Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension of Our Lord

The Eve of the Ascension of Our Lord

May 28, 2014
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

            We confess in the Creed that our Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father from all eternity, was in time conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  What we mean is that the very Son of God clothed Himself with our flesh in Mary’s womb.  He took upon Himself all that is ours, became one with us, was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).  Yet He took our sin into Himself.  God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He bore our sin, all of it, to the cross, to pay sin’s wages (Rom. 6:23) in His suffering and death in our place.  The sinless Son of God suffered under Pontius Pilate, shed His holy, precious blood, was crucified, dead and buried, for us.  And so, having become all that we are, He has redeemed all that we are.  He has ripped us from the bitter fangs of the serpent and the yawning jaws of hell, purified us as His own holy Bride, and made us, by His self-sacrifice, to be ourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
            And the Father is well-pleased.  The sacrifice accepted, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  We feasted a mere 40 days ago (or almost 40 in our case) in the Easter celebration of our Lord’s bodily Resurrection, a celebration we also commemorate every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, which is a little Easter.  The Third Day He rose again from the dead, we confess, and so we are justified, declared righteous by God on account of Christ, receiving new and eternal life from our crucified and risen Lord, looking forward with eager anticipation to our own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day and the life of the world to come.
            For forty days our Lord Jesus appeared to the Apostles and to many other eye witnesses after His Resurrection.  He wanted to leave them with no doubt that He is indeed risen from the dead.  He appeared suddenly here and there among them.  He spoke to them.  He breathed on them.  He ate with them.  They touched Him.  And they knew it was the Lord.  Then one day He led them out as far as Bethany.  He lifted up His hands, the imprint of the crucifixion nails still visible for all to see.  And He blessed them (Luke 24:50).  One wonders what He said.  The Holy Spirit has not seen fit to tell us in Scripture, though I have always wondered if Jesus, our High Priest, was pronouncing upon them the Aaronic Benediction and the thrice-Holy Name of our God: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26; ESV).  So the priest was to put the Name of the LORD upon the people of Israel.  So the Lord puts His Name on you in benediction, in these same words every Divine Service, calling you back to your Baptism in His thrice-Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And so it would certainly be appropriate if these are the words our Lord spoke on this occasion, for as He was ascending into the air, He never put His hands down.  In other words, beloved, He’s still blessing His disciples.  He’s still blessing you.  Those nail pierced hands are still raised in benediction over you, and you live and move and have your being under the blessing of those mighty hands.
            While He was blessing His Church, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51).  In the Book of Acts, St. Luke tells us “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).  Now, this is very important.  Jesus parted from their sight, but He did not go away.  He did not leave them in such a way that they were to stand there gazing up into heaven, wondering how many miles into outer space our Lord had to travel.  The angels remind them how silly they look (v. 11).  You’ll see Him again, the angels tell them.  He’ll come back the same way you saw Him go, on a cloud, visibly, to judge the living and the dead.  In the meantime, don’t forget the promises He spoke to you: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).  “In my Name,” by the way, means those who bear my Name, so wherever two or three Baptized are gathered, there the Lord Jesus is with them.  And then there is the marvelous Promise made to the disciples shortly before the Ascension: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  He’s not just with us as God, but as Man.  In His Body.  He’s not just with us in spirit.  As I’ve told you many times, when I tell you I’m with you in spirit, I’m telling you I’m not really with you at all.  I just wish I was.  That’s not a real presence by any standard.  Jesus is with us.  He promised.  Really and truly with us, in His body.  Just hidden from our sight ever since the Ascension. 
            But doesn’t the Scripture say He ascended into heaven?  Right.  And where is heaven?  Heaven is where God is.  Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  And where is the right hand of the Father?  Everywhere.  And that’s the point.  That is what St. Paul writes in our Epistle this evening.  The Father has seated Jesus “at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 1:20), and so our Lord, God and Man, the Person, Jesus Christ, now “fills all in all” (v. 23).  Jesus fills all things.  He is everywhere.  Which means He is with you.  In His Body, crucified and risen, for you.  He ascended into heaven that He might fill all things and be with you wherever you go, with me, with us all.  
            That is why after the Lord was carried into heaven, the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).  You can’t worship a God who isn’t present to receive it.  You can’t worship Jesus if He isn’t present with you.  The disciples knew He was with them always, as He promised.  And so they worshiped Him as if He was still there, because He was, and He is, and so you worship Him. 
            He is hidden from your sight, but with you very tangibly in His Word and the holy Sacraments.  He is hidden from your sight, but you know by faith that He is here with you as surely and as bodily as you and I are here.  And you know some other very wonderful things that He does for you as He sits at the right hand of the Father.  He rules all things for your benefit.  He’s the King, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,” all things having been placed under His feet (Eph. 1:21-22), the world and the whole universe, believers and unbelievers, kings and presidents, angels and archangels, heaven and hell and the devil himself.  He rules it all, for you, for your good, for your salvation.  And He prays for you.  He intercedes for you before the Father.  He has the Father’s ear on your behalf.  And the Father hears His prayer, and answers.  How could He not?  How could the Father deny His own Son?  The Son prays for you and for your salvation, and the Father says, “Yes.  Yes, my Son.  You have purchased them with Your own blood.  They belong to You.  Thus they belong to Me.” 
            And because the Lord Jesus became all that you are, to redeem all that you are, He gives you to become what He is: Righteous, holy, precious to the Father.  Where He goes, you go.  Heaven.  He ascended into heaven, we confess in the Creed, for having sanctified our flesh by becoming flesh, He now exalts that flesh to the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  As a result, you can know without a doubt that He is coming back for  you, and you will live with Him, in the flesh, in the blessed presence of His Father and yours, forever.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 25, 2014
Text: John 14:15-21

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Lutherans are often falsely charged with forbidding good works, or thinking that good works are unimportant or unnecessary.  St. Paul suffered the same false charge at the hands of the Judaizers in his day.  The preaching that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works, will always bring that charge.  Natural man is a Pharisee.  By nature, we think we have to do something to be saved, do good works, be good enough to (at least to some degree) earn eternal life.  Preach free grace to a Pharisee and he’ll always react by charging you with making it too easy.  “So, you don’t think God demands good works, eh?  You don’t think the Ten Commandments apply anymore, eh?  You don’t think a Christian has to behave?”  That’s not what we’re saying at all.  In fact, the Lutheran Confessions are very clear on this: “we hold that good works should follow faith” (Apol. XX:92; McCain).  “Faith must be the mother and source of works that are truly good and well pleasing to God… as Dr. Luther writes… O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them” (FC SD IV:9-11).  In other words, Christians do good works.  That’s who we are.  That’s what God calls us to do.  Good works are necessary in the sense that they are the life of living faith.  As faith lives, it works.  But works are not necessary for the forgiveness of sins or salvation.  Works rather come about as the result of forgiveness of sins and salvation, and the love for God who has saved us by the blood and death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
            Which is simply to say what our Lord Jesus says in the Holy Gospel this morning.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; ESV).  Jesus doesn’t say, “If you want to be forgiven of your sins, work them off by keeping my commandments.”  Jesus does not say, “If you want salvation and eternal life, earn it by keeping my commandments.”  Nor does Jesus promise we’re going to do the Commandments perfectly in this earthly life.  Now, you may think this goes without saying, but there are many who interpret this verse precisely that way.  What Jesus actually says, though, is that love for Him is the basis for your keeping of His Commandments.  You already love Him because He saved you.  That all happened prior to the works.  Now, as a result of all that, you want to do what pleases Him.  It is not unlike a husband who buys flowers for his wife, not to make her love him, but because he loves her and wants to do something that will express his love.  Or a wife who makes her husband’s favorite meal, not to make him love her, but because she loves him and wants to bring him joy.  Or a child who wants to do what pleases her parents, not to earn their love, but because she loves them and wants to honor them.  That’s your relationship to God in Baptism.  You are His child.  He has told you what He would have you do in His Commandments.  Now, you’re already His child, so your being loved by Him is not contingent on you keeping the Commandments.  Thank God for that.  But you want to do it because He’s your Father, because Jesus is your Savior, because He continually pours out His blessings upon you, including His Holy Spirit who works in you to will and to do what He commands (Phil. 2:13).
            The Son bids the Father send the Spirit to you for this very purpose.  As He says, He will ask the Father to send another Helper (John 14:16).  The word is Paraclete, and it means not only Helper, but also Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, One who is always at your side to help you in your time of need and defend you in your time of trial.  That’s what the Holy Spirit does.  Ever since your Baptism into Christ, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you.  He is ever directing you to Jesus, giving you faith in Jesus, teaching you by His Word about Jesus and the salvation you have freely in Him.  That is why Jesus calls Him “the Spirit of truth” (v. 17).  He is always teaching you the Truth that is Jesus Christ, your Savior, and the Truth that is God’s Word.  He is guiding you by that Word, which is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Ps. 119:105).  This is called sanctification.  The Holy Spirit sanctifies you, makes you holy, so that you actually want to walk by the light of His Word and do what He commands.  The world cannot receive that light.  The unbelieving world reviles the Truth.  They don’t want to walk in the light of God’s Word.  They prefer to bask in the darkness of the serpent’s lies.  But not so you.  You have the Spirit of Truth.  You know Him, for He dwells with you and is in you (John 14:17).
            And where He is, there is Jesus.  That’s the great thing about the Holy Trinity, our one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  When you have one Person, you have them all.  When you have the Spirit, you have Jesus and His saving work for you.  When you have Jesus, you have the Father.  You have Him as your Father, and you are His son.  So it is very true what Jesus says.  You are not an orphan.  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18).  Even as He came in the flesh to be your Savior, He comes to you continually in His Word and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and you see Him (v. 19), even though the world cannot see Him.  You see Him, not with your eyes, but by the Spirit who dwells in you, by the Spirit-given faith which sees Him where He has promised to be for you in the means of grace.  You see Him, and you live in Him, for He gives you life by the same Spirit whom we confess to be “the Lord and Giver of life.”  It is life with God, life with Jesus who is in the Father.  Life with Jesus in whom you are, and who is in you (v. 20).  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, your saving God, in whom you live and move and have your being, who comes to you and dwells in you.  Now that is really living.  That is living eternally and abundantly.  That is the life Jesus gives you by the power of His resurrection.
            And it spills over in love toward God and love toward the neighbor.  In other words, it overflows in good works.  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (v. 21).  You have His commandments, for He has given you His Word.  What a gift.  We don’t have to guess at what God wants us to do and not do.  He has spelled it out for us in His Word.  Want to please God?  Do the Ten Commandments.  You don’t have to make something else up that you think will please Him more.  In fact, know this, that if you make something else up it will most certainly not please Him, but merit His wrath and anger.  He has told you what to do and not do.  Have no other gods.  Fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  Keep His Name holy and do not misuse it.  Do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  Honor your father and your mother and those in authority over you, for they have been placed in their office by God Himself.  Do not murder, but help your neighbor in his bodily needs.  Be chaste in your thoughts and words and deeds, be faithful to your spouse, keep the marriage bed pure, and husbands and wives love and honor one another.  Do not steal, but give generously.  Do not bear false witness, but be truthful in everything, for after all the Spirit of Truth dwells in you.  Do not covet, but be content with what God has given you, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
            But what about when you don’t keep the Commandments?  Repent.  Confess your sin.  Turn from it.  And rejoice that Jesus has paid for all your sins in His death on the cross.  His blood has washed all your sins away.  What a beautiful thing.  He did all that for you because He loves you.  And so you love Him.  And so you are loved by the Father and by Jesus Christ Himself, our risen Lord, who manifests Himself to you, makes Himself known to you so that you really see Him by your Spirit-given eyes of faith in His gifts, the Word and the Sacrament (v. 21).
            And so, loving Him, yes, you do good works.  Yes, you serve Him by serving your neighbor.  Remember, God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does, and so you do good works for God by doing good works for your neighbor.  Yes, you give yourself for your neighbor, as Christ Jesus gave Himself for you.  Yes, you give generously of the gifts that God has poured out upon you and continues to pour out upon you.  It grieves you to grieve God, and so you live a life of repentance, sorrowing over your sins and fighting against it, daily crucifying your sinful flesh, taking up your cross, and following Jesus.  Lutherans have never taught anything else.  But you don’t do this in order to be saved.  You do it because Jesus saved you.  You love Him because He first loved you (1 John 4:19).  You live because He died.  You never die, because He lives.  You live in Him.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And the risen Lord breathes the Spirit of Truth into you this day, the breath of faith that is living and active, the faith that works.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 18, 2014
Text: John 14:1-14

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            We call it the scandal of particularity, what Jesus says in the Holy Gospel this morning.  It is a verse beloved by many, but those same people, maybe even you, are horrified when you stop to think about what the verse actually says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; ESV).  This is not the touchy-feely verse we so often think it is.  Jesus is saying He’s the only way of salvation, the only way to eternal life, the only way to heaven.  No one comes to the Father except through Him.  He’s the Truth, the Truth by which the truthfulness of everything else is measured.  And He is the Life, for outside of Him there is only death and condemnation in hell.  Do you hear how politically incorrect all of this is?  The scandal of particularity, a scandal because Jesus, this Jesus in particular, the Jesus proclaimed in the Bible, is the only way, the only truth, the only life, by which you come to the Father.  He’s the only true God, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  All roads do not lead to the same place.  Jesus is it.  He leads to life.  All other roads lead to death.  And if that bothers you, remember, Jesus is the One who said it.  If you have a problem with that, your problem is with Jesus Christ.  Repent. 
            But also rejoice, because here Jesus has told you the way to the Father, the way to eternal life.  It is Himself.  You don’t have to guess.  You don’t have to try this road, than that road, this truth, then that truth, making your best educated conjecture about which is the right one when your eternal destiny is on the line.  Stick with Jesus and you have it.  You don’t have to work for it.  You cannot earn it.  Jesus gives it to you freely, this eternal life, by His suffering, death, and resurrection, handed over to you in His Word and Holy Sacraments.  You want to go to the Father, to the Father’s House in which there are many rooms, and a place prepared especially for you?  You know the way.  Follow Jesus.  He’s the way.
            Now, Philip wanted just a little glimpse of the Father, and that would be enough for him.  Then he could know for certain that Jesus is speaking the truth.  We often want the same thing, just a little glimpse, some evidence that all of this is true.  Show us heaven.  Show us the Father.  That’s why books and movies like Heaven is for Real are so popular.  Now, I know some of you recently enjoyed that particular movie, and that’s fine, but I do want you to understand something.  Your comfort and assurance do not come from the subjective experiences of people who have had near death experiences, who may or may not have seen heaven, and who certainly have filtered their experiences through their own fallen reason and worldview, not to mention erroneous theology.  And certainly your comfort and assurance are not to come from dramatized versions of those subjective experiences in movies.  What you’re wanting out of a movie like that is what Philip wanted.  Just a little glimpse.  Just a little evidence.  As if Jesus and His Word, which is Truth, is not enough.  What does Jesus say to Philip?  “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (v. 9).  “Well, that’s Philip,” you say.  “He got to see Jesus with his own eyes.”  True enough.  But you get to hear Jesus with your own ears in His holy Word.  You get to touch His Body and Blood in the Supper, eat it and drink it, that same Body that was crucified for you, that same Blood poured out for you, His resurrection Body and Blood now coursing through your veins.  And you have His promise that wherever two or three of you are gathered, there He is in the midst of you (Matt. 18:20).  You have His promise that He is with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20).  So has He been with you so long and still you do not know Him, not so well anyway that you don’t have to seek comfort and assurance from those who have allegedly “been there”?  Come on, beloved!  Jesus is here right now, for you, and He’s telling you that you don’t need that when you have Him!  Because if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father!  And you have.  You’ve seen Him with your ears.  You’ve seen Him with your tongues.  You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8).  And so you’ve seen the Father.  You know the Father.  You know Him in His Son Jesus.  You get all your comfort and assurance right here in the Father’s House, where He gives you Jesus.  “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10).  The words of Jesus are the words of the Father.  Hearing Jesus, you hear the Father.  If you know Jesus, you know the Father.  When Jesus comes to you, the Father comes to you, and you have eternal life and a place in the Father’s House, at the Father’s Table.
            Jesus says He goes to prepare a place for you (vv. 2-3), a place in the Father’s House.  He’s not talking about doing renovations to your room somewhere up there in heaven, though He does use wood and nails to accomplish His preparations.  He’s talking about the cross.  That is where He does the work.  He takes the nails, the wood, up onto the mountain, to be nailed there, to suffer and bleed there, to die there, so that you have a place in the Father’s House.  Sinners cannot live in the Father’s House.  Sinners cannot live in the presence of God’s holiness.  That’s a big problem for us who just confessed ourselves to be poor miserable sinners.  And that’s why Jesus is the only way to the Father and to eternal life.  He takes our sin away.  He does it to death on the cross.  He buries it in the tomb forever.  He washes us clean with His blood in Baptism.  He declares us righteous in His Absolution.  So even though we still sin and we’re still sinners for the moment, now in this earthly life, our old sinful nature is daily put to death in Baptism, daily crucified in repentance, along with all sin and evil desires, and our new self in Christ Jesus is daily brought forth to new life by the power of Christ’s resurrection.  As a result, the Father does not look at you as the sinner that you are.  He looks at you and sees you covered in the righteousness and holiness of His Son Jesus.  You are clothed with Jesus.  God looks at you and sees His Son, and calls you sons and daughters, and gives you the place Jesus prepared for you in His death and resurrection. 
            It is not only a place for your soul in heaven when you die, though it is that.  It is also and especially a place in the new heavens and the new earth, in your body, on the Day of Resurrection.  But it is not only a future place.  It is a place right here and now in the Body of Christ that is the Holy Church.  It is a place right here and now around the Lord’s Altar, the Christian family Table.  You are, after all, named with God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism means you are God’s own child.  That makes the place Jesus has prepared for you in the Father’s House a present reality.  You have a place where you belong.  Right here.  Right now.  The place Jesus has prepared for you by His death and resurrection.
            And because that is the case, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (v. 1).  Believe in the Father.  Believe in Jesus.  For when you believe in Jesus, you believe in the Father.  You can’t have one without the other.  And be comforted.  Even when being a Christian is hard.  Even when being a Christian is scandalous.  It is, you know.  There is the scandal of particularity that Jesus preaches this morning, that He is the only way of salvation, the only way to the Father, that our Triune God is the only true God.  Then there are the scandalous things you believe because the Bible teaches them, things that the culture rejects, like marriage between one man and one woman for life, like sexuality being reserved for the holy estate of marriage, like life being sacred from conception to natural death, something only God can give and only God should take away.  Being a Christian is scandalous.  You may lose friends over this.  You may suffer family strife over this (Jesus said it would happen – Matt. 10:34-39).  You may suffer the loss of your possessions, your freedom, your life.  So be it.  Let not your heart be troubled.  Jesus has prepared a place for you that no one can take away.  It is the Father’s House.  And Jesus is the way.  Believe in Him and you have it.  Take your comfort and assurance from Him alone.  You don’t need to see it to believe it.  You have Jesus’ Word on it.  You have Jesus’ Body and Blood on it.  And in having Jesus in His Word and Body and Blood, you have the Father.  And in having the Father and the Son you have the Holy Spirit who proceeds from them.  You have the one God, who lives and reigns to all eternity, the God who has written His Name on you: The Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!         

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 11, 2014
Text: John 10:1-10

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Christ, our Good Shepherd Savior, keeps us, His sheep, safe in His sheepfold, the holy Christian Church.  Our Holy Gospel this morning is a parable of the Church.  We are, as we sang in the Introit, “the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Ps. 95:7; ESV).  The parable this morning is about how Jesus, as our Good Shepherd and as the Door of the sheepfold, keeps us safe and secure in His Church.  Middle Eastern shepherds lead their sheep by the sound of their voice.  They call their sheep out in the morning to graze under the watchful gaze of the shepherd.  And when night comes, the shepherds call their sheep back into the sheepfold where they are protected from the dangers outside; from predators and from thieves and robbers, from getting lost or caught or injured by some unseen peril.  When the sheep are in the sheepfold, they are safe.  If they find themselves separated from the shepherd and the flock, alone outside of the fold at night, they are in mortal danger.  Sheep are dirty, stinky, and stupid animals.  When they are in danger, they don’t even know to run, much less can they figure out an escape from the danger.  When we think of Christ the Good Shepherd cuddling with His fluffy white and loveable little sheep, we miss the point of the parable entirely.  It is not a compliment when He calls us sheep.  But there is one thing the sheep have going for them. They know the voice of their shepherd.  Even when several shepherds are calling at once, a sheep knows the voice of its shepherd and only follows that shepherd.  Thus the call to pasture and the call to safety in the sheepfold.  Thus the Christian, you, who know the voice of your Good Shepherd, Jesus.  You hear His voice.  He calls you by Name (that’s what He does in Baptism).  And you follow Him. 
            A stranger you do not follow, and that is very important.  This Holy Gospel is nothing less than a warning never to follow an imposter’s voice even for a second.  Jesus is warning you about false teachers.  These are the wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), Satan disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).  Remember that false teachers never come to you claiming they are false teachers.  They always come claiming that they are true teachers.  They may even believe they are teaching the truth.  In fact, they may even be Christians who are very sincere, yet very sincerely deceived.  Some may even be Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors, which is why it is imperative that you watch the doctrine proclaimed here very carefully and know your Holy Scriptures so that you can test what is proclaimed.  And here’s the test you use, according to Jesus.  Does the teacher come through the Door that is Christ Himself?  In other words, does he preach Christ and Him crucified for your forgiveness and eternal life?  Or does he preach something else?  Maybe he gives lip service to Christ crucified, but ultimately preaches that you have to do something either to be saved or to make yourself a more effective Christian, bring yourself into a deeper relationship with God, or be assured by your works or by your decision for Jesus that you are really saved.  Or he substitutes something or someone other than Christ as the Savior, again, even if he gives lip service to our Lord’s saving work.  More often than not, a false teacher substitutes himself for Christ.  We call it a personality cult, when a church grows around a particular preacher rather than around the Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus.  Mark this, that this is one of the big problems with the mega-churches and the celebrity pastors who lead them.  False teachers come in many shapes and sizes.  Some are more successful, others less, but they all have one thing in common: They do not enter the sheepfold through the Door.  They try to sneak in any and every other way, but they never come in through Christ.  They do not come proclaiming Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ alone for you and for your salvation.  They do not proclaim Christ as the only Door, the only way of salvation.  They claim that there are other doors, other ways, their way, for example.  You want to know how to spot a false teacher?  Ask the question, are they consumed with Christ?  Or is something else driving them?  Undershepherds of the Good Shepherd always preach Christ crucified.  They are the faithful pastors.  A preacher who preaches anything else is nothing but a hired hand. 
            Or worse, a thief or a robber.  Thieves steal.  The Greek word used for robber means someone who will resort to violence or even murder to get what he wants.  Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).  And that is a good description of our three main enemies: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  These three act in concert with one another to steal your faith in Christ, to rob you of eternal life, to murder you into everlasting death in hell.  The devil holds the world in fascination with his lies.  Have you ever wondered to yourself if the world’s gone crazy, because you just can’t imagine how so many people have been so deeply deceived that they believe and advocate such blatantly wicked things?  Like abortion or promiscuity just to name two examples.  These things are actually held up in our culture as good things to be embraced.  The deception is nothing short of demonic.  The devil and his minions deceive the world, and our fallen flesh believes the lie.  Faith in Christ, virtue, honor, truth, peace… these things are stolen.  Believers in Christ are murdered spiritually as they buy into the deception.  And people actually lose their lives.  Those babies who are aborted certainly do.  So do those who die from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases or as casualties of the physical and emotional violence that so often accompanies sexual promiscuity.  And then there is the deterioration of the culture itself and the society that is built around it.  Again, just take these two examples of abortion and promiscuity and you can clearly see how our three main enemies steal and kill and destroy, as is their nature.
            So what are we to do?  How do we fix this?  How do we keep ourselves and our children safe?  Don’t leave the protective care of the Good Shepherd.  He has graciously brought you into the sheepfold of His Church where you are protected from these things.  A mighty fortress is your God, your Savior, Jesus.  Never stray from His voice.  Enter through the Door that is Jesus Himself and rejoice that He keeps you safe and secure inside His Church, protected from the dangers of predators and thieves and robbers.  Unlike those thieves and robbers that come only to steal and kill and destroy, Jesus has come that you may have life and have it abundantly (v. 10).  He has come to give you His life, even as He gave it on the cross to purchase you to be His own.  Our Good Shepherd Jesus is risen from the dead, and He has the power over death and the authority to give you life eternal, which is what He does as He gives you Himself in His Word and in Baptism and in His Body and Blood in the Supper.
            And how do you fix it?  Well, you can’t.  You can make it better within your sphere of influence by exercising your vocation in a godly way.  Today we celebrate the vocation of godly motherhood, for example, and we give thanks to God for all our mothers who have raised us in the faith.  Society needs godly parents, children, teachers, mechanics, farmers, politicians, and all the other ways God uses His people as His hands in the world.  Vocation, calling, is the Christian loving and serving where and among the people with whom God has placed you.  Serve others in your vocation as serving God Himself, and you’ll make it better for a time in your specific place.  But you won’t fix it.  And I’m not just being pessimistic.  The days are evil, says St. Paul (Eph.5:16), and it is only by grace that you escape the wickedness.  But you also know that Christ, your Good Shepherd, will fix it in the end.  For fixing it takes nothing less than a death and resurrection: His own for you, yours in Him, and the whole world’s in the end.  On that Day, St. Peter tells us, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13).  And we don’t have to worry about what will happen to us on that Day because we’re safe with Jesus, sheltered by Jesus, in the sheepfold that is His holy Christian Church.  He will raise us from the dead and give us life abundant.  He is the Door to that life, and when you enter by Him, death can never harm you.  And in the new heavens and new earth to which your Good Shepherd will bring you, there will be no more demonic deception or capitulation by the world or your own sinful flesh, for those things will be at an end.  No more thieves or robbers.  Safe in Jesus, you will have life and joy and peace.

            How do you know?  Because Jesus says so.  And you know His voice.  He calls you by name.  You follow Him.  You follow Him all the way through the valley of the shadow of death and through the empty tomb into His eternal and abundant life.  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 04, 2014

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (A)

May 4, 2014
Text: Luke 24:13-35

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29; ESV).  They did not even know it was the Lord when they spoke this petition.  As yet their eyes were kept from recognizing Him (v. 16).  But their hearts had burned within them as this Stranger opened the Scriptures (v. 32) to Cleopas and his traveling companion on the road to Emmaus, showing them from Moses and the Prophets (what we have come to call the Old Testament) that the Christ must suffer these things, be condemned to death by the religious and secular authorities and be crucified, and in this way enter His glory (vv. 26-27).  To be sure, their invitation was a customary act of hospitality.  It is dangerous to be out on the road at night.  There are robbers and wild animals and other hazards of the road better dealt with in the light.  But it is more than that.  They do not want their time with this wise Traveler to end.  There is something about Him that comforts them.  He gives them peace when their life is anything but peaceful, having just suffered the traumatic death of their Teacher and Lord, their hopes profoundly disappointed, grief and fear their constant companions.  And now this confusion, the reports of the women about the empty tomb and preaching angels declaring that He is risen from the dead.  In the midst of all of this there is this Man who, by the simple speaking of His Word, gives them hope and faith that this is all according to God’s plan, that somehow in all of this God has worked salvation, and in the end, the God who brought about the defeat of death by dying, who raised Jesus from the dead, will make all that is wrong in our world and in our lives right.
            So stay with us Lord.  It’s getting dark.  We don’t want to be alone.  It feels like You have forsaken us, like You have gone away.  After all, we can’t see You.  Not with our fallen eyes.  And there are dangers here in the darkness: the sin that seeks to destroy us and those we love; Satan and his minions who want to rob us of our faith and hope; sickness and pain and death, which leave us in the meantime with our constant companions of grief and fear.  But here when You speak Your Word, our hearts burn within us, for You give us faith and hope and peace in the midst of all these perils.  For You open the Scriptures to us.  Beginning with Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament) and continuing with the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists (the New Testament), You show us that in Your suffering and death you enter into Your glory and You take us with You.  You do not leave us or forsake us.  You do not leave us in sin, for You died for our forgiveness and You daily forgive us in Holy Absolution.  You do not leave us a prey for Satan and the demons, for in Your crucifixion, You crushed the serpent’s head.  You do not leave us in death and the grave, for You are the risen and ascended Lord.  You have prepared a place for us in heaven with You, and on the Last Day, You will raise us bodily from the dead. 
            “Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over” (LSB 243).[1]  The disciples’ petition has become the cry of the holy Christian Church.  It is a prominent petition in the Church’s Evening Prayer liturgy.  We sing it in hymns like “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.  The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide” (LSB 878:1).  It’s not the strongest Christmas carol we sing, but my mother often sang “Away in a Manger” with me before bed when I was a child.  The third verse is priceless in the petition, “Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray” (LSB 364:3).  Around the dinner table we often pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.”  We don’t just mean at our meal, but in our homes and in our lives.  These petitions echo Luther’s evening prayer which we learn in the Small Catechism: “graciously keep me this night.  For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.  Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”  If you haven’t memorized that prayer, please do, and pray it every night.  Memorize some of these evening hymns.  Memorize and pray this verse this verse from the Holy Gospel: “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.”
            And Jesus does.  He stays with you.  He does not make Himself visible to your eyes, but He is with you as assuredly as we’re all together here this morning, with you as your God certainly, but also as your fellow Human Being, as a Man, a flesh and blood Presence.  Your eyes are kept from recognizing Him.  That is until He is at the Table with you, the Altar, and He takes bread, blesses it, and gives it to you.  That is how the disciples at Emmaus recognized Him, in the breaking of the bread.  And so you.  Faith recognizes the Lord Jesus in the bread that is His Body, the wine that is His Blood.  We recognize Him in the Supper, really and substantially present.  And we realize that just because we cannot see Him, that doesn’t mean He’s gone.  After breaking the bread before the Emmaus disciples, He vanished from their sight (v. 31), but He didn’t go away.  They knew, as we know, that He is always with us, hidden in the Sacrament.  He is always with us, hidden in His Word, for when He speaks, our hearts burn within us.  He is always with us wherever we go, because that is what He said: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
            And so, the time is getting late.  Do you recognize that it is toward evening?  Do you recognize that these are the gray and latter days of the world?  You may know it by whatever darkness is in your life.  Sins that plague you, guilt that won’t go away, deteriorating bodies, your own and those of loved ones, and finally the grave that you know will one day be your bed.  Change and decay in all around you see, as the hymn puts it (LSB 878:4).  There is certainly the darkness that surrounds the world: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines, corrupt politicians, decaying morals, abortion, homelessness, the hypersexualization of the culture, gay marriage, the list goes on.  What good news for you and for all people that the risen Lord Jesus comes to you where you dwell and He stays.  He abides.  He never goes away.  He died for the darkness.  He covered it all in His blood, washed away all the bad, all the sin, all the fallen-ness.  And He blew a hole through death, opened up the grave, exposed it to the light of His risen glory.  “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome” (LSB 243; John 8:12; 1:5).  He stays.  He lets His light scatter the darkness (1 Cor. 4:5) and illumine His Church (2 Cor. 4:6).  He casts the bright beams of His light upon you, enlightens your mind, your heart, your soul, so that you see Him even where He is hidden from your eyes, but really present for you.  You see Him by faith, and you know that He has answered your prayer.  He stays with you.  And the evening has no power over you.
            The Emmaus disciples reported these things to the Eleven in Jerusalem that same evening.  And just as Jesus had vanished suddenly from their sight at Emmaus, so also He appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples in Jerusalem.  And He speaks His peace.  He shows them His hands and His side, His crucifixion wounds.  He eats some broiled fish (Luke 24:36-42).  And there is no doubt about it.  This is no ghost.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  For 40 days He appears here and there among His people, out of nowhere, and then vanishes again.  But there is no doubt it is Him.  On day 40 He ascended into heaven and was hidden by a cloud.  But He is not gone.  He is with us, just as He was with the Emmaus disciples and the apostles.  We do not see Him with our eyes, but one day we will.  In the meantime, come to the Table.  You will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.  Here He answers your prayer.  He stays with 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] Hymns and liturgical texts from Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006).  Catechism texts from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).