Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 27, 2014)

                        JOHN 20:19-31 / EZEKIEL 37:1-14

In the name + of Jesus.

Pastor:                        Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Congregation:            He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     In Ezekiel’s vision which we had heard earlier, the Lord demonstrated the curse of sin and the reality of death in all their ugliness.  The Lord had put Ezekiel in the middle of a valley of bones.  What had once been a population of vibrant and energetic people was now reduced to skeletons upon skeletons.  And the Lord asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3)  Ezekiel deferred to the Lord and answered, “O Lord God, you know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)
     The Lord assured Ezekiel: These bones will live!  The Lord himself would impart life back to them.  The Lord would raise up their bodies from their graves fully intact—revived, rejuvenated, and renewed with sinews and flesh and skin.  The Lord would restore them to living, breathing, vibrant, and energetic beings again.  The Lord would restore them to their own homeland.  Three times, the Lord followed up these promises by saying, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:6,13,14)  This is how the Lord reveals himself.  He is the God who delivers from exile and despair, from death and the grave.  He is the one who gives life, and who gives life back and restores all good things to you.  This is how you know he is the LORD: These bones will live. 
     This is your hope at the funeral of everyone who dies in the faith, and it is your hope has you face your own impending death as well.  You know that your body has a future like the dry bones Ezekiel saw.  Ezekiel himself has joined those dry bones he had seen in the valley.  For, everyone will die.  That is the price of your sins. 
     That is not what God had made man for, however.  God had not made man to die.  Man was not designed to have the soul separate from the body.  Man was not designed to have his flesh fail and his skin decay.  Man was not created to be dry bones.  But then again, neither was man created to look at a girl and scheme how he might have his way with her.  Neither was man created for lying to his employer so that he can get paid for work that he did not do.  God did not create man to abuse the gifts he has given so that he is a glutton, gets drunk, or becomes an addict.  God did not create people to cheat, to use, or to curse each other.  And God certainly did not create us to pit our wisdom and our desires against his.  But we have surely done these things.  Sin is rebellion against the Lord of Life.  Sin, therefore, can only lead to death.  Since we have sinned, we certainly deserve the death we have coming. 
     Ezekiel wrote: The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. (Ezekiel 37:1)  Though the scene was horrible, it is no horror movie.  The Lord does not tell us anything for the sake of shock value.  He tells us plainly the way things are.  And if we would be cast off and cursed for our sins, it is because that is what sins deserve.  The wages of sin is death.  There is no sugar coating that.
     The Lord tells us the way things are, plain and simple.  The Lord had told the disciples the way things would be when he made that journey into Jerusalem.  He was going to suffer and die and be raised on the third day.  Jesus’ sufferings and death were to redeem those who had been cut off because of their sins.  Jesus went into death for you.  He bore the curse in your place.  Your flesh and blood and bone Savior went to the grave for you, and he conquered the grave for you.  Jesus rose before his body saw any decay—still as your flesh and blood and bone Savior.  His resurrection is not to some mystical, spiritual realm.  Jesus arose as God intends man to be.  He is body and soul.  He is righteous, innocent, and blessed.  And he lives and reigns forever.
     The disciple Thomas doubted it.  Thomas knew what death was.  He knew what laying someone to rest in a grave meant.  People don’t come back from death, and certainly not from a brutal and bloody crucifixion.  One week after he had risen and appeared to the other apostles, Jesus appeared also to Thomas.  He invited Thomas to inspect his body and his wounds.  It was not the spirit of Jesus which lives.  It is not the teaching of Jesus which lives.  It is Jesus who lives.  God, who had become man and had taken his place with us, took our place in death.  This man has conquered death, and he assures you that you, who are man, shall arise too.  All who believe in him and are baptized into his name are united with Jesus and will have this victory with him.  These bones will live!
     The Lord told Ezekiel that death is not the end for those who are the true Israel, the Church of God.  Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14) 
     These bones shall live!  Jesus not only tells you that you will live, but he tells you how.  Life was given and restored to these dead by the Lord’s prophet preaching the word of the Lord.  As Ezekiel prophesied, the Holy Spirit went forth with the word of God.  In this way, the Lord and Giver of life gave life to those who were dead.  The blessings of Jesus were given as the words of Jesus were preached.  And this is no mere spiritual condition.  God has not created you to be mere spirits.  He has created you to be body and soul people who live in peace and joy before him forever.  He has created you to be joyful in serving one another and seeking each other’s good.  He has made you to partake in the blessing of the family of God’s household, and he tells you to go out and confess his name before others so that others may partake with you in this peace and joy and victory.  Though you may complain of hurting bones and bodies and hearts, you have a Savior who grants complete healing.  These hearts are soothed.  These bodies shall be raised.  These bones shall live.
     Jesus even has enjoy this blessing already.  The Holy Spirit that gave life to the dry bones when Ezekiel preached is the same Holy Spirit that comes to save and to heal you.  Jesus said to them 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… (John 20:21-23)  When you are absolved of your sins by the Lord’s ministers, the Lord forgives your sins and bestows his salvation on you.  He takes away your guilt and soothes your conscience.  He tells you that you are no rebel, but his redeemed.  This is the first resurrection in which the Lord grants you new life.  “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in this first resurrection!  Over such the second death has no power….” (Revelation 20:6) 
     Eternal death and hell cannot touch you.  Though you shall sleep for a while in the dust of death, you shall be awakened by Jesus.  He shall summon you from your graves, and these bones shall live.  You shall be raised to everlasting life.  You shall be exactly what God had always intended you to be—a glorious body and soul person and a permanent resident in the house of God.  All this [Jesus] did that you should be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.  This is most certainly true. (Luther’s Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed: 2nd Article)

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

Road Trip -- Cincinnati

The kids' Spring Breaks have been scattered all over March and April, but I wasn't able to get a breather until after Easter.  Caleb, Philip, and Peter were off all this week, and obviously Laura too.  Laura and I were itching to get out of town, so off we went ... to Cincinnati.

We were there 2 years ago and didn't get to Union Terminal, an old railroad terminal that, thankfully, was not destroyed as soon as its use had ended.  The very appearance of the building demands that it be visited.  It now houses several museums.  We spent all of Wednesday there.

Some photos....

The next day, we went to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky.  I have to say that they did a nice job with the museum.  It was, more or less, exactly what I had expected it would be--neither overwhelming nor underwhelming to me.  Would I recommend it?  As much as I would recommend most museums.  Then again, I am just not as enamored with dinosaurs as many other people are.  Some photos.....

Adam names the animals

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A bonus sermon

A bonus sermon for Good Friday.  Brilliant!
From Rev. William Weedon.

Sermon -- Easter Day (April 20, 2014)

MARK 16:1-8

In the name + of Jesus.

Pastor:                        Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Congregation:            He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     It began as a dark, miserable, cheerless morning.  The women began their day, already in the grey of the morning, taking a walk to a grave.  They were not up to plant flowers or to sing songs, but to pay homage to a corpse and to weep.
     It was no better for Jesus’ disciples.  They had scattered.  They were hiding from temple guards, from Pharisees and scribes, and from the priests.  It was no secret that these eleven had been Jesus’ disciples.  If the Sanhedrin managed to kill Jesus, would they be rounded up next?  But there was another dark cloud that hung over the eleven.  Each one was bearing his own burden of guilt.  Where was all that big talk now of standing firm with Jesus, even being willing to die with him if they must?  And Peter had it worst of all.  He was the first to shoot off his mouth about his allegiance to Jesus.  But later, when asked if he were Jesus’ disciple, Peter shot off his mouth to save his life.  He denied that he had any part with Jesus.
     They all knew that Jesus had been crucified.  They heard the reports.  John could verify it; for he had stood beneath Jesus’ cross.  Their rabbi, their Lord, their Messiah was dead and buried.  They stone was rolled in front of the tomb on Friday.  On Saturday, they all observed their Sabbath rest, but their hearts were never at rest that day.  They were plagued by fear and grief, guilt and sorrow. 
     You have also known your share of fear and grief, guilt and sorrow.  You have known the grief of burying a loved one.  You have known the sorrow of a relationship fractured, if not by death, then by some squabble.  You have known the guilt of some horrible, regrettable deed you did or word you said.  And all the “I’m sorry”s in the world could not take away the deed or the guilt.  And you have known the fear that grips your heart when you ponder all of the uncertainties in your life.  And worse—the fear of the one thing that is certain: you are going to die.
     But now, Easter changes all of that.  The women were on their way to the tomb.  They wondered how they could roll back that large, disc-shaped stone from the tomb.  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:4-7) 
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  And this changes everything.  It changes everything for the women who were grieving the loss of their beloved friend, rabbi, and Messiah.  As they ran from the grave in fear and bewilderment, their Savior appeared to them on their way back to the city.  They immediately fell to worship him and grabbed on to his feet; for they did not want to lose him again.  But they could not possibly lose Jesus again.  He has risen!  Death cannot claim Jesus again.  On the contrary, it is Jesus who has claimed death!  He has conquered the grave and he now has authority over it! 
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen.  Go and tell those who grieve the loss of a loved one who has died in the Christian faith.  Though they grieve, they do not grieve like people who have no hope.  Our hope remains no matter how tragic the death.  Though we may have to lay someone to rest in a grave, we know that that grave holds no fears.  Jesus has left death lying in the dust, and he gives life and immortality to all who have been baptized into his name.  When you depart this world, your soul does not die, but you go to be with your living Savior.  Your loved ones may be unseen, but they are not dead.  On the contrary, those who rest in Christ are the unseen guests with us at Holy Communion.  For, this is the communion of all the saints who partake in the heavenly feast and who hope in the resurrection of the dead.   Just as Jesus rose from his grave, so you too shall rise from your graves to life everlasting.  Now it is your fears which have been laid to rest.  Death is done.  Jesus lives, and he turns weeping into joy.
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen.  The disciples were not at the tomb to see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises.  They had scattered and were in hiding.  No doubt, they mulled over the last week’s events.  And every replaying of Holy Week inflicted more guilt, more “I could have done more”, and more “I have failed my Lord.”  But Easter changes everything.  The angel at the tomb told the women: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter….” (Mark 16:6,7) 
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  Go and tell those who are burdened by guilt that their guilt has been atoned for.  Go and tell those who were derelict in their duties that their sins are forgiven.  Go and tell those who failed their Lord that he has not failed them.  He has taken your sin and guilt and laid down his life to pay for them.  He has taken your shame and your regret and has poured his blood upon them.  You have been covered in Jesus’ blood—purified of all unrighteousness and reconciled to God the Father.  Your Lord does not put you on some kind of probation period to see if you can do better this time.  No, your guilt is pardoned. 
     And if you think you have been too wicked, too fickle, too lazy, or too worldly, then hear the words of the angel again. “He has risen! …Go, tell his disciples and Peter….” (Mark 16:6,7)  Peter, who had denied his Lord, was singled out by the angel.  Yes, go and tell Peter: Your sorrow over your sin is good.  You are right to repent for your sins—for they are evil.  But it is not you sorrow that saves you.  Your sorrow will only lead to self-loathing and despair.  But now Jesus has risen!  Your sins were not too big and your evil too bad for Jesus.  He bled and died to atone for the worst of sinners.  He takes away the heaviest guilt.  Jesus was neither wicked nor fickle nor lazy nor worldly.  Jesus saves you from these things by taking them into death for you.  But now Jesus has risen!  Your sins are gone; but Jesus lives.  And he lives to deliver to you peace and pardon.  Do not doubt him; for his word stands.  Do not worry if you don’t feel forgiven; Jesus says you are, and his words are not based on your feelings.  His word stands because Jesus stands victorious over sin, death, hell, and Satan.
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  He lives to put an end to all grief and guilt, fear and sorrow.  In place of these, Jesus gives you forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  If he forgives your sins, then there is no fear of death or judgment.  If he grants you new life, then you are already set apart as one of God’s own.  You are free from a life that is ruled by fear and grief, guilt and sorrow.  You are free from a life of malice and wickedness which lead to death.  You strive for what is good and decent for the glory of God and for the good of your fellowman.  New life in Christ cannot mean cheating and using and despising people, but loving, serving, and helping them.  This is how Jesus displayed God’s love to you, and this is how you show God’s love to others.  If Jesus grants you salvation, that means he will make all things new again.  At the resurrection of all the dead, Jesus will raise you from your grave with a body that is holy, glorious, incorruptible, and imperishable.  You will receive a place in the new creation, the home of righteousness, where there are no fears or sorrows, no grief or guilt, no pain, no problems, and never a dark, miserable, cheerless moment again.
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  Easter changes everything.  Jesus reconciles you with God the Father, relieves you of all fear, remits all your sins, restores you to life, and will raise you from the grave to everlasting holiness, perfection, peace, and joy.  Go and tell: Jesus is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

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

Sermon -- Easter Dawn (April 20, 2014)

Within the cross, you will notice the
Greek word, NIKA, which means victory.

In the name + of Jesus.

     God is good.   He is also the giver of all that is good.  When God had completed the creation of the world, God assessed all that he had created, and it was very good.
     Even after sin had entered the world through Adam, God was good.  He was still the giver of all that is good.  He had promised the man and the woman that he would send a Savior to save all mankind from death and from the curse of sin.  And if this Savior would take away the curse of sin, he would even restore the goodness back to God’s good creation.  God would make a new creation, and once again, everything would be very good.
     But man loved his sins too much.  Sin had taken hold of the hearts of all mankind, and man no longer was interested in fighting against his sinful inclinations.  The intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)  Man could not obey God, but neither did he want to.  So the Lord was grieved that he had made man.  The Lord determined to destroy the world.  He would send a flood which would scrub the entire world clean.  He would wipe out all the wicked from the face of the earth. 
     But the Lord had made a promise.  His Savior would still come to make all things right, to remove the curse of sin, and to conquer death so that death would no longer reign.  Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  The Lord commanded Noah to build an ark.  The ark would hold Noah, his family, and pairs of each kind of animal to repopulate the earth when the flood was over.  It would be a new creation, of sorts.
     Unlike much of mankind in those days, Noah listened to the word of the Lord.  Noah believed God and built the ark.  Then Noah and his family, with all the animals which God had sent, entered the ark.  And the flood waters came.
     The entire earth was re-formed, scrubbed clean.  All mankind and all animals—everything that had the breath of life in it—perished in the flood.  Only Noah and his family and the animals with him—only those which were in the ark—were delivered from death and destruction.
     St. Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ Jesus…” (1 Peter 3:21)  It is baptism which unites you to the death and resurrection of Jesus so that you are saved.  He united you to the crucifixion of Jesus and put you to death.  For, in baptism, the Lord wiped out the sin which condemns you.  Your sin was killed off so that it no longer claims you, condemns you, or controls you.  Rather, your Lord has made you a new creation with a clean heart and a right spirit.  You have been set apart as God’s chosen one to live as God’s beloved child, now and forever.
     The Flood waters which destroyed what was wicked also saved.  Those waters lifted up the ark above all the death and destruction so that those who were in it were saved.  In the same way, you have been delivered into the ark of the Holy Church where you are now safe.  You are lifted above the death, destruction, and judgment that is due to fall upon this world for its continued wickedness—for man has not learned his lesson and still will not repent.  But you have been rescued, saved by your baptism.  You have been crucified with Christ and put to death in the water of baptism, and you have been raised up a new and righteous person just as Jesus was raised up from the dead.  And daily, the Lord continues the cycle in you.  The Lord daily works repentance in your heart so that you continue to drown your sins in your baptismal waters.  And daily the Lord raises you up, as if back from the dead, to renew you in your status as saint and in your life as saintly people.  And so you are God’s people, now and forever.
     God is good.  God is the giver of all that is good.  He was faithful in sending the Savior who was crucified and has risen to bring you forgiveness for your sins and deliverance from death and destruction.  He was gracious in uniting you with Jesus so that you are a new creation.  He blessed you by bringing you in the ark of the Holy Church where you will be saved from all death and destruction.  Baptism saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He is risen indeed, and so you are saved indeed.  Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sermon -- Good Friday (April 18, 2014)

Our Good Friday service, the second portion of the Triduum, focused on the seven words from the cross.  The following homily followed the seventh word.

THE SEVENTH WORD — Luke 23:33-46
            For us men and for our salvation, (he) came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried. (Nicene Creed, TLH p 22)
            Our Creed confesses why Jesus came and what Jesus did.  We confess what happened, just as the Apostles declare.  Jesus accomplished it just as he had learned it, just as the Prophets foretold.
            Jesus did not have his life taken from him.  He laid it down of his own accord.  He had accomplished his work.  He had completed his mission.  And finally, he surrendered his spirit.
            With his last breath, Jesus again recited his Psalms: “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5)
            In his final word, Jesus does not address “God,” but his “Father.”  Jesus is a faithful son who had completed his assigned task; therefore, he presented himself to his Father and submitted his work certain of his Father’s good pleasure.  Jesus willingly put himself into his Father’s hands.  He willingly gave himself into death.  He confidently awaited his resurrection.
            Now you also are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)  Therefore, you, like the Son of God, can face death with equal comfort and confidence.  The God who gave you life has also secured your eternal life.  The Savior who conquered death remains your Savior even when death comes to you.  There is nothing to fear.  You can go into death as a beloved child who has completed the task God has given you to do.  You can commend your body and soul and all things to your Father, confident that he approves of you and loves you as his own child; for, that is what you are.  You can lay down confidently awaiting your resurrection.  Death is but a sleep for you, and your Lord will awaken you from it.
            So, when your last hour comes, you can recite your Psalms as Jesus did: In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8) “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5)

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (April 17, 2014)

JOHN 13:1-15,34

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus had told his disciples that he would be going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise.  They did not get it, not entirely.  They did not seem to grasp the rising from the dead part, as their fears on Easter Sunday testified.  Nor did they seem to understand why he had to die.  But they did get that he was going to die soon.  Now, if the rabbi dies, who takes over?  They had twelve candidates in mind.  Who would be Jesus’ successor?  For this reason, a dispute arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22:24)  And so, Jesus was not done teaching.
     It was standard etiquette at gatherings to have one’s feet washed.  It was a filthy, lowly job.  It was humbling for a person to have to scrub the layers of dirt, sweat, and stink off of each guest’s feet.  For that reason, it was given to the least slave in the household. 
     While Jesus’ disciples were debating amongst themselves who would be the greatest, and perhaps who would be Jesus’ successor, Jesus rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5)  The rabbi, the teacher—the Lord!—was the lowliest slave who got down to deal with the stench of his disciples’ feet.
     Simon Peter was offended by Jesus’ actions.  Peter would not allow his Lord to lower himself for his sake.  “Lord, do you wash MY feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:6-8, emphasis reflects the Greek)  Peter did not get this, either.  If you will have any place in the kingdom of God, if you are to have any hope of everlasting life and joy, there is no other way than through Jesus.  There is no one else who cleanses.  Peter was certain that he could hold his own.  He would not allow Jesus to go through any dishonor for his sake.  But here it is: Unless Jesus lowers himself for you, unless Jesus endures shame for you, unless Jesus is the lowliest slave for you, then you have no part with him.  Then there is no forgiveness, no salvation, no peace.  But Jesus does take the lowest place.  He becomes the lowliest slave.  This is what Jesus means when he sais, “As I have loved you….”
     The disciples had been arguing about who would be greatest.  You know how we assess greatness.  Greatness is the CEO who sets company policy.  Greatness is the military commander to orders other men to go into battle and die.  Greatness is the senator who makes the laws, or the judge who punishes the lawbreaker.  Greatness is even the spouse who wins the argument and puts the other one in his or her place.  Chances are you despise the one who has such power and authority.  Why?  Because YOU want to be the one who calls the shots.  You want things run your way, at your direction, and without anyone questioning your choices or motives or production.  We all want to be God, and we all want other people to agree that we are.
     But our Lord does not allow for other gods in his universe.  He does not even allow for gentlemanly disagreements with his commandments.  You are not permitted to love yourself above any others.  There is no excuse for having that debate within yourself why you are, or should be, greater than others.  It is both selfishness and idolatry.  Repent.
     When (Jesus) had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:12-15,34) 
     Jesus commands that we love, “As I have loved you….”  Jesus’ love his seen in how he gave himself completely for us.  He willingly lowered himself to the lowest place.  He submitted to the shameful death of crucifixion so that we would not perish in our sins.  He suffered as the worst of sinners—in fact as the only sinner, for he took the sins of the world upon himself—so that we would be reconciled to God the Father.  Jesus’ interest was not how great he would be, but that we would be redeemed from sin and death, and that we would be restored to the kingdom of God, and that we would have the hope of everlasting life.  Therefore, he gave his body into death.  He shed his blood as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  “As I have loved you,” he said, “you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
     Jesus had given the new command.  He orders you to give yourself up for the sake of your neighbor, to seek his well-being and to strive for his eternal good.  Jesus tells you to humble yourself for the sake of your fellow man, whether friend or foe.  There is no room here for establishing your greatness, for demanding your respect, or for boasting of your service.  The lowliest of slaves had nothing to brag about when he washed feet.  He was only faithful if the feet were clean when his task was complete.  Likewise, when you have served your fellow man at what God has given you to do—whether at work, at home, in the community, or at church—your confession is that you are only an unworthy servant; you have only done your duty.
     But as it is with all commandments, Jesus’ words and example only show us how we fall short.  For, we do not live up to Jesus in either actions or attitudes.  We resent our fellow man because he needs to be served at all.  We despise our fellow man when he does not praise us.  We still argue for our greatness.  We do not love according to Jesus’ words: “As I have loved you….”
     That is why the Church is not saved or sustained by a new commandment, but rather by a new testament.  On the night Jesus was showing the disciples the full extent of his love, he poured it out in the sacred meal.  The body and blood Jesus would give into death for the forgiveness of their sins, he would give them that night—the fulfillment of the Passover.  The body of the Lamb which was slain on their behalf would be given to them for their highest good.  The blood of the Lamb would be given to them so that they would be marked and death would have to pass over them.  Jesus would consume death for them, and they would consume the body and blood of the new testament to be delivered from death.  “As I have loved you,” Jesus said.  Jesus loved them to death, and that meant their eternal life.
     And so it is for you.  From this altar, you partake in the new testament in Jesus’ blood.  This is what marks you as children of God and heirs of everlasting life.  This is what fills you with a love for your fellow man so that you would even consider loving him as Jesus has loved you and forgiving him as Jesus has forgiven you.  So you strive to live up to the new command, for your neighbor needs your love and mercy, your patience and your prayers.  But remember: Your life comes to you only in the new covenant.  This is the lifeblood of the Church.  This is what covers you in Jesus’ love, in Jesus’ righteousness, and in Jesus’ mercy.  For, he loves you to death.  As we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  As we eat this bread and drink this cup, Jesus supplies the Church’s life.  For, here, the Lord’s love is given in visible, tangible form.  Here, forgiveness is consumed.  And here, the greatness of the Lord is yours.

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

                The enormous significance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection has always been the central focus of Christian worship.  Prior to the fourth century, Easter Day itself included all three emphases, but thereafter they were distributed over three days of special observance, which Augustine called “the most holy Triduum of the crucified, buried, and risen Lord.”  These days have long been understood as the climax of the Church’s year.
                Since the last half of the 20th century, Lutherans have been rediscovering the richness of the ancient Triduum (pronounced TRIH-doo-um) and adapting the traditional services associated with it for use in Evangelical-Lutheran worship.  In keeping with their origins, the Triduum services are closely connected with one another.   We observe the Triduum as a single service that extends over the “three holy days.”

                 The theme of Maundy Thursday, best expressed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. John, is the novum mandatum or “new command” of Jesus that his disciples “love one another.”  The institution of the Lord’s Supper sets forth the depth of Jesus’ love and gives power to the Church to live out his command.  For the Triduum, Maundy Thursday marks the end of Lent proper.  The service begins with the sermon and an exhortation regarding the end of Lent.  This unusual arrangement allows the minister to explain the meaning of the Sacrament and the liturgical actions that are to take place so that they may proceed uninterruptedly and vividly from this evening through Good Friday to the Easter Vigil.  The action of ceremonially stripping the altar prepares the chancel and the congregation for Good Friday.

                As the middle service of the Triduum, Good Friday is prepared for by Maundy Thursday.  In turn, it leads into the Easter Vigil.  The absence of a benediction the previous evening and again on Good Friday underscores the connectedness of the Triduum service.  Good Friday is not a “funeral” for Jesus, but an austere celebration of the Lamb and his sacrifice.  The bare altar, symbolic of Christ, is the focus along with a large, rough finished wood cross. 
                The Service of the Seven Words is a service that reviews the seven times in which Jesus spoke at his crucifixion.  Each reading is interspersed with silence for meditation, prayers, and hymns.  The Service of the Seven Words is intended as the primary Good Friday service and his historically been observed sometime during the “hours of the cross,” between noon and three o’clock.  It may also be used in place of the Service of Darkness (Tenebrae) as an evening service, as is the case at Good Shepherd.

                The climax of the Triduum comes in the Vigil of Easter, a service of watching and waiting which utilizes prayer, Scripture, and hymns.  The Vigil is composed of four parts.
I.                     The Service of Light focuses on the Paschal Candle, the representation of the unconquered life of
       II.                   The Service of Lessons uses Old Testament texts that foreshadowed our deliverance and rescue by
III.                 The Service of Holy Baptism emphasizes our baptismal connection to the crucified and risen Christ.
IV.                The Service of Holy Communion proclaims the risen Savior and our blessed reconciliation to God.
                In the ancient Church, the Vigil began on Saturday and continued through to Easter Dawn.  It was at dawn that the cry rang out: “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  We honor the spirit of the Vigil, beginning our Easter Vigil at an early hour on Easter Sunday.  With the service of Easter Dawn, we conclude the Triduum.  Our Festival celebration is held at our regular hour of Divine Service, at 10:00 AM.

May the Lord bless us as we observe these “three holy days,” the Triduum.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week -- A Preview of the Hymns

We are just days away from the highest high point of the Christian Church year, the Triduum, that is, the Three Days, and Easter Sunday.  The Three Days are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  Usually, the Easter Vigil is observed late on Saturday.  At Good Shepherd, we transfer it to Easter Dawn.  At 10:00 AM on Easter Sunday, we will have our Easter Festival Service.

While there is much at which to wonder and on which to ponder in all of these services, this entry is a preview of some the hymns we will be singing over these days of Holy Week.  With so many hymns making the good confession, it was hard to have to limit them.

Come and join in the Church's song to our gracious Redeemer.  A sampling of the hymns we will be singing follows...

MAUNDY THURSDAY (April 17, 7:00 PM)
He blotted out with his own blood
   The judgment that against us stood;
He full atonement for us made,
   And all our debt he fully paid.

His Word proclaims and we believe
   That in this supper we receive
His very body, as he said,
   His very blood for sinners shed.  (The Death of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, CW 135:2,4)

Thou hast borne the smiting only
   That my wounds might all be whole;
      Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,
         Rest to give my weary soul;
Yea, the curse of God enduring,
   Blessing unto me securing.
      Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
         Dearest Jesus, unto thee. (Christ, the Life of All the Living, CW 114:3)

GOOD FRIDAY (April 18, 7:00 PM)
Lord, be my consolation
   My shield when I must die;
Remind me of your passion
   When my last hour draws nigh.
My eyes will then behold you,
   Upon your cross will dwell;
My heart will then enfold you--
   Who dies in faith dies well.  (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, CW 105:7)

In perfect love he dies; For me he dies, for me!
   O all-atoning sacrifice, You died to make me free!

In ev'ry time of need, Before the judgment throne,
   Your works, O Lamb of God, I'll plead, Your merits, not my own.
                                                  (Oh, Perfect Life of Love, CW 138:5,6)

EASTER VIGIL (April 20, 7:30 AM)
Death's mightiest pow'rs have done their worst,
   And Jesus has his foes dispersed;
      Let shouts of praise and joy outburst.  Alleluia! (The Strife is O'er, the Battle Done, CW 148:2)

All who believe and are baptized Shall see the Lord's salvation;
   Baptized into the death of Christ, They are a new creation.
Through Christ's redemption they shall stand
   Among the glorious, heav'nly band
      Of ev'ry tribe and nation.  (All Who Believe and Are Baptized, CW 299:1)

EASTER FESTIVAL (April 20, 10:00 AM)
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see, Whom God so freely gave us;
   He died on the accursed tree--So strong his love--to save us.
See, his blood now marks our door;
   Faith points to it; death passes o'er,
      And Satan cannot harm us.  Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
                                  (Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands; CWS, 720:3)

The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
   The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan's domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
   For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.

But short was their triumph; the Savior arose,
   And death, hell, ad Satan he vanquished, his foes.
The conquering Lord lifts his banner on high;
   He lives, yes, he lives, and will nevermore die.

Oh, where is your sting, death?  We fear you no more;
   Christ rose, and now open is fair Eden's door.
For all our transgressions his blood does atone.
   Redeemed and forgiven, we now are his own. (He's Risen, He's Risen; CW 143:2-4)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon -- Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014)

MATTHEW 21:1-11 / PSALM 24

In the name + of Jesus.

     Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Jesus came into Jerusalem.  Many had come to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover—to celebrate, to feast, to rejoice.  Jesus had come not to vacation, but in his vocation.  He had come to do work.  It was the work that the Lord had assigned him to do.  The Lord’s work.  In the Lord’s name.
     Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he… (Zechariah 9:9)  And as it was foretold, so it occurred.  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7)  The gates of Jerusalem were opened.  Zion was ready to welcome her king.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, receiving a royal welcome, hearing cries of Hosanna, fulfilling the words of the prophets, and accepting the praises of the people.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9) 
     While Jesus’ welcome was glorious and triumphant, the motives and hopes of the crowd were not entirely pure or consistent.  St. Luke wrote, “The whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.” (Luke 19:37)  Some remembered the miracles; others were in the dark.  When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”  And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)  They weren’t wrong, but they weren’t entirely right, either.  Yes, this was Jesus of Nazareth.  But truly he was more than just a resident of Nazareth, and truly he was more than just a prophet.
     To this day, people do not recognize Jesus.  It is no surprise that, as we arrive at Holy Week, the stories are once again going to print about who Jesus really was.  Apparently, some so-called scholars are even beginning to question again if Jesus were a real person.  And if they will accept that Jesus were a real person, the latest story gaining ground comes from a fragment of parchment which was dated some 800 years after Jesus.  The sentence fragments are apparently supposed to prove that Jesus had a wife.  I guess if you are determined to believe that, you can also make the logic jumps that the sentence fragments force you to make.  Sadly, there will be some who are deceived by such nonsense, but they will have no one to blame but themselves.  The Bible, written by Jesus’ own apostles, tells us all we need to know about Jesus.  And those who learn their Scriptures will not be deceived by such lies. 
     But you ought to take warning that you also do not worship the Jesus of your choosing.  There are many people who like Jesus well enough, just so long as Jesus is who they believe he is, stands for what they say he stands for, and preaches what they want to hear.  That Jesus is very popular, just as he was with the crowds in Jerusalem.  But this Jesus is a false image and a false god.
     Who is the Jesus you want?  Is he the one who grants you permission to do the very things that God condemns because you had some pretty good reasons for doing it?  Many young Christians are eager to start living together—wanting to usurp the blessings of marriage apart from actually being married.  Other Christians knowingly and willingly defraud their clients and customers because it means a larger paycheck.  Still others will defend the perversions of other people and the false teachings of other religions for the sake of diversity and peace.  But, dear Christians, if you do this, do not invoke the name of Jesus because he will not defend these things.  There is no peace for those who practice such things, even if the world will go to war to defend such liberties.  A Jesus who accepts people who love their sins does not exist. 
     Nor does a Jesus exist who ignores your sins.  He does not overlook your greed, your lust, your jealousies, your grudges, your warped sense of fairness, or your stinginess in the time you give to other people.  A god who does not exist will ignore these things.  But such a god is not to be taken seriously.  If God does not keep his own word, then who cares what he thinks?  But this is what the Lord says: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)  The Lord does demand holiness.  The Lord does inspect the heart to see if it is pure.  The Lord does test the mouth to see if it is deceitful.  He does not ignore you; he sees and he knows.  And if you fail the test, you cannot stand before him.  Repent!
     Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  For, Jesus does not ignore your sinful state.  He comes to reveal the Lord’s mercy to you.  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion.  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:7-8) 
     Yes, the Lord has come to Zion, and he came to do battle.  Though he is the Lord of hosts, Jesus fought alone.  Even eleven of his twelve apostles would only be bystanders, mostly in the shadows.  Jesus did not employ them.  They could not help any more than you can.  They were sinners like you.  Like you, they needed to be set free from sins and faults, and failings.  For them and for you, Jesus came.  For them, for you, for all, Jesus came to do battle.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:8)  Though mighty in battle, Jesus won his victory by laying down his life.  He conquered by being slain.  Jesus met the enemy head on so that the enemy turned on Jesus instead of you.  Jesus let sin, death, and Satan have their way with him, doing the worst to him that they could possibly do.  In doing so, they took the bait.  They swallowed up Jesus and hoped to take the entire world along with him.  But Jesus overcame them.  In dying, Jesus absorbed the sting of sin.  He endured its curse so that your sins cannot kill you.  In rising from the grave, Jesus took away the power of death.  Jesus defeated the grave and makes you heirs of the resurrection to eternal life.  In all of it, Jesus crushed Satan underfoot and destroyed his kingdom forever.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:8)  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
     To this day, the Church sings, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  That is because we still need his salvation.  We still partake in the victory.  We do not worship a fabricated Jesus.  Rather, we have our Jesus come to us again in the Holy Supper where we receive the body and blood given into death for our sins.  For, Jesus does not ignore your sins.  Instead, he takes them away.  He acquits you of all your guilt.  He sets you free from a life of sin and shame.  He calls you saints, cleansing your hearts and sanctifying your mouths so that they believe and confess Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord God of hosts, the Savior of the world, and the Redeemer of you.  Therefore, when God tests you, he sees what is clean and pure so that you will stand and dwell in his holy place.  Jesus has saved you and set you apart to live a godly life.  It is a joyous and victorious life that does not have to look for excuses.  It is a life in which God himself calls you blessed, for Jesus has poured out his blessed salvation on you, just as he will do again from this altar.  Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  For, he has come to do the Lord’s work—to deliver sinners from death to life and from shame to joy.  Hosanna in the highest!

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