Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Resurrection of Our Lord - Easter Day

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Come to the Feast[1]
March 31, 2013

Text: Luke 22:7-20; Amos 9:11-15 (ESV): “‘In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,’ declares the LORD who does this. ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,’ says the LORD your God.”

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

            The Book of the Prophet Amos has served as the basis of our Lenten meditations.  Taken as a whole, the pattern of the book is death and resurrection.  Amos preaches God’s slaying Law to Israel and to us.  He kills us with God’s Word of Judgment against our sin.  And then, when God has us right where He wants us, which is to say, good and dead, with no presumption of helping ourselves, then He gives us hope.  It’s right at the end of the book.  It’s our text for this morning.  In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (v. 11).  This verse is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the restoration of the remnant, the resurrection of the holy Christian Church.
            Beloved in the Lord, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  That’s an astonishing fact.  It’s a real resurrection, flesh and blood.  There is no body in the tomb of Jesus, because our Lord’s body is living, moving, still bearing the wounds of crucifixion, no longer to hurt Him, but because from them He imparts life to His people, to us, who once were dead in our trespasses and sins.  Our Lord Jesus has the Words of eternal life.  He is the Bread of Life.  He is the Resurrection and the Life.  His life is the light of men.  All of which is to say, the risen Lord Jesus gives you life.  He gives you life eternal and abundant.  He gives it to you now, already, in your Baptism, albeit in a hidden way.  And He gives it to you on the Last Day when He will raise you bodily from the dead to live with Him forever. 
            This new life our Lord Jesus imparts to you to in a Feast!  It is the Feast of Salvation, the Feast of His crucified and risen body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus lives to give us His gifts at the altar.  “Come to the Feast,” the Lord Jesus says to you.  Come, for everything is now ready” (Luke 14:17).  And this Feast is beyond imagination.  He describes the abundance of this Feast in our text.  The abundance is such that the plowman appears in the field at the same time as the reaper; the one treading grapes does his work at the time of planting.  Now, think about that image for just a moment.  No break between harvesting and planting.  “(D)ouble production in half the time.  God provides it all” (Lessing).  What great grace!  Beloved, come to the Feast.
            “But I am not worthy,” you confess, and you’re right.  You are not worthy in and of yourself.  “[Your] face bears the marks of worry.  [Your] shoulders are stooped from burdens.  [Your] lips are dirty from slander.  [Your] heart is hardened toward [your] spouse and children.  [Your] fingers are stuck accusing [your] brother.  [Your] arteries are clogged with bitterness and resentment” (Lessing).  But all of that is over now.  Christ is risen, but your sin is buried forever.  Come as you are, weak, burdened, dying, for in this Feast the Lord gives to you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He raises up the fallen and strengthens those who stand and has mercy upon us all.  The fact is, God has clothed you for this Feast in wedding garments that cover up the stains of your sin.  He clothes you in Baptismal attire, the blood of the Lamb that makes your robes white, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Savior.  Come to the Feast, for in Christ, you are clean!
            And this Feast here at the altar is but a foretaste of the Feast to come, the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end.  In other words, this Feast is eternal.  Our text from Amos finds its ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in His raising you from the dead on the Last Day.  On that Day, He will plant you in His new creation, a new heavens and a new earth.  And you shall never again be uprooted.  No more sin.  No more death.  No more crying or pain.  The old order of things has passed away.  The new has come.  And God wipes away every tear from your eyes.
            Beloved, our God has fulfilled His promise.  He has raised up the booth of David in the flesh of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead.  And from the risen Lord Jesus He raises the ruins of Israel and builds it into the holy Christian Church.  You come to the Feast as living stones of that building, the Church.  Your life is in Him.  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.        

[1] The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

The Resurrection of Our Lord - Sunrise

The Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Sunrise (C)
March 31, 2013
Text: 1 Cor. 15:51-57; John 20:1-18

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

            Death.  The reality that every one of us must die should lead every one of us to utter despair.  If death is the ultimate reality, then what’s the point?  Then there’s no meaning in life, there’s no greater purpose to it all, and we best eat, drink, and be merry now, while we can, because tomorrow we die.  Note that this is the prevailing worldview of the day.  It is the premise of secularism, the logical result of the theory of evolution which removes any need for God in creation and makes death the controlling factor in the evolution of species.  If that worldview is true, we’re doomed, and everything is pointless.  That’s why Easter is so important.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Death is not the end.  Death is not the ultimate reality.  Death is not the controlling factor of our lives or our existence.  The Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death in His bodily resurrection, and death’s grip on us is defeated.  Our Lord promises that He will raise us, too, bodily, on the Last Day, and He has the power and authority to do it, because death could not hold Him.  Death swallowed Him up, and He punched and Easter-sized hole right through death’s belly.  As a result, death cannot hold you, either.  Death is not the end of you.  And that changes everything.  In place of despair, there is sure and certain hope.  There is a meaning to your life, a value, the value of the Son of God’s blood and death, and a greater purpose as one redeemed by Him to be His own and to live with Him eternally.  Instead of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” now it’s “receive, rejoice, and give thanks, and then give to your neighbor in love, for you’ll eat, drink, and be merry with Jesus for all eternity.”  Jesus has unsealed the tomb.  It is impossible for it to keep you in.
            Now, this is not just some spiritual ideal without substance.  It’s a flesh and blood reality.  That’s very important.  Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead in our hearts, whatever that might mean.  He didn’t live on in the spirit of the disciples, another meaningless idea.  Nor did He simply go to heaven in His spirit, leaving His body in the grave.  His is a flesh and blood resurrection.  What did He say to Thomas and the other disciples in the upper room?  Touch me.  Poke your fingers around in my wounds.  Reach your hands into my side.  It’s really me, the very Lord who was crucified for your sins.  I really died, and behold, I really live.  A resurrection that is anything less than that is useless.  So if this is true of Jesus, this is what will be true of you when He raises you from the dead on the Last Day.  Your resurrection will be a flesh and blood reality, a bodily resurrection.  Anything less than that is useless.
            The Corinthians, to whom St. Paul writes in our Epistle, were discussing the resurrection of the dead.  Being Greek, they were enamored with philosophical speculation.  One of the ideas circulating among them was that resurrection was only spiritual at best, figurative at worst.  In other words, some of them did not believe in a bodily resurrection.  They thought that the resurrection had already happened… spiritually.  The dead believers were with Christ spiritually, and that was it.  There is no bodily resurrection.  St. Paul pens the Fifteenth Chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians to combat this very notion.  He shows just where this theory gets the Corinthians: “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:13-14, 17-20; ESV; emphasis added).  (We’ll get some of this text in our Epistle for the next service.)  St. Paul makes it utterly clear.  We’re talking about a bodily, flesh and blood, resurrection here, both that of Jesus, and your own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.  And that takes the teeth out of death.  ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’” (vv. 54-55).
            We sometimes make a mistake very similar to that of the Corinthians.  We speak of death being the end of the body.  We treat the dead body as something that is to be disposed of, as something we’ll never need again.  We talk about the soul of the believer being with Christ in heaven, which is quite true, but we act as though that’s all there is, as if there’s nothing bigger and better to come.  And that’s a grave mistake.  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And you know from St. Paul what that means.  Thanks be to God, that’s not the case.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.  And He’ll raise you, too.  Bodily.  He redeemed you soul and body.  Death is not the end of your soul, and death is not the end of your body.  That’s why every funeral sermon should be an Easter sermon.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and your resurrection on the Last Day should be proclaimed in no uncertain terms.  For this is the promise of the risen Lord Jesus: “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (vv. 52-53).
            And this makes all the difference when you face death.  Whether it be your own or that of a loved one, you face death with confidence, with hope, and even with joy.  Sadness, to be sure, for death is not what God ever wanted for His people.  Death is the wages of sin.  It’s okay to be sad.  But as a Christian, you, can be full of joy even in the midst of sadness.  Because you know death is not the end.  Christ has taken away your sin and its wages.  And on the Last Day the Lord Jesus will raise all the dead, and give eternal life, body and soul, to all believers in Christ.  That means death is but a slumber, a  nap from which you will wake up.  And how do we know this?  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vigil of Easter

Vigil of Easter: Exodus for All[1]
March 30, 2013

Text: Amos 9:7 (ESV): “‘Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?’ declares the LORD. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?’”

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery is a major theme of the Easter Vigil.  Remember, it is at the center of the Passover, the Old Testament Festival in which God’s people would gather around the table for unleavened bread and wine, bitter herbs, and a lamb that had been sacrificed, reminding them that their fathers in Egypt slaughtered a lamb and painted its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their dwellings so that the angel of death would pass over.  This was the last and greatest of the plagues by which the LORD delivered His people Israel.  Every first-born of man and beast was claimed by the angel of death, except those protected by the blood of the lamb.  The Israelites were to commemorate the Feast each year, and so sacramentally participate in the exodus by the meal.  The son and the father recited liturgical lines that would bring the significance home to the whole family: “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery’” (Ex. 13:14). 
            In our text from Amos 9, however, the LORD reminds His people that what He did for them, He also does for others.  God does not play favorites.  His exodus is for all.  He sent His deliverance to Cush, a land far away from Israel around the modern nation of Ethiopia, and He sent His deliverance to the Arameans and the Philistines, nearby sworn enemies of Israel.  And the point is this: Israel was not to be secure in their status as a favored nation.  God had delivered them from Egypt, to be sure.  But He could send them back into captivity, and He would do so in 722 BC at the hands of the Assyrians.  This in response to their idolatry, their abuse of the poor, the rampant miscarriage of justice, and the spiritual arrogance that had taken hold on the nation.  But so also the promise.  There would be a remnant.  The LORD would restore His people Israel.  It would be a new exodus accomplished by the Son of David, the promised Messiah.
            You know something of what it means to be enslaved by an enemy who “taunts and destroys.  [You] feel his accusing whip slice open [your] past.  [You] hear his war cry, ‘Because you thought this, watched this, did this, and said this you will have hell to pay!’  Sensing his hot breath on the [back of your neck, you] hear him calmly whisper, ‘I will draw my sword, and my hand will destroy you.’  Jesus calls this enemy a ‘murderer and a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44).  Peter says he is ‘a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).  Paul describes him as ‘the god of this age who blinds our minds’ (2 Corinthians 4:4).  And John calls him a destroyer (Revelation 9:11)” (Lessing). 
            But here is what the LORD does for you in the face of your enemy.  Just as He blew His Spirit and the waters of the Red Sea covered Pharaoh and his host so that Israel could escape, just as He blew His Spirit and brought His people out of bondage in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, so the LORD promises to deliver you.  Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).  The Spirit blows into the womb of the Virgin Mary and the Son of God becomes flesh.  He becomes flesh to go toe to toe with our enemy, the devil.  He does it in a most mysterious way, by an exodus through death to resurrection.  The religious authorities conspire against Him.  He is betrayed by one of His own, handed over to the Romans, falsely accused, unjustly condemned, mocked, beaten, spat upon, crowned with thorns, and made to carry His own cross outside the City to the place of execution.  There, He is nailed to the wood and lifted up, naked and humiliated, to bear the sin of the whole world.  The enemy thought he had won.  He thought he had successfully defeated the Christ, the Lord of life.  “I will draw my sword,” said the devil, “and my hand will destroy you” (Lessing).  “Blood-soaked and spiked to a tree for six hours, [our Lord’s] lungs scream for air.  After a loud cry He bows His head and dies.  But (and make no mistake about this either), the Lord blew His Spirit once more and made a way through the sea of death to bring His Son to life forevermore!  ‘He is not here!  He has risen just as He said’ (Luke 24:6)” (Lessing).  
            Beloved, the Lord still blows His Spirit.  He blows His Spirit over the water of your Baptism into Christ, and you are born again.  The Spirit hovers over the baptismal water, and you are freed from your sin, freed from your death, freed from the devil who has been conquered in the death and resurrection of Christ.  And because Christ lives, into whom you’ve been baptized, you are assured of this: The Spirit will blow yet again, on the Last Day, and raise you from the dead.  The trumpet will sound.  The Lord Jesus will appear.  And what will finally happen to the devil?  Our Lord Jesus will seize that ancient serpent and throw him into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19-20).  You are free from his tyranny forever. 
            In the meantime, there is a meal.  God’s people gather around the Table to eat unleavened bread and drink wine, and in this way partake of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  It is the Supper of His body and blood.  Protected by the blood of this Lamb, the angel of death passes over, and God’s people, you, beloved, are taken in exodus from this land of bondage to the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom.  “The exodus is here.  The exodus is now.  The exodus is for all” (Lessing).  This exodus is for you.  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. 

[1] The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Tenebrae

Good Friday: Buried![1]
March 29, 2013

Text: Amos 9:1-6 (ESV): “I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said: ‘Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people;    and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away; not one of them shall escape. If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.’ The Lord GOD of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—the LORD is his name.”
            What on earth does this text have to do with Good Friday?  Good Friday is all about a reckoning to God for sin.  Our Lord Jesus makes a reckoning for our sin before His Father in His innocent suffering and death on the cross.  But understand, outside of Christ, our text is the description of our own reckoning before God.  Israel experienced this firsthand.  What is described in our text is the destruction of the temple at Bethel.  The Lord gives the command: Strike the capitals, the tops of the temple pillars, until the thresholds shake, the bottoms of the temple pillars.  And when the pillars fall, the whole structure comes tumbling down.  It crushes the people.  There’s no place to hide.  Dig all the way to Sheol, climb to the top of Carmel, swim to the bottom of the sea, it doesn’t matter.  God will find you.  There must be a reckoning.  Israel was at the height of its power and prosperity.  The people trusted that things would go on as they always had.  So they ignored the warning.  They did not heed the Word of the LORD.  And then this prophecy was fulfilled, in 722 BC, when Assyria wiped out Samaria and burned the temple at Bethel.    
            If this is what the Lord does to His people, Israel, what will He do to you?  There must be a reckoning for your idolatry, which is at the root of every sin.  “Idols of money, sex, alcohol, and possessions offer everything.  But they deliver nothing” (Lessing).  It’s the old lie of the devil, “Do this, possess that, and you’ll finally be happy,” and when you take the forbidden fruit you find it has destroyed you.  You’re a mess.  You’re buried in the rubble.  You’re a crumbled heap of ruins.  Like the temple in our text.  And there’s no escape from the righteous Judgment of God.  No escape, that is to say, except in God Himself, in His beloved Son, God in the flesh, whom the Father sent to make atonement for your sins.
            The Lord Jesus once said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).  He was not speaking about the temple in Jerusalem, or the long-destroyed temple in Bethel, for that matter.  He was speaking about the Temple of His body (v. 21).  His body is the dwelling place of God with men.  He was speaking about His death and resurrection.  Because of your sin, this Temple is raised up on a pillar on Golgotha.  The capital of this pillar bears a sign: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19).  And the thresholds shake as the Lord Jesus breathes His last and gives up His spirit.  His death, the blood that flows from His sacred head, His hands, His feet, His pierced side, this is the rubble of your own sin and death.  This is the reckoning.  There had to be a reckoning.  God is just and holy.  He could not ignore your sin, so He sent His Son to make the reckoning for you.  Jesus did not hide.  There was no escape.  The Lord took it all for you, crucified, dead, and buried.  It’s the end of your sin.  It’s the end of  your death.  And this Temple will be rebuilt.  Remember?  In three days I will raise it up.”  That’s the good news we will hear on Sunday.  God says through the Prophet Amos, “I will raise up the falling tabernacle of David.  I will repair their breaches, and his ruins I will raise up, and I will rebuild it as in days of old” (9:11, Lessing’s translation).  That is the promise we hold on to tonight, as we are left in the darkness of our Lord’s Passion, His suffering and death for our forgiveness.
            That, and the promise of the new reality that is already ours in Baptism: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4; ESV).  Beloved, you have “been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).  The Good News tonight is this: You are no longer buried in the rubble of your sins.  You are buried in Jesus, who is your death and resurrection.  The reckoning has been made by Him.  You have eternal life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts in this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

Good Friday Tre Ore

Good Friday Tre Ore
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 6, 2012

Text: Matt. 27:45-46: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (ESV).
            “Only the damned in hell really understand what it means to be forsaken by God.”[1]  We sometimes speak of God-forsaken places, and sometimes we ourselves feel God-forsaken in our guilt or suffering.  And while that feeling should be taken very seriously (and if you feel that way, go to your pastor!), the reality of the matter is quite different.  God has not forsaken you.  Anything but.  In fact, that’s the point of what Jesus here says in our text as He prays Psalm 22 from the cross.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus was forsaken by the Father, that you never be forsaken by the Father.  To be forsaken by God is the punishment of sin.  It’s the definition of hell.  We can’t even imagine what it is to be forsaken by God, to totally lack the good He provides to us even when we’re suffering, even when we don’t recognize it.  What would it be like to have absolutely no good?  It would be hell.  God-forsaken hell.  And that’s what Jesus suffers on the cross.  He suffers it in your place.  He’s your substitute.  He is forsaken by God so that God will never forsake you.
            The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the intersection of God’s love and justice.  God is love (1 John 4:8).  He loves His creation.  He loves you.  He does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he turn from his evil way and live (Ez. 33:11).  And yet, there is your sin.  It must be dealt with.  Because God is just.  God cannot simply sweep our sin under the rug as if it never happened.  He is not a kindly grandfather who winks at the transgressions of his mischievous grandchildren.  He cannot ignore sin.  He hates sin.  What would we call a judge who lets murderers off the hook?  We would call that judge unjust.  “But they said they were sorry.  They said they’d never do it again.”  It doesn’t matter.  Murder cannot be ignored.  In the same way, if God ignored our sin, He would be an unjust God.  So what to do with it?  How does God reconcile His love and His justice?  From eternity, divine wisdom conceived a solution.  “I will send my Son.  I will send my beloved.  I will send Him to take on their flesh, to take their place, to suffer their punishment.  I will deal with their sin there, in His flesh, on His cross, and in this way, I will make the unlovable loved.  I will forsake Him.  Thus I will never forsake them.”  So our Lord Jesus, in willing obedience to the Father, takes your sin into Himself and takes up your cross to make the payment.  If you are ever tempted to think that you are God-forsaken, look at a crucifix.  Grasp it in your hand and say to yourself, “God can never forsake me.  For my Lord Jesus Christ has been forsaken by God in my place.  God poured out His justice on my Savior.  His wrath is spent.  There is no punishment left, for Christ has taken it all.  And He has purchased me for God with His own blood.  I belong to Him.”
            But perhaps you’ve suffered profound afflictions of body and soul.  What about that?  If suffering is not God forsaking you, then what is it?  Believe it or not, suffering is God’s blessing to you, a gift given in love.  Because in suffering, God breaks all your idols in pieces, all the things that you fear, love, and trust above Him.  He will have you wholly to Himself.  He will not share you with other gods.  So He drives you to despair of yourself and all other resources.  He drives you to Himself alone for help and salvation.  He drives you to prayer.  He drives you to cast your burdens upon Him, even to pray the prayer our Lord here prays from the cross, Psalm 22, only now to pray it as one who is in Christ, who is not forsaken because Christ was forsaken in your place, to pray it as one who can say in Christ, “My God, my God,” the prayer of faith.  God lays upon you the precious and holy cross, and He promises to use it for your good.  God works great good even out of great evil.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  Now, it is true, in many cases you won’t be given to know in this earthly life what that good is that God is accomplishing in your suffering.  It is a divine mystery beyond investigation.  You live by faith, not by sight.  You simply hold here to His promise.  Your suffering is not a punishment for your sin.  The Lord Jesus already took care of that on His cross.  Christ was forsaken for you.  Therefore God will never forsake you.  He will work all things for your good.
            Just as He worked all things for your good in the suffering and death of His dear Son, Jesus Christ.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  God forsook Jesus to reconcile His love for you and His justice against your sin, that He might be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  That is to say, God forsook Jesus so that you can be absolutely certain of this: God will never forsake you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Harry Shiley, The Solemn Hours of Lent (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1956) p. 56.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday: The Taste Test[1]
March 28, 2013

Text: Amos 8:11-14 (ESV): “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, “As your god lives, O Dan,” and, “As the Way of Beersheba lives,” they shall fall, and never rise again.’”
            As destructive as a famine of food and drink might be, imagine a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.  No Bible, no preachers, no Portals of Prayer or devotional material, no liturgy, no Sacraments, no holy Christian Church.  If a famine of food and drink brings physical death, a famine of hearing the words of the LORD brings spiritual death.  The Prophet Amos announces just such a catastrophe to the people of Israel in our text.  They had taken God’s Word for granted.  They figured that Word would always be there to turn to in a time of disaster.  And in this false sense of security they had rejected God’s Word, exploited the poor of the land, refused justice to the oppressed, cheated in business with dishonest scales, despised the Sabbath, and in gluttonous and drunken stupor, worshiped other gods.  Israel wanted nothing to do with God’s Word.  So God gave them what they wanted.  They didn’t know what they were missing until it was gone.  Search where they would, there was no Word of life.  Only the judgment, as the Assyrian army approached to conquer, kill, and lead into exile. 
            Martin Luther warned his beloved Germans of a similar famine of hearing the words of the LORD in the wake of the Reformation.  He compared the Gospel to a passing rain shower.  When it pours, it pours, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.  The quote is a bit long, but worth hearing in full.  He writes: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt.  Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history.  If we let it slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague.  O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there!  For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been.  It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing.  Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk.  Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope.  And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay.  Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can” (Quoted by Lessing, emphasis added).
            Reject God’s Word, take it for granted, receive it with ingratitude and contempt, and what do you suppose will happen?  We usually suppose nothing will happen, that everything will go on as it always has.  Not so, says Amos.  Not so, says the LORD God.  Eventually God will give us what we want.  He will shut His mouth and be silent.  And such a judgment is absolutely chilling.  The Holy Land was the birthplace of Christianity, and now Christians are a small and persecuted minority in that region.  Europe was synonymous with Christendom for centuries, and now secularism is the rule of the day.  And North America isn’t far behind Europe.  The Gospel shower has moved on to Africa and the global south where Christians still live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Meanwhile, the mainline churches in our society have sold out to the world.  And what will become of confessional Lutheranism, including our dear Synod?  It remains to be seen.  Many Christians risk their lives to go to Church.  For us, it’s just one option among many, a thing to do, or not do.  Like a diet that consists exclusively of Cheetos, we fill ourselves up with so much junk from the unbelieving world that we don’t even realize we’re starving for God’s Word.  There’s not even a famine of His Word yet, and we’re starving for it!  God have mercy on us for our indifference, our ingratitude, our hardness of heart. 
            And He does.  Thank God, He does, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  He feeds us.  Though we do not deserve it, He feeds us with Himself.  He feeds us with His Word, with the Gospel of life.  He feeds us with His death and resurrection for us.  He feeds us with the Supper He instituted on this night when He was betrayed, His body, given for you, His blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  What Jesus does for us in His suffering and death is to take our punishment upon Himself.  He suffers the famine of hearing the words of the LORD for us.  There, upon the cross, He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  And the silence from His Father is deafening.  But He suffers that silence so that we don’t have to.  The writer to the Hebrews says that He suffered in this way “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (2:9).  The famine of God’s Word creates a vacuum filled by the bitter delicacies of suffering and death.  Yes, our Lord “Jesus tasted the demonic delight called death, the soldiers’ spit, their cheap wine, sweat running down His cheeks along with His own blood… Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s wrath.  He drank every last drop.  And it killed Him.  Yet Jesus not only tasted death.  He swallowed him up, chewed him up, and spit him out!” (Lessing).  As St. Paul writes, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  “And this means that our famine and hunger has ended.  The feast is here!” (Lessing), the Feast of Jesus’ body and blood, under the bread and wine, given for us Christians to eat and to drink for our forgiveness and life.  Having drained the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus gives us another cup to drink, the cup of salvation, which we lift up with great joy and thanksgiving.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  Don’t let the devil and the world feed you anymore junk food!  Here the Lord Jesus gives you not only His preached Word, but also His sacramental Word, the fruit of His cross, a life-giving tree for all who trust in Him. 
            Yes, beloved, come to the Feast.  For here the Word made flesh gives His flesh, His body and blood, to you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Seize the Word and hold it fast while it is here.  No other food can give you what Jesus gives you in this Meal.  For this is but a foretaste of the Feast to come.  The substance of it is Jesus Himself and life in His presence for all eternity.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

[1] The theme and many of the ideas for this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion (C)
March 24, 2013
Text: Phil. 2:5-11

            It may be laborious to our sinful, and frankly, lazy flesh, but it’s also refreshing to hear the entire Passion of our Lord in one sitting, in this case, from the Gospel according to St. Luke (22:1-23:56).  After all, how often do we do that in a year?  The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is to say, His suffering and death, along with His resurrection on Easter… well, this is the central event in human history, and the determinative event for you and me.  For our whole salvation depends on this.  If this didn’t happen, we’re doomed to eternity in hell.  But it did happen, and we ought to rejoice to hear it as God reveals it to us in Holy Scripture.  This is what Holy Week is all about.  This is what Christianity is all about.  This is the sum and substance of all of Scripture.  Jesus Christ was crucified for your sins.  And He is risen and distributes the blessings of His death and resurrection, namely, forgives of sins, eternal life, and salvation, in His Word and Sacraments.  This week the Church participates in the divine and very real drama of our Lord’s Passion.  This morning we waved our palm branches and sang, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  Then, after a time of silence, the festive mood gave way to solemn meditation on the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus for us.  Throughout the weak, we’ll be participating as the drama unfolds: The institution of the Lord’s Supper and the command to love one another on Maundy Thursday; the betrayal, trial, suffering, and crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday; His sacred Sabbath rest in the tomb and the joy of the first service of Easter at the Saturday evening Vigil; and then, of course, our Sunrise and Festival Divine Services on Resurrection morning.
            So it is good that we heard in one sitting the history of our Lord’s Passion.  This morning, in our Epistle lesson, St. Paul gives us the theological explanation of what we heard in the Gospel.  Our Epistle is St. Paul’s preaching to us for the Sunday of the Passion.  He speaks of our Lord’s humiliation and exaltation.  He starts with Christmas, or actually, even before Christmas, with our Lord’s conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  This man, Jesus of Nazareth, is also the Son of God from all eternity, of one substance with the Father, equal in divine majesty, the Word of God through whom all things were made, eternal, ineffable, incomprehensible.  And yet, this Son of God takes on flesh.  Our flesh.  He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Phil. 2:6; ESV), a thing to cling to, though it belongs to Him.  Instead, He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” (v. 7), a man for us men and for our salvation.  This is His State of Humiliation, which, if you remember your Catechism, is the time in which our Lord Jesus did not always or fully use His divine powers.  He gave glimpses of those powers, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead.  But He also limited Himself.  The all-knowing God, in His flesh, grew in wisdom and knowledge, and confessed there were things that He did not know (according to His human nature), such as the time of the end of the world (Matt. 24:36).  He could walk through a murderous mob trying to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30), but He did not walk away when the soldiers bound Him and beat Him and crowned Him with thorns.  He could have called upon twelve legions of angels to deliver Him (Matt. 26:53), but He did not.  Because He was determined to die, for you, and for the world.  He was determined to be obedient to the Father to the point of death, “even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
            Death on a cross, the most humiliating of all deaths.  It is a cursed death, a death that, according to the Law of Moses (Deut. 21:22-23) cuts you off from God, as it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 13).  Jesus Christ redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us.  God heaped the sins of the world upon His Son, Jesus.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  That is what is happening in our Gospel this morning.  The sin of the world, your sin, my sin, heaped upon the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ, who bears it all the way to the cross.  He is pronounced guilty for our sin.  The Lord Jesus is condemned while the murderer goes free.  Barabbas is released, you are released from the prison of sin and death.  Because Jesus takes your place.  Such is His obedience to the Father for your sake.  Such is His great love for you.
            Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:9).  His State of Exaltation.  God exalts the crucified Son who was obedient unto death.  He could have exalted Himself and avoided death altogether, but He does not do it.  He waits for God the Father to do it, by raising Jesus from the dead.  That’s the Good News we’ll hear about especially on Easter.  Now, bodily risen from the dead, in His State of Exaltation, our Lord Jesus always and fully uses His divine powers, not just as God, but as a Man.  He has ascended bodily into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, ruling all things for the benefit of His Church, the people He purchased for Himself with His own blood.  He knows all things.  He is glorified as a Man, even as He has been glorified as God for all eternity.  And now His Name is above every Name, the Name “Jesus,” “The LORD saves,” for that is what He has done.  He’s saved His people from their sins.  And so now, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 10-11).  Here, Paul records the earliest Christian Creed: “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  And he says that every knee will bow and every tongue confess it.  Those in heaven confess it with great rejoicing.  We Christians on the earth confess it even now in our Creed and in Scripture and liturgy and hymn.  And those under the earth, those in hell, confess it to their everlasting shame… and regret!  For now they know that Jesus died for their salvation, too, if only they had received it with faith.
            Why hear the whole Passion history in one sitting, as we did this morning?  Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  That’s why we have all the Church services this week, too.  You don’t get any brownie points with God by coming to so much Church.  This is not a good work you do so that you can impress Him.  No, the reason you come is simply to receive.  To receive His gifts by hearing His Word, the faith He imparts to you by His Spirit in that Word, the faith He strengthens by that Word.  To receive the forgiveness of your sins in that Word.  To receive Christ Jesus Himself as He comes to you to dwell with you, really and truly, bodily, in His Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood.  The things we heard this morning in our Gospel are real.  They really happened.  They really happened for you.  And the Word of God has this power that even as you hear it and read it, it imparts this reality to you as a gift.  Scripture has the power to make itself your own.  Time in Holy Scripture is time redeemed.  Let us pray: “Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.  Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (LSB 308), who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
            Christ, our Lord, strengthen you for the week ahead, and richly bless you as He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lenten Midweek V

Lenten Midweek 5: Lion Alert![1]
March 20, 2013
Text: Amos 7:10-17

            The LORD roars in preaching!  He sends preachers to proclaim His powerful Word.  Though the preacher is nothing in and of himself, just a regular Joe, a sinner like everybody else, the Word… well, that is powerful.  The Word is performative, doing what it says.  It is packed with all the power of Almighty God.  And so, like a Lion roaring in the forest, the Word of the LORD shakes things up.  It is a hair-raising, fearsome Word, that accomplishes God’s will for you by killing you and making you alive.  Which, as you can imagine, makes such a Word offensive.  Fallen humans simply don’t want to hear it.  Speak pious platitudes to us, syrupy sentiments, make us feel good about us, and we’ll listen.  But do not proclaim to us a Word that hurts, that kills, even if it is to make alive.  Such a Word is a threat.  Yes, it is a threat, indeed.
            Amaziah, the priest, cannot abide the preaching of Amos, the Prophet.  It’s amazing.  Amaziah is the leading religious authority in Israel, and he wants nothing to do with God’s Word.  He wants to shut the Lion’s mouth by silencing the prophet.  No more of this doom and gloom stuff for Israel.  If you’re going to do that, Amos, then just go back to Tekoa.  We have no need for you here.  And we certainly don’t want to hear sermons about God’s judgment.  So eager was Amaziah to silence God’s prophet that he even accused him of treachery before King Jeroboam: “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel.  The land is not able to bear all his words.  For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from this land’” (Amos 7:10-11; ESV).  Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  This is very similar to our own day, isn’t it?  Secular and religious authorities alike are happy to hear religious-sounding messages that are empty of God’s death and resurrection power.  But proclaim His Law in all its severity, or His Gospel in all its blood and death and crucifixion/resurrection reality, and just see where that gets you.  It gets many pastors fired.  It earns many Christians rejection on the part of their friends and family and even, sometimes, their fellow Christians.  It is just as St. Paul said it would be in writing to Pastor Timothy: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:1-2, 5, 12-13).  The world will gladly tolerate false teachers who scratch their itching ears and tickle their fancies.  But the world will not tolerate the pure Word of God.  And neither will your sinful flesh.  Which is why you must be crucified and raised to new life.  And God accomplishes that in preaching. 
            No, it isn’t politically correct to preach like Amos.  Here’s just a sampling of his proclamation to Israel as he speaks forth the roar of the LORD: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment” (2:6).  You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (3:2).  Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!  Why would you have the day of the LORD?  It is darkness, and not light” (5:18).  I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (v. 21).  Woe to those who are at ease in Zion… but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (6:1, 6) (cf. Lessing). 
            So if such preaching only gets Amos persecution, why does he do it?  As he says in our text, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs,” a regular old chap.  But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’” (7:14-15).  Why did Amos do it?  Because He was called by God to do so.  He was called to speak for God, to be the mouthpiece of God’s roar.  St. Paul puts it another way: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).  A preacher is compelled to preach.  He has no choice in the matter lest he place himself under God’s wrath.  For necessity is laid upon me,” says Paul.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).  Preaching is not about what you want to hear.  It’s about what God has to say.  And what He has to say is the dynamic Word of your death and resurrection in Christ, who died, and who was raised, for you.  For “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
            Jesus, as God’s Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), also proclaimed the Word of God faithfully in spite of the consequences.  Indeed, “he once had the courage to make a whip and then use it to cleanse His Father’s house (John 2:13-16).  Another time He looked the religious leaders of His day straight in the eye and said, ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones’ (Matthew 23:27).  Climactically, He stands before His high priest and confesses, ‘In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:62)” (Lessing).  Do you know what happened to Jesus as a result of His proclamation?  It got Him killed!  For such was God’s plan, for us, and for our salvation.  For “this Lion,” Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5), “is also the Lamb, and His mighty power is made most perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Jesus allows soldiers to march Him along the Via Dolorosa while He shoulders His crossbar with blood dripping from His butchered back.  Jesus lets His executioners strip Him naked, shove Him to the ground, and pin Him to wood with their tools of torture.  And Jesus absorbs the spit and the insults without asking His Father to dispense twelve legions of angels” (Lessing).  He does not shrink back.  For He has come to be the sacrifice for your sins.  He has come to save His people Israel, to take the punishment their sins deserve, and He has come to do the same for you. 
            What do you suppose would have happened if faithless Amaziah had repented and confessed, “Enough is enough.  I will no longer sell my soul on the altar called compromise; it is time to let the Lion loose!” (Lessing)…  “It is time to hear and heed the Word of the LORD!”?  What would have happened is this: Amos would have raised his hand to make the sign of the cross, and pronounced upon Amaziah the very Word of the LORD that has been pronounced upon you tonight: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts from this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).