Monday, April 16, 2018

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

1 JOHN 1:1 – 2:2


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


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:


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 ( 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

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.


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


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


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.