Monday, April 16, 2018

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 15, 2018)

1 JOHN 1:1 – 2:2

THE RISEN JESUS SHOWS 
THE REALITY OF SALVATION.

In the name + of Jesus.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     St. John begins his first epistle with the comment that he has seen the Lord who was crucified and has risen.  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you... (1 John 1:1,3)  
     One of the main messages of Easter is that the risen Jesus was seen, heard, and touched by the disciples who knew him and confessed him.  We heard that in our gospel reading from Luke: (Jesus) said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  (Luke 24:38-40) 
     The reason for this emphasis on actually seeing, hearing, and touching Jesus after he had risen from the dead is to demonstrate that Jesus' resurrection is a real, historical event.  The risen Jesus shows the reality of salvation.  Therefore, when the apostles went out to preach the Gospel, they were not merely proclaiming an idea.  The good news declared from pulpits today is not based on pondering, “What if this happened?” or “What if that happened?”  This is not a mental exercise where we wonder, “What do you think happens when a person dies?”  When you confess the Creed, you are not proposing an idea; you are declaring the truth.  The Christian faith is not a theory; it is a historical fact that truly delivers us from sin and death.  The risen Jesus shows the reality of salvation.
     There are many people who would like to pass off the Bible as a book of legends or stories which are supposed to convey some kind of truth.  If that is all it is, then we would put it on par with all religious thought, with Aesop's Fables, or with whatever lessons can be learned from children's programing on PBS.  St. John insists on much more.  He proclaims a flesh-and-blood Savior who died a real, excruciating, cursed death on the cross, but who is now truly risen from the grave in that body and who lives forever.  Jesus is not a teacher of ideas; he is your Savior.
     Jesus has come to deliver you from your enemies of sin and death.  These are not just ideas either.  St. John warns about denying the reality of sin:  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8,10)  Sin is real, and it produces real damage.  If someone has sinned against you, you feel the betrayal, the anger, the pain, and the sadness from it.  Sin wrecks marriages, destroys friendships, and sends nations to war.  Sin is demonstrated in people doing and saying awful things to each other.  Sin is not some flexible idea about what is right and wrong which adjusts itself to culture, era, or person.  Sin is whatever defies God's word.  God is light, in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)  But we see the darkness of our hearts exposed by sinister words and selfish acts. 
     The result of sin is death.  Just as sin is not an idea, neither is death.  Anyone who has stood by the grave of a loved one knows the grim and painful reality of death.  We grieve over others who have died, and we fear our own death.  Sin and death cannot be overcome by ideas or by giving them different names.  We cannot save ourselves from them.  Someone else must act to deliver us from sin and all of its consequences.
     Therefore, when God acted to save us, he did not send an idea into the world.  He sent his Son who became a man.  God came into the world as a flesh and blood man to deliver mankind from sin and death.  The sufferings and death of Jesus are well documented facts, even outside of the Bible.  There is no denying the reality of that.  But what God reveals is why Jesus suffered and died at the cross.  St. John wrote: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  In other words, Jesus is the sin offering which has satisfied the wrath of God against sinners. 
     God cannot ignore our sins, and he does not dismiss them as if they were never really offenses against him and his word.  Therefore, Jesus took into his body all of our guilt and shame—and not just ours, but the guilt and shame of everyone on earth.  He suffered and died the hellish death that sinners deserve.  The punishment Jesus suffered was real; therefore, your forgiveness is real.  Forgiveness is not something you wish for or to pretend you have; it is given to you by Jesus who has paid for all of your sins with his innocent sufferings and death.
     Forgiveness is not an idea; it is an establish fact.  Jesus gives it to you.  Here is what God promises: The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)  The blood which St. John witnessed flowing from Jesus' side was poured out for you.  That is the blood which was poured on you in baptism.  That is the blood which is poured into you in holy communion.  The blood of Jesus cleanses you and renders you pure before God.  God does not love you in theory.  God's love for you is not just an idea.  God demonstrated his love through a Savior who bled and died for you.  God applies that love to you through physical things such as water, bread, and wine.  By these, Jesus takes away your sin and cleanses you of all unrighteousness.  By these, Jesus marks you for eternal life.  By these, God saves you.  He rescues you from darkness and death, and he brings you light and life because he loves you.
     The risen Jesus shows the reality of salvation.  Just as the Christian faith is not a theory, neither is the Christian life.  St. John proclaimed the risen Jesus to reveal the new life that we are to have in him.  “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1)  Forgiveness is not a license to sin.  Forgiveness means that we get to live as God's own people and we get to do the good that God has created us to do.  The risen Jesus reconciles us to God and restores our fellowship with the Lord.  It means that the Lord's mercy, his favor, and his heavenly kingdom are ours.  Nothing can take these away from us—no enemy, no difficulty, not even death.  For we are Christ's redeemed.  We are a new creation, created in Christ to do good works for the good of one another.
     The risen Christ assures us that, even in our weakness, we need not fear.  We are still the Lord's.  For, St. John assures us: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)  You may recognize that your works are not as pure and your motives are not always as innocent as they should be.  Fear not!  The risen Jesus purifies you of all unrighteousness.  God is pleased with you.  He delights in your works, and he benefits others through them.
     The risen Christ shows the reality of salvation.  We don't live theoretical lives.  We are God's flesh-and-blood creation.  We live and work among others and strive to provide real benefit for them.  We have been saved from sin and all its consequences so that we are not haunted by guilt.  And we don't have to guess what happens when we die.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave with his body living and glorified, so will we.  We will live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever; for that is what our Lord created us for.  And that is what he has redeemed us for.  St. John saw and heard and touched the evidence for us.  He does not proclaim to you an idea; he declares what is true: The Lord is risen.  Your sins are forgiven.  Salvation is certain.  And God loves you dearly.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pastor's Conference -- Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church, Macomb Township, Michigan

On Tuesday - Wednesday, April 10-11, the pastors of the Southeast Conference in Michigan met at Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church in Macomb Township.  We were not excited to see the snow on the way there, but the reception by Pastor Simons and his congregation was very warm.  Here are some photos from Ascension.





Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 8, 2018)

JOHN 20:19-31

THE RISEN JESUS GIVES 
BLESSING AND PEACE.

In the name + of Jesus.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     When the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room on that first Easter evening, he greeted them with these words, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  This was not merely the traditional greeting of one Palestinian to another.  It was more than, “Shalom, my friends, shalom!”  It was a proclamation. 
     You may recall that the last time these apostles saw Jesus alive, they had failed him.  For most of them, the last time they saw Jesus was when he was being arrested in Gethsemane.  The band of soldiers bound up Jesus to cart him off to trial before the Sanhedrin, but they ran into the night.  They abandoned Jesus in order to save their skin.  The last time Peter saw Jesus was right after he had denied him the third time.  Jesus, having been struck and spit upon, exchanged glances with Peter who went out and wept bitterly at his failure.  Misery loves company, so the disciples huddled together in Jerusalem in misery in the room they had used for the Passover.
     On Easter night, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)  The risen Jesus proclaimed peace, and he emphasized that peace by showing them that the body, which had been crucified, was indeed risen.  The disciples were glad because the Lord Jesus has conquered death.  They were glad because God's peace was bestowed upon them.  They were glad because Jesus had not come to rebuke them or condemn them.  He did not even say that he was disappointed with them.  The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.
     When the church gathers together, it is always a group of sinners that meets.  No one has served the Lord as faithfully as we would like to think.  We have all failed our Lord.  Perhaps you failed to confess your faith when you feared it would bring ridicule on you.  Or maybe acting according to your faith and refusing to partake in sin as the world does meant you might lose a job or a friendship.  Those are the moments we discover that our faith is not as strong as we think.  We fail in our weakness.  It results in guilt and shame.  We become frustrated and disappointed in ourselves for failing to serve the Lord as we know we ought to.  What would Jesus say to us if he appeared personally to us in the flesh?
     The apostles can tell you.  When Jesus appeared on Easter evening, he was not angry, and he did not regret going to the cross for them.  And so it is for you, too.  Jesus declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  Peace because God does not hold your sins against you.  Peace because your shame is removed from you.  Whatever sins you have committed are forgiven.  God does not hold your sins over you, waiting for future day for retribution.  He does not even use guilt to goad you into doing better next time.  The wounds on Jesus' wrists and in Jesus' side are evidence that Jesus had been crucified.  Jesus' crucifixion is for you.  It is the payment for your sins.  The wounds themselves proclaimed peace. 
     The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  The risen body of Jesus is living proof that the payment for sins is complete.  Jesus is risen, and he has earned the right to forgive the sins of mankind because he had paid for them.  He lives and reigns to declare sinners pardoned.  Therefore, Jesus' greeting, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) was not an expression of friendship or wishing well.  It is a declaration.  The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.
     When Jesus appeared to the disciples that Easter night, Thomas was not present.  And Thomas was not ready to believe any reports, even from reliable sources such as his fellow apostles.  The world today would congratulate Thomas for being a skeptic.  And if you think that Thomas demonstrated wisdom in this, then understand that Thomas also ended up dwelling in his grief and guilt for a full week longer than he needed to.  As far as Thomas was concerned, Jesus was dead.  And if Jesus was dead, so were Thomas' hopes.  He did not have God's peace, and blessing eluded him.  But that is not because God had failed Thomas.  It was because Thomas did not believe God's word which was fulfilled by Jesus, which was witnessed by the other apostles, and which was joyfully declared for Thomas' benefit.  But Thomas, in his prideful skepticism, rejected all of it.  As a result, Thomas remained stuck in his guilt and shame.
     On the following Sunday, Jesus appeared again to all the apostles, and this time Thomas was there.  Once again, Jesus did not condemn.  Once again, Jesus came and declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)  Peace, even for Thomas who made demands of God rather than rejoice in God's word.  When Jesus appeared to Thomas, we do not hear about Thomas poking into Jesus' wounds to inspect them as he had demanded.  We only hear Thomas' confession: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)  
     The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  While he proclaimed peace to Thomas, Jesus extends this blessing to you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)  God has worked in you to believe him and to take him at his word.  By that word, Jesus gives you peace.  Jesus' peace is not based on what you can see and feel.  If you feel forgiven today, you may not feel that way tomorrow.  Satan is good at dredging up the past and reminding you of how you failed Jesus with your sins.  But Jesus does not tell you to look to yourself for comfort.  The risen Jesus declares peace to you and bestows his blessing upon you.  It is his word that delivers his peace, and his word does not change like your feelings.  Therefore, your peace remains.
     The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  He will not appear to you as he did to the apostles and to Thomas.  Jesus has ascended to heaven, and we will not see him until he comes again to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.  But Jesus has acted so that you can find comfort, peace, and blessing in his word.  Jesus said to (the apostles) again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)  
     Jesus has commissioned his ministers to go in his name, to speak with his authority, and to forgive sins in his stead.  Once again, it is not merely that the pastor wishes you well or wants to express his friendship with you.  Hopefully, you do have your pastor's friendship, he does wish you well, and even prays for it.  But your pastor's fondness does not take away your sins.  Jesus' word does.  And so Jesus tells his ministers to go and proclaim blessing, peace, and forgiveness in his stead, in his name, and by his authority.  The declaration “I forgive you” proclaimed by the pastor is Jesus' word; therefore, it is Jesus' forgiveness.
     It does not take much to destroy our feelings of peace.  Feelings of peace are quickly destroyed by our own sinfulness.  We endure guilt, doubt, fear, and frustration because we are not as faithful as we ought to be.  Like the apostles who failed Jesus and hid themselves away, we too can wallow in misery, thinking that God is disgusted with us, expecting that God will disown us, or fearful that God is disappointed in us.  After all, we are often disgusted and disappointed in ourselves.  But God is not angry.  Jesus does not regret being crucified for you.  The risen Jesus gives blessing and peace.  His “Shalom” assures you that God is your friend.  He does not merely wish you well; he restores your soul and will deliver your body from death.  He gives courage to timid souls and comforts miserable sinners.  The risen Jesus gives you his blessing and he lives to proclaim, “Peace be with you.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bible Information Class begins Monday, April 16

Bible Information Class 
will begin on Monday, April 16.
Classes will be 7:00 – 9:00 PM.

The schedule for the first session of this class (Session Two begins in June) is as follows:

SESSION ONE

Apr 16 What Do We Know About God?  Who is He?
God the Father Created the World.

Apr 23 God the Father Promised to Save Mankind.
Jesus is the Savior We All Need.

Apr 30 Jesus Christ Lived, Died, and Rose Again to Save Us.

May 7 When Will Jesus Come Again?
How Does the Holy Spirit Serve Us?

May 14 The Bible is the Very Word of God.
What is Holy Baptism?

May 21 What is Holy Communion?
What is the Holy Christian Church?


While this class is geared toward people who are interested in church membership at Good Shepherd, taking the class does not obligate you to join the church.  If you simply want to grow in your knowledge of the Bible, this class is for you.  

There is no cost.  All materials are provided.  You will not be put on the spot to answer questions (though we will ask your name).  You are not even expected to know anything.  Come with questions.  Come with friends.  Come and learn what God wants you to know.

Call (248-349-0565) or e-mail (welsnovi@aol.com) if you are interested or have any questions about this class.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Sunday Night Bible Series continues April 8 at 6:00 PM

SUNDAY NIGHT BIBLE SERIES
at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Novi



JESUS – Legend or Lord?
Next session will be 
Sunday, April 8 at 6:00 PM.


Jesus of Nazareth is the most written about person in the world.  He is also one of the most debated figures in the world.  In this eight-part series, Dr. Maier explores a three-lane highway to the past through the  disciplines of Archaeology, History, and Geography.  Along the journey, we look back to the world that Jesus himself saw as he moved toward the cross.  The tentative schedule for this series is as follows.


History and Archaeology: God's “Back-up Systems”
SESSION 1  –  Our Sources of Information                     February 11  --  completed
SESSION 2  –  Archaeology and History                          March 18  --  completed

>>> SESSION 3  –  The Works of Josephus                April 8  <<<

New Perspectives on the Life of Jesus
SESSION 4  –  The Infancy Narratives May 6
SESSION 5  –  Jesus' Public Ministry June 10

The Crucifixion and Resurrection Revisited 
SESSION 6  –  The Week That Changed the World July 8
SESSION 7  –  The Resurrection Revisited   August 12

The Explosion of Christianity
SESSION 8  –  The Explosion of Christianity  September 9


After viewing a DVD segment, we will have questions & answers and follow-up discussion about the material which Dr. Maier presents.

All sessions will be on Sundays, beginning at 6:00 PM.  Desserts and/or snacks will be served.

Dr. Paul Maier, best-selling author, scholar and Lutheran pastor, has served for many years as a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.

A Pastoral Concern -- The Opportunity for Evangelism

We are currently enjoying a series on Christian Apologetics on the 2nd Sunday of each month (schedule below), in which we are considering how archaeology, history, and geography aid in support of the history recorded in the Gospels about Jesus Christ and the Church.  Such knowledge is helpful for Christians to recognize that our faith rests in historic fact, not myth or fantasy or propoganda.  

However, more and more the average person in America is becoming more and more ignorant of the most basic of Christian teachings.  Consider this article from the blog of Gene E. Veith in which he refers to an article referencing Easter.  In that article, the writer originally described Easter as “the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere at all, but rather arose into heaven.”  NPR later ran a correction, but the alarming part about the poor--no, false--description of our Easter celebration is that the author claims to be Roman Catholic!  A Christian does not know what Easter is about?!  Apparently, yes.

The reality is that many people in America will claim to be Christian.  Take a look at church attendance and you will know that many who claim to be Chrisians don't go to church.  Their Christian faith is limited only to their claim or to which box they might check on a survey.  Many do not know what the Bible says or what the Christian faith is, even though they claim to be Christians.  And while today's adults may have some vague recollection since their parents took them to church a few times until they were 8 years old, many of today's children are completely in the dark, having never gone to church.

I suppose the situation is lamentable.  If only more people came to church, it would be better.  On the other hand, the opportunity for evangelism is staggering.  Your neighbor does not know what the Christian faith is.  Their guess may be as poor as the report's above.

What that means for Christians is that your efforts for evangelism are much easier than you might have thought.  You don't need some years' long study about methods.  You only need what you learned in Sunday School, or the most basic recollection of last Sunday's sermon (whatever the Sunday).  This will likely be news to the average person you meet.  It is certainly the good news we crave to hear.  I suspect that many will find that news equally good.  At the very least, many will find it new.

Evangelism just got much easier.  You don't need to convince anyone of anything.  You simply need to confess what you know.  At the very least, you will remove people's ignorance.  While we pray for their conversion, that remains the work of the Holy Spirit.


SUNDAY NIGHT BIBLE SERIES

JESUS – Legend or Lord?


Jesus of Nazareth is the most written about person in the world.  He is also one of the most debated figures in the world.  In this eight-part series, Dr. Maier explores a three-lane highway to the past through the  disciplines of Archaeology, History, and Geography.  Along the journey, we look back to the world that Jesus himself saw as he moved toward the cross.  The tentative schedule for this series is as follows.

History and Archaeology: God's “Back-up Systems”
SESSION 1  –  Our Sources of Information                     February 11  --  completed
SESSION 2  –  Archaeology and History                          March 18  --  completed
SESSION 3  –  The Works of Josephus                           April 8

New Perspectives on the Life of Jesus
SESSION 4  –  The Infancy Narratives May 6
SESSION 5  –  Jesus' Public Ministry June 10

The Crucifixion and Resurrection Revisited 
SESSION 6  –  The Week That Changed the World July 8
SESSION 7  –  The Resurrection Revisited   August 12

The Explosion of Christianity
SESSION 8  –  The Explosion of Christianity  September 9

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Pastoral Concern ... on the Authority of the Church

Recently, it was reported in an Italian paper, La Republicca, that the Pope has stated that there is no hell, and that all who die in sin and unbelief simply disappear and cease to exist.  (To read an article about this, see Cranach, the Blog of Gene E. Veith.)  Those who believe are "admitted to the contemplation of God."  The description of eternal life is, at best, confusing.  I really don't know what that means.  It sounds more Hindu than Christian to me.  But the denial of hell is much more problematic.  Those in the Roman Catholic Church will note that it stands in contradiction to Church tradition, to Church Councils, to the decrees of previous Popes, and to the Roman Catholic Catechism.

I would add the glaring omission: It defies Holy Scripture (cf. Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Matthew 25:41-46; et al.) 

The Roman Catholic faithful are put in a rather difficult position here.  While it has been "clarified" by the Vatican that the Pope did not say this or did not mean this, it does not help that Pope Francis has developed a habit of saying things that are so vague and confusing that we find such reports of a reversal of Roman Catholic teaching on his part to be quite believable.  After all, according to the Roman Catholic Church itself, what the Pope teaches ex cathedra ("from the chair", that is, in his official position as Pope) is infallible.  He cannot err.  So if he reverses the teaching of the Roman Church, some Pope must have erred in the past or the current Pope has erred.

Full disclosure: The reporter who referred to his conversation with Pope Francis was not conducting an official interview.  He did not take notes or record anything.  He was "reconstructing" his conversation with the Pope, making his statements about the Pope's words highly suspect.  And since the reporter is an avowed atheist, there is reason to believe his report may be biased or simply wrong.  Still Pope Francis' track record does not help his own cause.  And for what it is worth, I do not consider this recollection of a conversation between Pope Francis and an atheist reporter to taken too seriously. 

What is to be taken seriously, however, is what the Church deems to be the final authority in its doctrine and practice.  For the Roman Catholic Church, the answer is the Pope.  He is declared to be the sole interpreter of Scripture.  (Although it seems that Vatican officials are more important right now in giving the official understanding of Pope Francis' vague statements.)  But what happens when a Pope decrees something that stands in direct contrast to official Roman Catholic teaching?  The answer usually given is that the Pope did not speak ex cathedra.  But, who determines when the Pope does speak ex cathedra?  Does a committee decide this?  And when the Pope does speak ex cathedra and it stands in contrast to the Bible, does that mean we are supposed to dismiss the Bible on that point?  And if the Bible can be overruled by Papal decree, how much of the Bible can be dismissed?  (After all, a later Pope may decree that a certain teaching has been reversed.)

Here is a very practical example.  Can an atheist be saved and go to heaven?  Here is the official Roman Catholic teaching:  “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.” --Lumen Gentium, chapter 2, par. 16 (November 21, 1964, by Pope Paul VI)

Here is what the Bible teaches:  "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in his is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:17-18)  And: "There is salvation  in no one else,  for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

So, which is right?  That there is no salvation outside of Jesus, or that there is salvation outside of Jesus?  Either Pope VI is right, or the Bible is right.  One is in error, and one is not.  Both can't be true.  So which is it?  The answer is crucial, don't you think?

Martin Luther was hardly the first to state that the Bible is the sole authority of the Church.  So, when Lutherans confess sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) as the authority of the Church, we are not on a island.  Nor are we insisting that Martin Luther or any other man is our final authority.  Our sole authority is the word of God.  Therefore, we let God speak for himself.  God does not lie.  God does not change.  God does not speak in deceptive words or use vague terms.  Granted, that has not prohibited people from twisting his words or presenting conflicting interpretations; but the fault lies with man, not with God.  Man often uses his reason or his emotions to interpret what God really means, which turns man into his own Pope in being his own interpreter of Scripture.

But the Bible does not need to be interpreted, just read.  And while some passages are not as clear as others, that is not to say that there is nothing clear in the Bible.  The Bible is amazingly clear.  Hard passages will find their interpretation from clearer passages.  In this way, the Bible remains the authority, not me or you with our own interpretation of it.

The issue is of utmost importance, since our eternal salvation rests on it.  How do you know you are saved?  Is it the decree of a Pontiff in Rome who does not even know you (which is official Catholic teaching), or is it the word of the God whose work it is to save you?  Popes have changed official teachings over the centuries.  Jesus Christ has not.

That is why the authority of the Church always stands on the word of God which has been revealed and recorded in the Bible.  Since the word of God stands firm forever, so does our confidence.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sermon -- Easter (April 1, 2018)

1 CORINTHIANS 15:19-26

THE RISEN JESUS GIVES
PEACE FOR THE BROKEN.

In the name + of Jesus.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     If you have come to church today, it is because you want to hear good news.  And chances are, you could use some.  The world is broken.  That is proven by daily headlines.  We hear about violence and killing—and not just in war zones; in schools!  We hear about wars and rumors of wars.  People are hurting, suffering, grieving, and dying.  Sin has corrupted the world, it announces its presence every day.  Sometimes it is breaking news.  Other times it comes in a jaw-dropping, heart-rending phone call from a loved one.  So, if you are here today, it is because you are longing for peace—peace in the midst of a broken, violent world; peace to soothe a broken heart; peace to mend a broken, messed up life.
     Jesus understood that this world was broken, and that the lives of people in it are broken, messy, and difficult.  Jesus witnessed injustice, violence, grief, betrayal, and death.  In fact, Jesus was a victim of injustice, violence, grief, and betrayal.  And as far as death is concerned, you may have noticed that Easter has its beginning in a cemetery.  Jesus both witnessed death, and experienced it.  But Jesus did not come just to witness how broken the world is.  Jesus did not come to experience the corruption of the world and its citizens.  Jesus came to restore all things to their right order, to reconcile people to God, and to rectify all that had gone wrong once sin entered into the world.  The risen Jesus gives peace for the broken.
     When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he was writing to Christians who were still somewhat worldly.  Some sneered at the idea of the resurrection from the dead and the life everlasting.  They wanted a better world and a better life now.  I guess, to some degree, you can't blame them.  We see people assembling together for marches, rallies, and protests, hoping that somehow they can make this world safer, cleaner, happier, and better.  And if that is what you are hoping Jesus will do for you, you will be disappointed.  That is why St. Paul writes, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  
     The fact is that Jesus does not stop people from being sinners.  People will go on lying about people, cheating people, and using other people for their own selfish aims.  We still have to face sickness, natural disasters, plane crashes, political strife, and terrorism.  The world is broken, and lives are often broken because of it.  Since the world will continue to be broken, the Christian hope is not to create a perfect world here and now.  It is to be delivered out of the brokenness of the world.  That means you need to be delivered from sin and death.
     You can lament and rage, march and protest because the world is corrupt, but you also need to recognize that you have contributed to it.  You are sinful yourself.  It has come out of your mouth in rude words and it is felt by others in your impatient and self-absorbed attitude.  And of course, you alone know the bitterness that you keep hidden in your heart.  If you are appalled at the brokenness that you see in the world and in others, you also ought to be appalled by your own.  In fact, you ought to be more alarmed by your own sin.  You don't have to answer for the sins of others or for the way the world is messed up.  But you do have to give an answer for your own sin.
     The risen Jesus gives you an answer.  He has taken your sins away and has suffered for them for you.  He died in your place, accepting God's judgment for you.  Jesus was condemned so that you, in turn, would be pardoned and set free.  So, even though you are broken, Jesus reconciles you to God the Father.  He presents you as one who has been washed clean in baptism.  Therefore, God does not despise you because you are broken; he declares you to be blameless.
     Jesus not only rescues you from your sin, he even delivers you from death.  All that is broken by sin, Jesus rectifies.  St. Paul wrote: “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
     The risen Jesus gives peace to the broken.  Jesus has undone all that has been done by Adam.  Adam sinned and brought death into the world.  By his death, Jesus has taken away your sins.  By his resurrection, Jesus puts an end to death.  Jesus is risen from the grave.  He has conquered death.  He lives, and he cannot die again.  What is more, Jesus is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  Jesus is the first man who has risen out of the grave, but he will not be the last.  On the Last Day, when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, he will raise up all the dead from their graves.  And those who believe and are baptized into Christ will be raised up to live forever with him.  Each comes in his own order.  Today, we celebrate that Jesus Christ is the first fruits from the dead, risen from the grave.  But we also know this means that we will be raised up too.  The grave is not your home; for you are Christ's.
     The risen Jesus gives peace to you by rescuing you from everything that has been broken by sin.  Jesus delivers to you the resurrection.  It is not a reincarnation where you continue through an endless cycle of coming back to a broken world, over and over again.  The Lord does not delight in watching people suffer, and he certainly does not give you multiple lives in which you endure pain and sorrow, shame and regret, disease and disasters and death over and over again.  The Lord Jesus restores everything which has been broken by sin.  At the resurrection, you will be raised up with a body that will never again experience weakness, sickness, sorrow, or death.  You will never know shame or regret.  And God's Paradise will be free from war, violence, pestilence, poison ivy, and paper cuts.  While people in this world march and protest to demand a better world, Jesus will give you one—and not merely better, but perfect.
     The risen Jesus gives peace for the broken.  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  The hope we have in Christ is for a perfect, everlasting life.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26), and Jesus will put death to death at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day.  But the hope we have in Christ is not limited to what will come.  The risen Jesus gives you peace here and now as you cope with a broken life, a broken heart, and a broken world.
     The risen Jesus gives peace to the broken by forgiving you of all your sins.  You do not have to bear the burden of shame or guilt over your sins.  Neither denial nor excuses take guilt away; only the blood of Jesus Christ does that—which he pours onto you through holy baptism and which he pours into you through holy communion.  Jesus also gives you peace in this broken world.  While there are certainly wonderful blessings in this world, we can all be honest about its problems.  You may bear scars from the pains of this world, but God does not forget about you.  He continues to uphold his promises.  He bestows his mercy and love.  He reminds you that your current troubles are momentary, but your glory will be everlasting.  Even if the whole world hates you, Jesus Christ does not.  And his judgment is the only one that matters.  Finally, when our last hour comes, we need not fear.  Jesus Christ has overcome death, and he will be our Savior through death and into eternal life.  When that day comes, we will be able to say, “Good riddance” to the broken world and all its problems.  For Jesus will usher us into everlasting glory and unending peace.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sermon -- Easter Dawn (April 1, 2018)

GENESIS 1:1 – 2:3

GOD BRINGS FORTH A NEW CREATION.

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was not only the first day of the week; it was the first day ever.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Prior to the beginning, there was nothing.  But out of nothing, God brought forth life.  Out of darkness, God brought forth light.  Out of chaos, God brought forth created order.  God created heaven and earth for mankind, and then God added mankind to the earth.
     While God had simply summoned everything into being throughout the week of creation, God invested himself in the creation of man and woman.  The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7)  And later, the Lord took a rib from the man's side.  And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman (Genesis 2:22)  The man and the woman were the crown of God's creation.  They were created for him to love them, and for them to love him.
     But man's love turned away from God to himself.  To this day, man lives for himself.  He despises God for his word.  He uses other people for his own pleasure.  He lies to cover his sins.  He schemes to take what is not his.  He even desires to be God, making his own rules and crafting his own version of truth.  For this, every man who is alive must die.  His heart and mind have been darkened.  Even the world has been subjected to chaos.  Though man tried to make himself lord of everything, he ends up with nothing.
     When the Lord was done with his creation, God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)  God loves what he has created; therefore, God did not destroy it.  God sought to reclaim, rectify, and restore everything which was corrupted by sin and death.  Rather than obliterate his creation, God invested himself into it once again. 
     Just as the Lord did not simply summon man into being but personally and intentionally formed him, so the Lord personally and intentionally took on the form of man.  The Lord became a man so that he could take into himself all that corrupted mankind.  Even though he was true God, Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he bore the guilt of mankind who exalts himself over God.  Even though Jesus is obedient and innocent, he made himself sin for us—smeared with every accusation.  The Lord invested himself in saving us by becoming one of us, by assuming the guilt that is ours, and by dying the cursed death we deserve.
     That was on Good Friday.  The Lord rested on the Sabbath.  But today is the first day of the week, the first day of the new creation.  Today, Jesus Christ is risen from the grave.  Out of death springs forth life.  God brings forth light to those who dwell in darkness.  Out of the chaos of sin and death, God brings forth a new created order. 
     Jesus Christ is the first man, a creation of flesh and blood, to rise from the grave to live forever.  He who is your Savior is a man just like you are.  And now through Jesus, mankind has victory over death.  The body which God has created is now reclaimed and will be restored to the life it was supposed to have.  Mankind, whom God created to love, God has now redeemed.  The Lord has invested himself not merely in creating mankind, but also in redeeming mankind.  Your humanity is exalted, and at the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day, God will raise you up with a glorified body to live without sin forevermore.  God has brought forth a new creation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sermon -- Good Friday (March 30, 2018)

In the second part of the Triduum, Good Friday, we focused on the seven words from the cross.  While there was a brief homily following each word, I am posting just two.


The First Word -- Luke 23:26-34

     Jesus' prayer sounds strange: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  The soldiers who were on crucifixion detail were fully aware of their assigned task, and they carried it out dutifully.  They did not know that they were putting to death the Lord of glory.  Their ignorance, however, did not excuse them from their sins.
     The Psalms teach us to pray, “Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12)  It is a prayer that ought to alarm us.  By it, we are reminded that we sin and we are not even aware that we are offending God and our neighbor.  Our sinful nature has blinded us so that we do not even recognize some of our faults.  Others might be wounded by ours sins, but we don't see it.  We are too absorbed in our thoughts and schedules.  We can walk over other people and not even know it.
     What's more is that we are also victims of our age and our culture.  We have blind spots so that we accept as normal what God speaks against.  If I knew what those things were, I would urge you to repent of them.  But as I said, they are blind spots.  We don't see them.  But ignorance is no excuse.  God does not give us a free pass because our culture has influenced us or because we do not know better.  We are still accountable to God for all sins, whether we do them intentionally or not, whether they are obvious or we are oblivious to them.
     But the Lord Jesus Christ has come to win forgiveness for every trespass, whether they are open sins or hidden faults.  Jesus shed his blood to atone for all sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
     The Lord calls us to repent of sins of commission—when we do what is evil, and from sins of omission—when we fail to do what is good.  The Lord exposes the evil we are to flee from, and he directs us to the good we are to do.  But it is hard to flee from hidden faults.  Fear not.  Jesus does not condemn you, nor does he leave you to wonder if you have made enough corrections to be saved.  Jesus acquits you from sins committed in anger, from sins committed in weakness, and even from sins committed in ignorance.
     “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  Jesus not only prays for forgiveness for the sinner, he provides it.


The Fifth Word -- John 19:28-29

     “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)  If you hunger and thirst for something, that means you don't have it.  You crave it because you need it.  
     Blessed are you if you hunger and thirst for righteousness—for that means you recognize you do not have it.  If you crave it, you also recognize that you need it.  And you do.  You need it if you are going to have life.
     The Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)  Jesus is the Righteous One who satisfies our need for righteousness.
     But at the cross, it was Jesus who thirsted.  Crucifixion drains its victim and saps the body, so Jesus thirsted.  Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)  Jesus craved not just a drink, he especially craved your salvation and your righteousness.  That is what brought him to earth.  That is what drove him to the cross.  That is what had him fulfilling even the most miniscule of prophecies.  What might seem irrelevant to us was necessary for Jesus.
     Jesus had celebrated the Passover with his apostles.  They partook of the lamb, the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the cups of wine.  Before they drank the final cup, however, they left the upper room.  For Jesus, the Passover had not been completed.  The final cup still had to be drunk.
     At the cross, the final cup was consumed.  Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)  The cup of God’s wrath was drained.  Every drop was consumed.  The Passover was now completed.  Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness.  And so now God is pleased.  And so now death passes over you.  And so now heaven is opened.
     Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6, paraphrase)

Issues Etc -- Pondering the Passion

If you are interested in a treasure trove of Holy Week meditation, check out the Issues, Etc. podcasts from this Holy Week.  There are a number of podcasts which will give you hours of interviews to listen to and consider. 

You can find Issues, Etc. here

I hope you can also find the time.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (March 29, 2018)

HEBREWS 8:6-13

JESUS, OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST, IS MEDIATOR OF THE NEW COVENANT.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The old covenant between God and his people was very straight forward: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today...” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)  The Lord had promised incredible blessing and continual favor upon Israel.  He promised to be their God, and he was pleased to call Israel his people.  However, the old covenant was flawed—but not because God was incapable of keeping his promises or unwilling to do it.  It was flawed because of one word: “If.”  If the Israelites would serve him exclusively, they would forever be the Lord's people.  If the Israelites devoted themselves fully to the word of the Lord, he would continually bless them.  There would be peace, comfort, and blessing if Israel would be faithful to the Lord.  If.
     When God blessed Israel so that life was cozy and cushy, Israel quickly forgot about the Lord.  They turned aside to selfish pursuits.  They deceived themselves with their worship rites which became empty gestures to God.  Only when the Lord gave them over to their enemies or afflicted them with problems did they return to the Lord.  You might think you would do better under the old covenant and collect all the blessings God promises.  But you and I are no better.  The old covenant does not prove how much good we should expect; it proves how much we are not good.  If you devote yourself to doing all the good God demands, you will discover that even with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, you can't do it.  If only our minds and our motives were not corrupted by sin.  If only our sinful weakness would not be our downfall again.  If only.  If.
     The old covenant reveals our sinfulness to us.  It does not bring blessing; it results in a curse.  Therefore, God resolved to establish a new covenant through his Son, Jesus.  But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)  The first thing we recognize is that the new covenant is not a conditional covenant.  It is not based on laws that we have to keep in order to get God's blessing.  It is based on better promises.  In fact, it is based completely on God's promises.  God had promised that he will do all the work to establish his covenant.  And since God does all the work, it will not fail.  There will be no “if's” attached to it.  It will be complete and perfect and flawless.
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  Since Jesus is both God and man, he is able to represent both parties in the covenant.  As man, Jesus stands in for us.  He keeps God's Law with his holy, innocent life.  God's Law is good, and it shows us what a good person does.  Since Jesus has kept all of God's Law, it shows that Jesus is good.  In fact, flawless.  When Jesus stood on trial before the Jewish courts, no one could find fault with him.  When Jesus stood in the Roman court, many accusations were hurled at Jesus.  But none stuck.  Pilate announced Jesus' innocence no less than four times.  But even more than that, God the Father found no fault in his own Son.  This man lived the perfect obedient life which God demands.  But since Jesus is true God, that innocence is rendered on behalf of all mankind.  For, Jesus did not live for his own gain, but for yours.
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  Throughout the Old Testament, every covenant was ratified by blood.  Animals were severed and the parties in the covenant passed through the blood trail to confirm the covenant between them.  Jesus, who is both God and man, ratified this covenant by his own blood.  The man, Jesus, was nailed to a cross where he shed his blood as one who is cursed for failing to keep the Law.  As man, Jesus died under God's curse for sinners.  But as God, Jesus' bloody death counts for all people.  The innocent blood which Jesus shed answers for all our sins.  Therefore, all your sins are covered.  All your guilt is blotted out. 
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  There are no “if's” attached to this covenant so that you would ever have to doubt whether you have kept up your end of it.  There are no conditions.  You cannot fail and mess it up.  The writer to the Hebrews quoted the prophet Jeremiah to show that this was always God's plan.  “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:10-11)  
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  In this new covenant, the Lord creates in you a clean heart which has been purified in Jesus' blood.  He renews a right spirit within you which God enlightens and directs.  When the Lord declares, “They shall not teach, ... saying, ‘Know the Lord’” (Hebrews 8:11), that does not mean we no longer need to devote ourselves to the word of the Lord.  People who stop hearing the word of the Lord end up being deceived because they end up crafting a god which appeals to them and agrees with them.  Their worship becomes an empty gesture to an imaginary god.  Just as a builder needs to keep on looking at his plans to get his building right, so also we need to keep on hearing the word of the Lord to be sure we are focusing ourselves on the true God.  The word of the Lord is necessary so we can know the Lord.  That is where the Lord reveals who he is, what he desires, and what he does.  Because God has given you his word, you know the Lord.  He is Jesus, God in the flesh.  He has established the new covenant by his innocent life and sacrificial death.  He pledges, “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)  These are the works of our Great High Priest, and these are the terms of the new covenant.
     One of the major festivals under the old covenant was the Passover.  It was an annual reminder that the Lord is the God who saves his people.  Israelite families would feast together and remember that the blood of the lamb caused the angel to pass over their homes.  By the blood of the lamb, death did not come to them.  Many generations of Israelites knew that deliverance only as a story.  They had not participated in that deliverance; they could only reminisce. 
     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, served as the mediator of the new covenant.  It is no mere remembrance.  This feast is the new covenant.  By partaking in it, we receive all the benefits our Lord won for us.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)  We do not reenact a meal.  We feast on the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  In this way, we participate in the body which bore our sin and in the blood which purifies us from all unrighteousness.  We ingest the promise of God: “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)  
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  In this new covenant, Jesus does all the work: He pays for our sins.  Jesus makes all the promises: He pardons our offenses.  Jesus Christ does not put God's covenant into question with the word “If.”  He makes God's covenant a sure declaration.  He punctuates God's promises with “Amen!” and ratifies it with his precious blood.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Private Confession & Absolution (Today, 6:00-8:00 PM)

PRIVATE CONFESSION & ABSOLUTION


On Monday, March 26 (THAT'S TODAY!) from 6:00-8:00 PM, you are able to make use of Private Confession & Absolution to acknowledge the sins that grieve you and to be absolved of them.  Why do this?  Luther's Small Catechism answers this way:

What is Confession?
     Answer: Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this.

What sins should we confess?
     Answer: Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.  But before the confessor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. -- Luther's Small Catechism, Part V

There is no need to schedule an appointment for today.  Come when you like.  The pastor will be prepared to explain the rite further to you and to absolve you of all guilt.

Palm Sunday leftovers

Yesterday's palms.

Next year's ashes.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon -- 6th Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday (March 25, 2018)

MARK 11:1-10

HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID.

In the name + of Jesus.

     It is common for people to long for the good ol' days.  Society was nicer.  People were happier.  The weather was better.  The food was healthier.  And money purchased more than it does now.  Even people in the Church long for the good ol' days.  We long for the days when there were not so many divisions in the church, when the Gospel was boldly preached and people were converted to the Christian faith in mass numbers.  We long for the days when the Church's leaders were neither corrupt nor immoral, and when the Church did not have to contend with hypocrites or heretics. 
     There are two problems with longing for the good ol' days.  First, it is pointless to pine for days that are gone.  You can't bring them back.  Besides, the Lord has been pleased to have you alive here and now.  These are the days you live in—both to enjoy the good things, because there are always good things, and to endure the bad things, because bad things never go away. 
     The other problem is that the good ol' days never happened, at least not like you think they did.  As time goes by, our minds filter out the hard times and we recall the past being better than it was.  There has never been an era that has been free from problems.  The world has been corrupt since the Garden of Eden, producing thorns and thistles in the lives of all people.  Sometimes those thorns poked harder and the thistles scratched deeper than others, but they have never been rooted out of this world, not even in the good ol' days.  Nor has the Church known some golden age when everything was right.  It has always had to struggle and to battle.  It has always been the Church Militant.  Sin has affected every part of life, and the calendar year has not made a difference.
     When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people cheered his arrival because they longed for the good ol' days.  Part of their enthusiasm was because of the miraculous signs Jesus had done.  But the cries of the crowd give us the main reason for their cheers.  Many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.  And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:8-10)  
     “Hosanna to the Son of David!” was the cry on Palm Sunday.  The Israelites longed for the good ol' days of King David.  Even though they had not seen those days, they knew the stories.  David was the king who established Israel as a major player on the world scene.  David was a great warrior who had conquered the enemies around Israel and held them in subjection.  Once those nations were conquered, Israel dwelt in peace.  Under King David, Israel enjoyed a period of prosperity and prestige.  The people in Jesus' day were eager “the coming kingdom of our father David,” (Mark 11:10)  They wanted to have the good ol' days back.
     They also remembered a promise.  This is what the Lord had said to David through the prophet Nathan: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)  It was as if the Lord had guaranteed that the good ol' days would not only come back, but that once they did, they would last forever.  Therefore, the people greeted Jesus by laying down their garments on the path so that his mount would not touch the ground.  They waved their palm branches in victory.  And they shouted and sang: “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)  
     Hosanna to the Son of David!  “Hosanna!” means, “Lord, save us!”  It is certainly an appropriate prayer, and it is certainly directed to the right one.  For, the name “Yeshua” means, “The Lord saves.”  It is Jesus' name.  It is Jesus' identity.  And it is Jesus' purpose for coming.  He is the Lord who saves.  But the question is this: Saved from what?  The people who greeted Jesus uttered the right prayer to the right person, but many of them longed to be saved from the wrong things. 
     Are your prayers like theirs?  Do you long for the good ol' days because you have somehow convinced yourself that life was better then, and you want to have the better life now?  Are your greatest concerns that money is tight, or that you have doubts about your health, your safety, and your future?  While it is good to bring those concerns to the Lord in prayer, they are not your greatest problem.  Whoever has had money, health, comfort, and security has not escaped death.  Those things won't save you.  Heaven and hell are not determined by money, health, safety, or ease.  These do, however, reveal what matters to our hearts.  Repent.  The only thing that damns you is that long for these things more than Christ.  Outside of Christ and his kingdom there is only sin, death, and damnation.  That is what we need to be saved from. 
     Therefore we cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  Jesus does not come to bring some nostalgic reproduction of the good ol' days where things will be happy for a while.  The Son of David has come to establish an everlasting kingdom.  He has come to take your sin and guilt away from you so that you will not be condemned because of your love for money, because you trust in safety and security, or because you fear a loss of health.  That is why when Jesus entered Jerusalem to establish his kingdom, he did not overthrown the governments of King Herod or Pontius Pilate.  He did not hand out money or magic elixirs to cure every ill.  Jesus came to suffer and to be slain.  Jesus made himself the sin offering which puts an end to your sin.  By setting you free from your sin, Jesus delivers you into his kingdom in which you receive forgiveness of sins and salvation.  Forgiveness delivers you from every curse of sin.  And salvation will finally deliver you into a heavenly kingdom forever free from all worry, pain, or struggle.
     Hosanna to the Son of David!  Jesus is the Lord who saves you and brings you into his kingdom of grace, and will deliver you into the kingdom of heavenly glory.  And to strengthen and keep you in the true faith until that day, Jesus answers your songs of Hosanna by coming to you in bread and wine to deliver the gifts of his kingdom to you already now.  Hosanna to the Son of David!  He takes the throne of David and lives and reigns over a kingdom that endures forever. 
     When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the crowds greeted him by waving palms in a procession of victory.  They had hoped to see the good ol' days return to Israel.    But Jesus brings a much better kingdom and a much more enduring glory.  St. John caught a glimpse of that glory in his Revelation.  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)  Those in heaven don't worry about money or health or crime or pain or sorrow.  They are totally focused on Jesus who is the source of all good things.  He is the Lord who saves and who makes all things well.  Therefore, the Church today is totally focused on Jesus, and for the same reason.  The victorious waving of palm branches is not a nostalgic memory of better days.  This is a taste of the days to come—the glorious kingdom where it is everlasting day.  It is the final answer to our prayer, “Hosanna!”  And it is the kingdom our Lord gives to us.  For he is our Yeshua.  He is our Lord, and he saves us for our eternal good.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.