and to give and strengthen your faith. When your heart is troubled, when it seems as though God has abandoned you, as though Jesus has gone away in spite of His promise to be with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20), when you are in the midst of Good Friday and the Holy Cross, you need the Word of Jesus Christ, His comfort, His promises. He goes to prepare a place for you in His Father’s house, a place of heaven and of resurrection. He is coming back to get you, to take you out of this vale of tears that so troubles your heart, that you may dwell with Him and with His heavenly Father in eternal joy. In Jesus, you know the way, for He is Himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and in Him you come to the Father and know the Father as your Father. For in Jesus, you know that you have a gracious God. Jesus reveals the heart of the Father toward you. God loves you, wants you for Himself, and has given His only-begotten Son to die for you, that believing in Him, you may not perish, but have eternal life.

Thomas’ heart is troubled. He is afraid he does not know the way to where Jesus is going to prepare a place for him. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’” Thomas, don’t you see? Jesus is the way, the road, the path to salvation, to heaven, to the Father’s house and the Father’s heart. He reveals Himself to you as the way to the Father, as the Word made flesh, for He is the truth, truth in the flesh. He cannot lie. Other things are true, but Jesus is the Truth! And He is the life. Because He is not just a man. He is God. And it is God’s essence to give life. All life is from God. Jesus is God and man in one person. He bestows life by His suffering and death for the forgiveness of all your sins, by His resurrection from the dead whereby He wins the victory over the grave once and for all, and He distributes this gift of life in His Word and in His Sacraments. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. And this claim is exclusive. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” There are no other ways, no other paths of salvation. You only get to heaven through Jesus Christ. By faith alone. Not by works. Not by other gods. Not by being “a basically good person.” Christ alone. But this is good to know. Because if you have Jesus, you have salvation. And more than that, you have the truth, and you know that anything that conflicts with Jesus and His Word is not the truth. And you have life. You have eternal life. For your sins are forgiven, and Jesus has prepared a place for you in the Father’s house. Put away your politically correct notions about how these exclusive claims are so intolerant and unloving and arrogant. Those notions are not helpful. The answer to your troubled heart, and St. Thomas’ troubled heart, is Jesus: The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Philip’s heart is also troubled. Fine, Jesus, you’re the way, but just give us a little peek into the divine mysteries so that we can be assured. I mean, you’re asking us to stake our eternal lives on believing in you. “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (v. 8). But Philip, have you been with Jesus so long and still you don’t know Him, still you don’t understand? You’ve seen the Father… In the revelation of His heart toward you in Jesus Christ. To be sure, the Son is not the Father. They are two distinct persons in the Holy Trinity. But the Son is of one substance with the Father. They are one and the same God, along with the Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. And Jesus is the revelation of that God’s heart, that God’s intention toward us, His creatures. If you know Jesus, you know the Father. Intimately. He is your Father, who loves you and sends His Son to rescue you and reconcile you by His suffering and death. Understand that everything Jesus does and everything Jesus speaks is by the will of the Father. The works of Jesus are the works of the Father, for the Father sent Jesus to do the works. The Words of Jesus are the Words of the Father, for the Father sent Jesus as the Word made flesh. That is why we preach Jesus, and Him crucified. Because in preaching Jesus, we preach the Father. Without Jesus, God is not your Father. He may be your Creator, but not your Father outside of Jesus. Outside of Jesus, you must deal with the naked God who, in His righteousness, cannot abide sin, who hates sin and (get ready for it, you’re not going to like this) hates sinners. And yet, in His divine wisdom and eternal will, He has decided to love sinners. This is the great mystery of God. This is grace, God’s undeserved kindness. He has decided to love you and make you His own. So He must reconcile you to Himself. He must do something about your sin. Never think that sin is something God just winks at or sweeps under the rug. If God is just, He must do something about it in justice. And He does. He sends His Son. He punishes His Son. He meets out justice on His Son. For you. In your place. And by virtue of His Son’s sin-atoning work, you are given to be sons of God, heirs of the promise, the Kingdom of God. Because by Baptism into Christ, you are God’s own child. This is why salvation is so exclusive: No one comes to the Father except by Jesus. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Because He alone has paid for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. God is our Father because of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father. The Father works through the Son to make it so.

And if that is so, that you are a son of the Father (yes, a son, man or woman, a son, the heir, the inheritor of all of your Father’s good things), then your heart no longer need be troubled. Jesus is the answer. He has gone to the cross to prepare a place for you in the Father’s house. And now He is with you always, bringing you to that place He has prepared. You know the way. Jesus is the way. He has answered Thomas’ question, and yours. And you have seen the Father, because seeing Jesus by faith, you see the Father as your loving heavenly Father who sent His Son for you. Jesus has fulfilled Philip’s petition and yours. And whatever else there is that troubles your heart, ask the Father in Jesus’ Name, and He will answer. Ask, and you will receive. Ask, and He will do it. In His time. According to His perfect will, which is always for your good. According to His wisdom, which may seem foolishness to you at the time, but is beyond anything you could ever ask or imagine.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. No more “if onlys!” Only Jesus, His Word, His body and blood, can calm your troubled heart. In Jesus, you know the Father’s heart. God is for you. And if God is for you, who or what can be against you? You have not been abandoned. You are not alone. Not even in the midst of Good Friday and the Holy Cross. Jesus is sufficient. He will never leave you or forsake you. He is here, right here and right now, speaking with you and feeding 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.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Witness, Mercy, Life Together (Part I)

Pastor’s Window for May 2011
Witness, Mercy, Life Together (Part I)

Beloved in the Lord,

With our Synod’s new three-fold emphasis on “Witness, Mercy, Life Together,” and with our new banner of the same theme (a gift for the congregation purchased with Zeb Hempen’s memorial money), perhaps it will be helpful to consider each of these emphases individually. This month we consider Witness.

Witness is a translation of the Greek word martyria (μαρτυρία), from which we get the English word “martyr.” The word means “testimony,” a historical and legal term. One who witnesses testifies to what they have seen or experienced. When we speak of Christian witness, we mean the testimony that a Christian gives about Jesus and what He has done for us and for our salvation. We are speaking of our Christian confession of Christ. Of course, when we call ourselves witnesses, we recognize that we cannot be witnesses in the same technical sense that the first Christians were witnesses. A “witness” in the technical, Scriptural sense is one who has physically witnessed Jesus Christ to be alive after the resurrection. Relatively speaking, only a very few of the vast numbers of Christians who have ever lived are in this sense “witnesses.” But what we cannot see with our physical eyes, we see by faith through the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments. In these means of grace, we actually encounter the risen Christ, who really speaks to us in Scripture and preaching, really washes us in Baptism, really forgives our sins in Holy Absolution, and really feeds us with His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. So in this sense, we, too, are witnesses, and we are called to testify, to confess Christ to the world, beginning with those among whom God has placed us in our daily vocations.

Needless to say, the idea of “witness” is a key component of what it means to be the Christian Church. The Church is called to proclaim Christ. Our risen Lord Jesus declares to the apostles, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; ESV). He commands His apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Witness leads to discipleship, which is accomplished through Baptism and teaching. Our Lord further commands, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Witness happens in the preaching and catechesis (teaching) of the Church, through which the Holy Spirit grants faith. Witness continues in the sacramental life of the Church. The Spirit makes disciples/witnesses in Baptism, and as St. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

Of course, the Holy Spirit is responsible for the results of our witness, whether the person we witness to comes to faith. We are simply called to testify. “(I)n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). And we are to do so no matter what the consequences. Remember, “witness” is a translation of martyria, from which we get the English word “martyr.” Witness can lead to martyrdom. The martyrs, those who have suffered and died for the faith, bear the ultimate witness to Christ. “I will also speak of your testimony before kings and shall not be put to shame” (Ps. 119:46). “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). The Holy Spirit has already taught you what you should say. You know the Creed. You know the faith from attending church and Sunday School. That is what you should say. And you can take the consequences, knowing that when the world persecutes you, you are blessed (Matt. 5:11). “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12).

It is a great privilege to be a witness of Christ. Because in Baptism you bear the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are a living witness of Jesus Christ wherever you go. The “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” banner will remind us of this every time we see it.

Blessed Easter!
Pastor Krenz

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
Good Shepherd Sunday

May 15, 2011
Text: John 10:1-10

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

Too many voices. There are so many voices in the world, in society, even in the Church, vying for our attention, trying to get into our heads and plant the seeds of their teaching, whether for good or evil. For example, there is the ever-expanding media, no longer just newspaper, radio, and television, no longer just the Big Three networks, but countless channels, the internet, blogs, social media, podcasts, a barrage of voices that even assault us on the tiny phones we all carry around, texting, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook. Many of us are connected. Some pridefully boast that they are not connected to any of these things. But don’t let this become your standard of self-righteousness. Technology is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is the use or abuse of technology that determines whether it is bane or blessing. And there is no denying that such technology can overwhelm us. Why? Because of the voices, all saying different things, all seeking to influence you in the battle for your mind and heart. Which, by the way, is a spiritual battle, waged not just by human beings, but by unseen spiritual forces of good and evil.

Don’t be fooled. There is no such thing as an unbiased media, and this goes far beyond the realm of politics, the Kingdom of God’s Left hand. Understand that every time you open up a book, the author and the publishers are seeking to shape your mind and heart. Every time you watch a television show or movie, the writers, directors, and producers are seeking to shape your mind and heart. The same is true of the news media, of bloggers, even of musicians. Again, it’s not all bad, but you need to know going in that this is what is happening. You need to discern the voices. I’m not suggesting that you should cut yourself off from the world. I’m not suggesting you should avoid all media. That would be a Law answer to the problem, not a Gospel answer to the problem. And it would never work. Nor is it ever suggested in the Bible. If anything, it would become another source of self-righteousness. What I am suggesting… in fact, stating as a fact for your Christian life, is that the answer to this problem is Jesus, and His voice, really speaking to you in His Word. Because the voice of Jesus will shed light on all the voices that are not Jesus. Beloved, you need to be discerning. And only the voice of Christ in His Word can give you the gift of such discernment. Of course, not everything that claims to be moral, or appeals to your fallen heart as moral, is, in fact, moral. But more importantly, not everything that claims to be Christian, or appeals to your fallen heart as Christian, is, in fact, Christian. Wolves appear in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned us about that: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15; ESV). That means that the wolves, the false teachers, appear to be sheep, Christians, and so we can easily be taken in by them. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls these wolves, these false teachers, “thieves and robbers” (John 10:1). And the aim of the false teachers is clear: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10). But Jesus’ aim is different. In fact, it is the polar opposite. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10). What we see here is the profound difference between all the unfaithful shepherds in this world, and the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

You see, then, that in the mélange of voices vying for our attention, there is only one voice to which we should listen, the voice of our Savior Jesus Christ. For only His voice brings life in abundance. As our Good Shepherd, He cares for the sheep. He keeps us safely in the sheepfold, the holy Christian Church. In the parable Jesus tells this morning, He is the Good Shepherd who enters through the narrow door. The Father is the Gatekeeper who opens the door immediately for the Shepherd. The thieves and robbers are the false teachers, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and all the sectarians and false religionists of today and throughout history. Jesus protects us from these by becoming the door of the sheepfold. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (vv. 7, 9). The Shepherd becomes the door of the sheepfold by laying Himself down in front of it. Jesus lays Himself in front of the door in death. He sacrifices Himself for the sake of the sheep. He gives Himself into the hands of the thieves and robbers, that the sheep may go free. He does this because He loves His sheep. He loves those who are His own, even unto the death of Him. And then He rises again for the sake of His sheep. The sheep find life and immortality in their crucified and risen Shepherd.

So we must follow no other voice. The voice of the Shepherd, Jesus, brings life. All other voices bring death. There is no substitute for the voice of Jesus. Therefore we have to discern among the voices. And how do we do that? How do we know if it is Jesus speaking, or someone else, a false teacher, our own sinful flesh, the devil? This is a very important question, because remember, this is a spiritual battle for your mind and heart. And it has eternal consequences. Thankfully, there is a very sure way to know if it is Jesus speaking. He has promised that He will speak in one place. It is His Word. He has tied Himself to His Word so that you don’t have to be confused. How do you know whether the feeling in your heart is Jesus speaking or just a bad can of chili? Go to the Word, the Scriptures. Jesus has not promised to speak to you by feelings in your heart, but He has promised to speak to you in the Scriptures. How do you know whether the voice in your head is the voice of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, and not just a delusion, or even a demon? Go to the Word, the Scriptures. Jesus has not promised that the Spirit will speak to you in your head, but He has promised that the Spirit will speak to you in the Scriptures. Jesus has promised that His communication to you will be by His Word in the Scriptures, and in preaching, and in Absolution, and in the visible Word of the Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. He does not promise to speak to you in any other place. And this is good. Because now you can know whether it is the voice of your Good Shepherd, or just some other pretender. Jesus says of Himself as the Good Shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name… A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (vv. 3, 5). You hear the voice of Jesus in His Word. He calls you by name in Baptism, gives you the Christian family Name, the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He feeds you with His true body and blood. As you abide in His Word, you learn ever deeper to recognize His voice and follow Him, and to discern between His voice and the dangerously beguiling voices of strangers.

What actually happens as you abide in the Word of Jesus Christ, is that you begin to recognize the voices that claim to be Christian, but are not. As you regularly attend the Divine Service, receiving the gifts of Jesus Christ; as you pore over the Scriptures in your devotional reading and prayer each day; as you come to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and grow in understanding and wisdom by attending Bible class; it gets easier to spot a false teacher coming and recognize him for the thief and robber that he is. But of course, we cannot, for that reason, let our guard down. Even the wisest of Christians can be sucked in by a false teacher. Even Adam and Eve, in the state of perfection, believed the lies of the serpent, and fell into sin, dragging us all down with them. That is why we confess that the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit Jesus promised to His disciples to lead them into all truth (John 16:13), keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. This also is by grace alone. And how does He do this? By the Word, to which He has attached Himself. By His Word, the Spirit wins the battle for your mind and heart against the spiritual dark forces that want to claim you. By His Word, the Spirit delivers you from the power of the devil and brings you to faith in Jesus, and preserves you safely in that faith unto life everlasting.

The Word of God is the green pasture about which the Psalmist, King David, waxes so ellquent in the 23rd Psalm. Our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, restores our soul by the green pastures of Scripture and preaching and Sacrament, and the still waters of Baptism. He leads us in the paths of righteousness, His righteousness, imparted to us in the means of grace, received by faith, giving birth to our own walking in righteousness. He is with us. He comforts us. Even through the valley of the shadow of death. He comforts us by speaking to us. His tender voice, in opposition to all other voices, promising that even as He is risen from the dead, we will come out on the other side of the valley, risen, alive, eternally and abudantly. For that is why He came. That we may have life, and have it abundantly. And as He bestows that abundance upon us, our cup runneth over. The goodness and mercy of the Lord are with us throughout all the days of our life, and we know without a doubt that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. There are many voices vying for our attention. But only one voice connects with us in mercy to grant us eternal life. It is the voice of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. 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 08, 2011

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (A)

May 6, 2011
Text: Luke 24:13-35

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

Word and Sacrament, the Means of Grace… we throw those terms around a lot. You hear me use those terms in one form or another in almost every sermon. And there is always this danger that the terms become meaningless for us because we are so used to hearing them, or worse, that they have no meaning at all, because your pastor has simply taken for granted that you remember what they mean from Catechism class. As a result, some confessional Lutheran clergy maintain that we shouldn’t use the terms at all. I am not of that persuasion. But I do recognize the danger. It would be tragic if, in using these terms to lead you to a deeper appreciation for our Lord’s dynamic gifts so that you are zealous to receive them as often as possible, instead you were led to tune out the terms as nothing but a familiar relic from Confirmation days gone by. The terms “Word and Sacrament” and “Means of Grace” are invested with meaning and power by the holy things they signify, through which holy things God acts: That God actually speaks to you in Scripture and preaching; that God actually washes your sins away in real water combined with God’s Word, as He did today for Owen, in Holy Baptism; that God really pronounces your sins forgiven, done away with, nailed to the cross of Christ and buried forever in His tomb, in Holy Absolution; that God really gives you the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, the very body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins on the cross, the very body and blood of the risen Christ put in your mouths to eat and drink; that is what we mean by these terms. When you hear the terms “Word and Sacrament” or “Means of Grace,” we are speaking of a very real, tangible encounter with the living God.

And that is precisely what the doleful disciples need as they trudge the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. There are two of them, one of them named Cleopas, the other unnamed. They are not from the 12 Apostles, but from the wider group of Jesus’ disciples, those who believed in Him, those who had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. But now their hopes are dashed, or so it seems. That is the content of their conversation on the road. They are talking about the things that have happened, and how these things have not happened according to their plans. Jesus has been delivered up by the chief priests and rulers, condemned to death, crucified. It is not supposed to be this way. How could this be the Messiah? And now there are these rumors floating around, gossip, crazy wives tales, that He is alive. But how could that be? Dead men don’t live.

Suddenly a Stranger comes astride. They don’t know who He is, but you do. It is Jesus Himself, in the flesh, with them in a very real way, even though their eyes are kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16). And He speaks. There is power in the Word. It is the very Word of God from the mouth of the Word made flesh. It is a dynamic Word, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). This is the Word that is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). The disciples on the road to Emmaus need such faith. For Jesus has not lived up to their expectations. They had expected a Messiah who would defeat Israel’s enemies in a blaze of glory and usher in the golden age for the Jews. Jesus, by contrast, is executed by Israel’s chief enemy, Rome, as a common criminal, on an accursed cross. How can anyone believe in that? Jesus comes and speaks. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26; ESV). Indeed, it was divinely necessary, the very will of God, that the Christ should suffer, that He should die to ransom them and you and me and the whole world from our real enemies: from sin, from death, from hell and the power of the devil, not with perishable things such as gold or silver, but with His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). “And so beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” from Genesis all the way through Malachi, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Because the whole Old Testament is about nothing else save Jesus Christ. It’s all about Him and His saving work, His death and resurrection. Jesus preaches a sermon to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They still don’t know who He is, but their hearts are burning within them as He opens the Scriptures to them (v. 32). The imperishable seed of the abiding Word of God gives them the new birth of faith (1 Peter 1:23). Yes, Jesus saved us from our enemies precisely by His suffering and death. And He is, in fact, risen from the dead. That is the Christian faith.

The disciples reach their destination, and they beg this Stranger to stay with them, to abide with them, for it is toward evening. The darkness is coming and the day is far spent. And they know that this Man who has opened the Scriptures to them can give them light, enlighten them with His gracious Words. So He stays, He abides. Such is His grace. He gives them the gift of His presence in the darkness. And as He joins them at the supper table, He does something remarkable: He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. Sound familiar? It should. Because in the breaking of the bread, the disciples recognize that it is the Lord. And He is really present, in the flesh. Suddenly, He disappears from their sight. But He is not gone. He is with them just as substantially as before. They, and you, are to recognize His bodily presence in the preaching of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread! And through this same Proclamation and Meal, He bestows upon you the saving benefits of His cross and empty tomb. Word and Sacrament! Means of Grace!

The Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, works through the Word and the Sacrament, the Means of Grace, to call you to faith in Jesus Christ, and enlighten you with His gifts, to sanctify and keep you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And Jesus Himself is present, really, bodily, in the Word and the Sacrament, the Means of Grace, to forgive your sins and to strengthen you for your Christian life in this fallen world, to give you His life in the face of death, to reconcile you to your loving heavenly Father. It begins in Baptism, where you become God’s own child, where all your sins are washed away and you are united to the death and resurrection of Jesus. And it continues for the rest of your life as the Lord Jesus speaks His Word to you and absolves you of your sins and feeds and nourishes you with His Supper. Jesus gives Himself in Word and Sacrament. You receive His gifts in the Means of Grace by faith.

We all love the hymn, “Abide with Me” (LSB 878), which is based on this very text, our Gospel lesson. Why is this hymn so endearing? Because we recognize that in our case, too, “fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens…” The world is shrouded in darkness, the darkness of unbelief, the darkness of sin. Our own sinful flesh is nothing but darkness. And the day is far spent (Luke 24:29). Our life is far spent. Death is immanent. For each one of us, death could come at any moment. So it is critical that the risen Lord Jesus abides with us. We need His presence every passing hour, holding His cross before our closing eyes. And this must be a real presence. This cannot be a figurative presence or a spiritual presence, whatever that means (when I say “I’m with you in spirit,” I mean by that that I’m really not with you at all). What good is it to you if Christ is, in fact, risen from the dead, but you never have any sort of face to face encounter with Him… If He’s never actually present with you and for you in His risen body? God answers the prayer you pray when you sing this hymn by giving you the presence of the living God, the risen Jesus, in the flesh, in Word and Sacrament, the Means of Grace! “Abide with Me” is a request fulfilled in sermon and Supper! “Abide with Me” happens because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a present reality for you, right here, right now, right where He’s promised to be. So receive the gifts with all eagerness and zeal. And never let the terms “Word and Sacrament” or “Means of Grace” be meaningless to you again. They indicate that Jesus is with you always, in a very real way, until the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20), in a way that far exceeds your expectations. 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, May 01, 2011

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (A)

May 1, 2011
Text: John 20:19-31

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

Fear! On the evening of Easter, even after the wondrous (and downright confusing) news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the disciples are locked away behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19; ESV). You would be afraid, too, if you were in their situation. After all, the disciples saw just what the Sanhedrin was capable of: the mock trial; delivery of an innocent Man, THE innocent Man, to the Roman governor for execution; the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ. With Pilate’s permission and full cooperation, they had placed a guard at the tomb of Jesus, to make sure no one got out! But now the body is gone. Christ is risen! But you can’t expect the Sanhedrin to go along with that story. They quickly concoct another explanation for the missing body to fit their agenda. “(T)hey gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep”’… And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (Matt. 28:12-13, 15). As far as the disciples are concerned, and especially now that Jesus’ body is no longer in the grave, the Sanhedrin may be after THEM now, to persecute them, arrest them, crucify them!

Suddenly, Jesus appears to them, in their midst, in His body. He comes out of nowhere, or perhaps better, He comes out of everywhere, for in His risen and glorified body, Jesus fills all things (Eph. 4:10). Jesus appears in their midst, even though the doors are locked. In His risen and glorified body, no door can keep Him out any more than a large stone and armed guards can keep Him in the grave. Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples’ fear and He speaks: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). And then He shows them His hands and His side. He shows them His wounds. Because the peace of the Lord flows from His wounds, from the mortal wounds of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. What is this peace? It is peace of God that surpasses all understanding, that guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7). This is the peace of which Jesus speaks earlier in the Gospel of John when He says to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:27). This is the peace that proceeds from the Father and the Son as the Spirit is breathed into those spiritually dead, bringing them to life and faith in Christ. This is the peace of Holy Absolution, of sins forgiven, as Jesus institutes the office of the Holy Ministry for this very purpose, beginning with His apostles, when He says: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (20:23). The Lord has given pastors to His Church for the purpose of forgiving and retaining sins, and everything a pastor does is about the forgiveness of sins: preaching, teaching, sacraments, visiting the sick, even withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. It is all about the forgiveness of sins. Holy Absolution, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, it all flows from the wounds of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

He comes right into the midst of fear, to cast it out. That is what absolution does. It distributes Jesus’ peace in the midst of fear, to kill fear. Because all fear ultimately comes from sin. You can pretend you are unafraid, but the reality is that you have fears as terrible as the disciples who are locked away. I have mine, too. It scares me to death, the terrible things that could happen to my family, my wife and my daughters, as a result of evil people who like to do evil things. It scares me, what could happen to any one of us as a result of terrorism. It scares me to know that the next tornado to come through Dorr may be bigger and do more damage and even take lives, as the tornados have done this past week in the South, and that you and I may be in its destructive path. It scares me every time I fill my gas tank and cringe at how much money I’m spending, because what if I’m unable to provide for my family, what if I can’t feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads, protect them from harm and danger, and give them a good life? Every single one of the fears I just mentioned, beloved, is a sin against the 1st Commandment. Because God is God, and I am not. And my fear betrays the fact that I don’t trust God to be God. I think I can do better. The truth is, I cannot ultimately protect and provide for my family. That is God’s job, and insofar as He has chosen to use me as an instrument in His protecting and providing, that is a gift of His grace. But He is finally responsible for my family’s and my own safety and welfare. I cannot control tornados. That’s God’s job. I cannot control terrorists. God must deal with them. I cannot control the economy. God must provide. And perhaps right now the best way He can provide for us is by chastening us with economic recession and depression. To suggest otherwise is to sin against the 1st Commandment. You have your fears, too, and your fears are sins against the 1st Commandment, and the other Commandments as well. You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. What is needed, then, as the antidote to fear is Jesus’ peace, His absolution. And that is why it is so crucial that He come here, right into our midst, and announce His peace. Which is exactly what He does for us in the Divine Service.

He’s here! Right in our midst, speaking His peace, showing forth His wounds, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, bodily present! He’s here, bestowing His peace because He knows that we are a fearful people. He knows that we are a doubting people. Like Thomas, we doubt. Fear breeds doubt. Unbelief is really the better word. It’s not just that Thomas doubts, it’s that he refuses to believe. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the evening of Easter. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Only the peace of Jesus Christ flowing from His wounds can deliver Thomas from his unbelief. And so Jesus appears to the disciples again, eight days later, right in their midst, once again in spite of locked doors, out of nowhere, or better, out of everywhere, and speaks His peace: “Peace be with you” (v. 26). It is an absolution for fear and unbelief. “Go ahead, Thomas. You want to poke around in my wounds? Please do. These wounds are the cure for all that has wounded you. From these wounds flows your peace.” “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27)! And so from the wounds of the risen Christ, by His speaking and His Spirit, flow Thomas’ faith and confession: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). From the wounds of the risen Christ, by His speaking and by His Spirit, the disciples are no longer fearful and unbelieving. They can even say to the Sanhedrin they had so feared before, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and so suffer beatings and persecution for preaching the crucified and risen Christ (v. 40). They rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ Name (v. 41). And so it is with you. From the wounds of the risen Christ, by His speaking and by His Spirit, flow your peace, the forgiveness of your sins, boldness and confidence in place of fear, faith in place of doubt and unbelief. That is why it is very important that you recognize that Jesus is not here this morning only in some figurative sense. From the actual bodily wounds of Christ, who is bodily risen from the dead, and actually, bodily, present here with you now to really speak to you and to really feed you with His true body and blood in your mouths, comes real peace. If Jesus is only here figuratively, then you only have a figurative peace. If Jesus is only here spiritually, then He can’t really help you with the very real fears and doubts and hurts you struggle with. He can’t really help you with your sins.

Thanks be to God, He’s really here, breathing His Spirit through His Word, forgiving your sins through His called and ordained servant of the Word who speaks in His stead and by His command, placing His true body and blood in your mouths to strengthen and nourish you, to dwell in you, and that you may dwell in Him. In Holy Communion you touch His wounded body as surely as Thomas beheld the wounds and believed. Thomas saw the wounds of the risen Christ, the apostles saw the wounds of the risen Christ, and so they wrote and preached the Christ who was wounded for our transgressions, but raised for our justification. St. John has written these things down for this very purpose, that we may know this blessed reality, and so believe. “(T)hese are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31). Peace be with you. No more need to fear. Your peace, your forgiveness, your life flow to you in abundance from Jesus’ wounds. And you confess it. You confess Him, your Lord and your God. On the basis of His peace, you confess Him to the world. You confess Him now to one another. 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.