Cantate—5th Sunday of Easter
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:5-15
April 24, 2016
“Not of This World”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Now to my Father I depart
From earth to heav’n ascending
And heav’nly wisdom to impart
The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you. –Martin Luther (LSB 556, st. 9)
“I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away,” Jesus says. It is to the advantage of the disciples and it is to our advantage. First, because when Jesus goes to the Father He is taking human nature, our nature, to the highest place, to the throne of God. When Jesus does this, it is not for Himself only. He does it so that everyone who shares His nature, human nature, will also sit with Him at the right hand of the Father. When Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, the One who has taken away our sins will be present before the Father continually. When we see our sins and fear God’s wrath, we should remember that our righteousness is before the face of the Father. Jesus is “the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6?). He stands before God as the One who has atoned for our sins and made us righteous before Him. And He stands before the Father and daily speaks to Him on our behalf.
Secondly, when Jesus goes to the Father, He will also send the Helper to dwell in His disciples. He will send His Holy Spirit to live in us. The Helper is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the third person of the Godhead. When creation began, the Helper was “hovering over the waters” (Gen. 1). In the Old Testament, the Helper came upon the prophets and opened their mouth to speak the words of the living God. He dwelt among the people of Israel in the tabernacle and then the temple. When Jesus ascends to God’s throne, He sends this all-powerful Helper to all of His disciples. We become a new creation. We become prophets who know and speak the words of the living God. We become temples in which God lives.
Jesus sends this Helper as a down payment on our future redemption. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the testimony that our sins have been blotted out before God—because the Holy God will not live in an unholy place. The Holy Spirit is also the Helper who will lead us into the truth and bring us where Jesus is.
Jesus is not of this world. That’s why, after appearing for a little while in it, He returned to the Father.
Christians are also not of this world. We live in this world, but we do not belong to it. We look and feel like ordinary people, but we are not. We were not baptized in order to live an ordinary life, where you do what you have to do and enjoy what you can, and then die and hope that God will reward you for your good works. We were baptized into a new life; we died with Christ in Baptism and were raised with Him to live, as He does, in freedom, in the favor of God, in His presence.
But many who are baptized do not live this new life. Some resist the Spirit of God and set their hearts on this world, and the bodies that were baptized to be temples of the Holy Spirit become desolate. This may happen through obvious sins against the ten commandments, when a person does them knowingly, lives in them, and doesn’t repent. Or it may be a hidden sin instead of an obvious moral transgression. They desire honor in the world and seek it instead of the glory of sitting at the right hand of God, to which Jesus calls us. Then the Holy Spirit departs, and wicked spirits enter in, and they become worse than if they had never been baptized. And if they continue to resist the Holy Spirit who convicts them of sin in the preaching of the Word of God, they will perish with the world.
Others of us are like the disciples. We believe in Christ, and yet even while we believe in Him our hearts are weighed down by the desires and cares of this life. The wisdom of the flesh fights against the wisdom of God. And while the Holy Spirit leads us out of this world, we continue to hope for the glory of God to appear for us in this present age. That’s the reason why even true Christians are so often worried, anxious, and fearful when earthly troubles come, or when the Church is rejected, mocked, or threatened.
But dear Christians, you are not of this world. You have been separated from this world and made holy to God by Jesus. He paid for your transgressions and blotted out the record of them with His red blood. You were cleansed from them when You were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then He sent you the Helper, the Holy Spirit. The Helper is the pledge that you are a new creation and a dwelling place for God Himself, that you belong to Christ and your home is where He is, with His Father at the right hand of glory.
Since we are not of this world, we have received the Spirit who is not of this world. He created the world and gave it life. But He does not dwell in those who belong to the world because they are unholy and unclean. They remain in their sins and do not receive the testimony of Jesus, that He alone takes away the sins of the world.
The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the people who belong to the world, but the Holy Spirit still remains in the world and speaks to it. He will do this until the world ends, because it is the will of God that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But the Holy Spirit bears witness to the world through the Church—that is, through you who are baptized into Christ and continue to trust in Him.
We are in the world for the same reason that Jesus was in the world, even though He did not belong to it. He was in the world to bring people to His Father. He did that by dying for our sins and rising from the dead, but also by preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
You are in the world for the same reason. Your home is at the Father’s right hand, with Jesus your Savior, exalted above all the angels. But the same Helper who assures you of that through the preaching of the Gospel also bears witness to the world through you. Through you He confesses the true faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through you He calls men to proclaim the word of Christ, to baptize and administer the Lord’s body and blood. And through you He also speaks to the world and convicts it. He convicts the world that everyone who does not believe in Jesus is dead in sin, that Jesus alone gives righteousness before God, and that the prince of this world, the devil, is condemned along with all who belong to him, and his kingdom is awaiting its final destruction.
This is not a popular message. Who wants to be convicted of sin and damnation? But Jesus’ message was not received well either. The world hated Him. So we should not be surprised if the world hates the witness of the Holy Spirit through us, or simply doesn’t respond to it.
But the Helper does the work. He convicts the world and pierces their hearts with the knowledge that the Word we preach is the truth, even when they resist it. He also strengthens us so that we don’t run away and give up our confession when we receive trouble because of it.
He also remains with us. If we fall into sin, He convicts us until we return with humble repentance and believe in the Gospel that saves us. If we are weak, He sighs to the Father from within us that He would not let us fall. He keeps us in the faith until we come into the glory that Jesus came into after He had suffered a little while—the glory of being seated at the Father’s right hand and reigning with Him. The Helper testifies that that glory is already ours, and that in a little while we and all the world will see it.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday after Misericordias Domini
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 14, 2016
Hirelings and Pastors
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
How many sermons that you’ve heard in your life can you actually remember? I heard lots of sermons and lots of preachers at seminary. I thought some of them were very good preachers, but I can’t remember what any of them said in any of their sermons. In the time I spent thinking about it, I could remember something that was said in about six sermons. Six. Out of however many hundred I’ve heard in my life—and of these I remembered maybe a sentence or a phrase, or even a couple of words.
But as I sat down to write, bits of two sermons immediately came to mind. They were both, I think, from sermons on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
One was from the pastor who confirmed me. I thought very highly of him, but I don’t remember anything he preached, except one time he told an interesting fact about shepherds, which may or may not be true.
He said that when a sheep would wander away too much, the shepherd would break its leg. Then he would carry it around on his shoulders until its leg healed. Then the sheep would grow attached to the shepherd from being carried around on his shoulders for so long and not wander away anymore.
The other sermon I remembered right away—and this one I probably remember better than any of the others I mentioned. It was preached in Marseilles, Illinois sometime in the last ten years.
All I remember was that the preacher said very bluntly to us, “You are the hirelings!”
The preacher was saying we were hirelings because we all, in various ways, run away and seek to save our own lives instead of giving them up for Christ’s holy flock, the Church.
It was interesting to me that both of the sermons I remembered most readily were about Jesus the Good Shepherd, and also that they were preached by men who are no longer in the office of shepherd.
(How I wandered, and Christ carried me on his shoulders. How the pastor’s catechesis stayed with me. And how I found the book he gave me when my conscience was troubled. And the book said:)
Things like this: “Anyone who is troubled on account of his sins is a fool for not promptly taking refuge with Christ and for imagining that his evil conscience is proof that he may not come to God. No, this is what the evil conscience indicates: You should come to Jesus; He will give you a cheerful conscience, causing you to praise God with a joyful heart…For what does it mean that Christ died for you? Accordingly, when you have committed this, that, or the other sin and are perplexed about a way out of your sin, do not try to make a way yourself. Go to Him who alone knows a way—go to Christ.—It is a remarkable statement of Luther, but certainly true, that we are to find peace by wholly despairing of our own works. When a poor sinner regards himself, he does despair; when He looks at Jesus, he is made confident.” (Walther, Law and Gospel, p.111)
Then, one day, talking to my mother about him, she said, “You know what happened to him, right?” I did not. He had been called to another congregation across the country. A few years later he resigned when his adultery became public.
And the preacher of the other sermon on the Good Shepherd and hirelings now lives in another state after resigning his call at his second congregation. He has kids and a wife and, last I heard, no job. In both of his congregations he had made too many enemies; how much he was to blame I can’t say, though whenever a pastor is deposed other pastors usually form opinions. Maybe that’s because we want to assure ourselves that it was really his fault and that it will never happen to us.
Why do I bring these men up—to drag up their pain to make a homiletical flourish?
No. First to testify that the Lord worked through them, whatever may have happened to them later, whatever people say about them now.
Second, to remind myself and you that nobody remembers your preaching, except in very rare cases that have nothing to do with how great a pastor or preacher you are.
Yet you really want them to, don’t you? To remember your sermon, to think you’re a good—shepherd. Just like a hireling, as Pastor Anderson said, or rather, as the Lord said through him? Harsh or not, it was true. Admit it or don’t. I know it’s true of me.
And isn’t that the mark of a hireling? The hireling seeks himself, his reputation, his honor. Yet if the sheep are shepherded through you, it isn’t your skill as a writer or an orator, nor your reputation as a theologian, nor your compassionate, gentle nature, your “pastoral-ness”, nor really anything about you. All the glory belongs to the Good Shepherd, who shepherds his sheep through the office of shepherd. We always say this, but I for one seldom get it.
If our ministry appears successful we may rejoice in what we think we see for the sake of the Good Shepherd and His sheep. And if it appears to fail, we may rightly recognize our sins and failings by which we have deserved to be rejected as unfaithful hirelings. But at the same time we shouldn’t doubt that the Good Shepherd is quite capable of gathering His sheep with shepherds who are weak and who fall into sin. Shepherds who whether deservedly or not, are later removed from the ministry. Even shepherds who on judgment day Christ will reject as hirelings.
This is a great consolation when we think our labor in the Lord is in vain.
But by itself it’s no cause for rejoicing. Balaam’s ass spoke, and God spoke through Balaam. What good did being a prophet do Balaam? Saul prophesied too.
We have all sinned and sought our own profit at the expense of the Good Shepherd’s sheep. Some of you are sanctified men of whom Paul perhaps could say, like he did of Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for [the] welfare [of the Church]” (Phil. 2:20), and not what he said of most other pastors: “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 2:21) Regardless, there are plenty of times when Jesus could have said of you, “He flees” and seeks his own well-being “because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:13)
But Jesus doesn’t say that about you. An honest appraisal of yourself may tell you this: you care for yourself a great deal, but it’s hard to find real, unselfish love for Christ’s sheep in yourself. Wasn’t it the same with St. Peter? Jesus forgave him and sent him to feed His sheep, and then said, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21: 18) We know Peter didn’t want to die on the cross on Thursday night. But even after Jesus rose he still lacked that love for Jesus and His Church. And unless God miraculously expunged all Peter’s self-love sometime before his martyrdom, he went to the upside-down cross with his flesh still desiring something other than the glory of God and the good of Christ’s sheep. Neither you nor I nor Peter can save the sheep from the wolf by our death, but our deaths can benefit the sheep if nothing else in providing an example of faith in Christ.
But the Good Shepherd’s death does save the sheep from the wolf. It saves them because it silences his accusations. Christ does not accuse Peter of being a hireling. All Peter’s unfaithfulness disappears under the red blood of the Good Shepherd. Joseph’s coat of many colors became one color when it was dipped in the ram’s blood—red. Joseph wasn’t dead, but his father thought he was. And so in God’s eyes you look like the Good Shepherd who died and not like the hireling who ran away. What He sees is the blood of His Son in which you were dipped in Baptism.
That blood takes away condemnation from you. You are not condemned for your sins before God. The blood of Jesus speaks for you. Listen to the voice of the blood of the Good Shepherd. It pleads to God for you. You hear it speak in your own voice when you preach the Gospel. It declares you a righteous man, and also a faithful shepherd, not a hireling. If Satan or your conscience disputes that, let them argue with the blood of the Shepherd in which He drenched you in Baptism and which will soon be poured into your throat to cleanse your insides as well as your outsides.
Only faith in this blood of the Shepherd allows us to go on preaching and not despair over our sins or the unthankfulness of the world. We go on preaching and, despite our failures, we go on dying until our dying is perfect.
As long as Jesus sees fit to keep us in this office that is called after the name of the Good Shepherd, the office of pastor, we should rejoice not only that He works through us, but also in us. To believe that when He carried the cross He carried us and that when He died He saved us from the accuser. Not only to preach Him, but to believe in Him, and believing in Him, to die with Him until we are perfect.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
Quasimodogeniti (2nd Sunday of Easter)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 3, 2016
“The Joyful Mission”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It is the evening of the first Easter Sunday. St. John pictures the eleven disciples of Jesus sitting inside a house with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.”
Why were the disciples afraid? It’s simple. Outside was death. Jesus had been murdered days before, and Jesus’ disciples were nowhere near as strong as He.
But then, says John, this miserable handful of scared men begins to rejoice. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-20)
Our flesh might expect the story to end here, happily ever after, with the disciples basking in the peace of God.
But it is not the end of the story.
Jesus doesn’t stop at proclaiming forgiveness of sins and peace with God to His beleaguered disciples in that room. His reign of salvation and life extends to the ends of the earth, to all people and throughout time. “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 20:22-23)
Jesus empowers and sends the disciples to be the risen Christ, so to speak, to the world. They aren’t Him, but they are given His power and authority, so that when they say, “Peace be with you,” it is the peace of the Lord and conqueror of death.
He’s sending them out of those doors that they have locked to try to keep out death. He’s sending them out into the world that killed Him and which will also kill them. But they are no longer to fear death. They are to reign over it.
He’s sending them out to reign with Him as King.
They will go out into the world and exercise Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and to hold sins unforgiven. They will go out into the world like little Lord Christs, and in His name they will forgive some sinners and they will hold some sinners bound in their sins until the day of judgment.
But why would Jesus give this prerogative of God to eleven men who were unable to stand by Him when He suffered?
That is a good question. But it’s not simply a question about the disciples then; it also concerns us, who have been made Jesus’ disciples by Baptism and catechesis.
All Christians are called to reign as little Lord Christs. Every Christian is called to participate in forgiving and retaining sins—by supporting the Church and the ministry of Word and Sacraments, by proclaiming God’s Word to family and neighbors. Every Christian is called to reign with Christ by serving the world with words and deeds. Finally, every Christian is to share the marks of the Lord Jesus’ Christ’s Kingdom; to endure the cross and suffering for the privilege of proclaiming His forgiveness and judgment.
But the question is how Jesus can give you this royal privilege, the authority to “forgive and retain sins”, also known in the Catechism as the office of the keys. You too have proven untrustworthy. You have been embarrassed of Jesus, have run away to save your skin when you should have willingly endured the cross with your Lord.
This is not the way who believe in risen Lord should act. They should not be afraid, but be joyful. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord; they didn’t remember how they were small in number, how their enemies were great and powerful, how death was waiting for them outside the door. They rejoiced when they saw Jesus, because in Him they had peace with God. It was as if they no longer remembered their weakness, their sins, the hostility of the world, or death.
Yet many baptized Christians act as if all they can see is the church’s weakness, the hostility of the world, the pain of the cross, and the power of death. It’s as if Jesus hasn’t risen, conquered death, loosed us from sins, and as if He isn’t present in our midst in flesh and blood.
In other words, they manifest unbelief.
And as a result, by no means are they willing to go outside the locked room and reign with Jesus.
What is this but to live as if Christ is not risen? Hypocritical Christians don’t recognize this. They don’t realize they are called to reign with Christ; they are content to live what they consider virtuous lives in the flesh. They say, “I do enough. I go to church. I’m as good a Christian as anyone can expect. Surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to put my life, reputation, comfort, or standard of living at risk to be a Christian. After all, we’re supposed to be saved by grace apart from works.”
Real Christians, however, are troubled by this failure to follow Jesus out of hiding and self-protection. They recognize that when Jesus gives us peace with God, it’s not an earthly peace. Peace with God means that God exalts us with Christ. We become “a royal priesthood”, as Lutherans are fond of saying—kings and priests together with Jesus. But as kings with Jesus, we go into the world not to be served, but to serve. We proclaim God’s law and His Gospel, we serve our neighbor in every way. But we also endure hostility from the world and the devil. To receive Christ’s blessing, “Peace be with you” by true faith at the same time means to receive His cross. Christians are troubled to recognize all the ways we try to avoid the cross. They are all manifestations of our unbelief in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the world.
And this is another reason why Jesus gave the office of the Keys to the Church. It isn’t simply so that we may forgive and retain the sins of those outside of the visible boundaries of the Church. Jesus gave this authority also for the sake of those within the visible Church, so that those who are baptized and yet struggle to leave the locked room may be loosed of their sins.
When Jesus rose from the dead and proclaimed, “Peace be with you” to His disciples, He was proclaiming not only that they were forgiven, but that they were new creatures. What they saw themselves to be—men who a few days before had fallen away from Christ, who were weak and unworthy to be His disciples—was not who they were anymore. Jesus forgave them everything, and His forgiveness also meant that the old disciples had died and new men had risen in their place.
And when you are absolved of your sins, Jesus frees you from them as well. Their guilt is taken away. But you are also not the person you were before. You live now by His Spirit. Your sins, inscribed on His flesh with nail and spear, died when He lay in the tomb; now that He is risen, the wounds are memorials before God of your priceless worth to Him. The old you has died, nailed to the cross with the Lord, and you now live in Him who died and has been raised again, in Him over whom sin and death have no dominion (Romans 6).
That is what enables us to go out into the world to reign with Him—this appearance by Jesus declaring that His work for our justification is finished.
Yet in the Church so many people seem to be unaware of the fact that in the Divine Service, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in Absolution, Jesus is appearing to us with peace just as in that locked room on the first Easter. This is shown by so many people’s lukewarmness toward His Word and Sacraments. People don’t come to pastors and say, “Show us Jesus.” Generally pastors have to urge people not to despise the Divine Service, Bible Study, and so on. But nowhere is this more evident than in people’s disregard of absolution.
Yes, we’re willing to be absolved in general, as we do in the service. But that’s really not much different than what happens in preaching, except we add a general confession of sins to it. A sainted member of the church once remarked to me that private confession and absolution probably made it seem “more real”. This person never came to private confession but understood that it’s easy to admit in a general way “I’m a sinner” without owning the sins by which we have earned damnation. Similarly, it’s easy to hear “I forgive you all your sins” in the same way—as a general statement about the way God works instead of a personal forgiveness for our personal unfaithfulness. General statements don’t usually provide much comfort.
The reality is that everyone struggles with sin. It’s true that God has already assured us of the forgiveness of sins in the Scripture. Yet it is also true that many people doubt whether that forgiveness applies to them because of the state of their heart. When you reveal your sins in front of the man God has called to speak in His name, and that man forgives your sins with the authority Christ here gives to His Church, it provides comfort and assurance that is greater than your heart.
In private confession and absolution God’s forgiveness spoken in response to the very things that make you feel alienated from God. The absolution says those things are forgiven, and that you are not the person that you see in yourself, who has repeatedly failed Christ and cannot be trusted to reign with Him. You are a new person, raised from the dead to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Private absolution says, “You can speak God’s judgment and grace to the world because you are not the slave of sin you once were. You are released from sin and condemnation; peace be with you.” You are righteous through Christ, and everything He has is yours. You are no longer under the law’s curse; you have been set free from the law, having died to it through the body of Jesus.
Of course, no one is going to force you to confess and receive absolution privately. No one should be forced to receive the gifts of Christ. If our need and the greatness of the gifts don’t compel us to come to hear God’s Word preached, or to baptize our children, or receive the Lord’s Supper, or go to Bible study, or read it at home, or confess and be absolved, external force won’t help. It would be wrong for me, however, not to show you the greatness of Christ’s gifts and remind you of your need.
But mostly I preach this for those who see their need for it and desire the blessing, but who are afraid or ashamed; I preach this to encourage you to come. I cannot invite you as graciously as Jesus invites you; I wish I could. I can tell you that Jesus welcomes sinners and those who are weak in faith. He wants them especially to receive His comfort and pardon. I can tell you that the greater our sins appear to us, the more worthy we are of condemnation, the more graciously Jesus invites us to come to Him. When we come, He will not only forgive us. He will wipe our guilt and shame away entirely. He will make us reign with Him, seat us above the holy angels, make them our servants.
I can tell you that when Jesus showed the disciples His hands and side He didn’t do it simply to show it was Him, nor did He do it to remind them of their sins. It was also an invitation to them to consider how sincerely He loved them and had how completely He had forgiven and put away their sins. The place of the nails and the spear in His body are seals to us that we no longer have anything to fear, but have peace with God that can’t be taken away.
By those same marks Jesus invites and urges us to come to Him so that we may hear Him say, “Peace be with you”. I pray that you will hear His invitation and recognize that when He opens His Word, bestows His Sacraments, and absolves us, He comes into our midst with peace as He came into that locked room. And when He does so He enables us to leave our locked rooms and go forth into the world with His peace to reign with Him.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Soli Deo Gloria