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Shut In. Easter Vigil 2018 Gen. 7:16

March 31, 2018 1 comment

easter vigil.PNGVigil of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Genesis 7:16 (Daniel 7, Gen. 22, Ex. 14)

March 31, 2018

Shut In

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

And the Lord shut him in.  Gen 7:16

 

All the readings for the vigil are ominous except for the first.  Abraham is told to go offer his son as a burnt offering.  Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?”, seeing the knife in his father’s hand.  “The Lord will provide Himself the lamb, my son.”

 

Then at the Red Sea.  Israel is trapped between Pharaoh’s chariots and the deep waters.  They cry out and Moses says to them, “The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to be still.”  Then they have to walk into the sea, with the surging, massive walls of water towering over them on either side.

 

Nebuchadnezzar tells the three young men, “If you are ready to bow down to the god I have made, well and good.  Otherwise you will be thrown into the burning fiery furnace, and what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  They say, “Our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace.  But even if He doesn’t, we will not bow down to your idol.”

 

But Noah has to go into an ark of gopher wood along with 2 of every kind of animal, into a cramped, dark, soon to be foul-smelling box.  It’s probably better than trying to stay outside in the rain.  But Noah doesn’t know how long he will be locked into this tomb with the remnant of God’s creation as His wrath wipes out every living thing from the face of the earth.  And even if God tells you he will bring you out again, who doesn’t feel afraid when asked to go into a dark hole, like a coffin, even if they promise you they will bring you out later?  He has to trust God.  Then Genesis says: The Lord shut him in.

 

Imagine the sound: the ark door slamming shut.  The roar of the blazing furnace when its door is opened.  The sound of Abraham tying the knots that bind Isaac to the altar, the sound of the knife leaving its sheath.  The sound of the roaring wind and waters at the Red Sea as men, women, and children walk in their midst, where no human foot has ever walked.

 

These all have the sound of finality, like the last things the people hearing the may ever hear.

 

Final like the sound of the book slamming shut in the Tenebrae services.  This was the sound the women heard at Jesus’ tomb as Joseph and Nicodemus rolled the great stone in front of the entrance and sealed His body in.  The end.

 

And it was the end.

 

But the one who was sealed into the tomb Himself is the end, and the beginning.  His are time and eternity.  He is the alpha and the omega.  The world’s beginning, in all its goodness, came from his mouth, just as with the cry of His voice it will end.

 

And the sound of His grave shutting was the end of the world that had been before.  It was the end of the wicked, their death-knell.

 

When the ark opened again, God’s enemies, Noah’s enemies were no more.  Israel’s enemies lay on the shore.

 

So when Jesus was sealed into the grave and death.  It was the end of His enemy and ours.  He descended into hell and destroyed our oppressor.  He went down in exaltation with the double-edged sword that comes out of His mouth and ran it through our enemy and oppressor, and the devil’s power seeped out of him like blood on the word that is preached to us, the word of Jesus’ death for our sins.

 

When the book closes on our life, and the door of the ark is shut, and the knots are tied, the knife is raised, the walls of water loom over us, close us in, and we hear the roar of the furnace, it is the end for us—of the vestiges of our slavery, of our unholiness.  We are sailing through the flood and the fire into Jesus’ resurrection.  When we pass through, the fire cannot burn us.  The devil cannot touch a hair on our heads.

 

We aren’t scared when we read about Noah going into the ark or Shadrach and the others going into the furnace because it has already happened and we know the ending.  But it was different for Abraham and Isaac as the old man arranged his son, his only son on the wood.  He had to see past the eyes of his son, looking at him, and see what he could not see, see the lamb that God would provide by faith.

 

So it is for us.  We have seen the lamb whom God provided die, and we have seen Him rise.  But we must also see what we cannot see; see Him opening the door that He has shut on us, with which He has shut us in.

 

We are already in the dark hold of the ark.  We were shut up with Jesus, closed in with Him, buried with Him in Baptism, so that we may rise with Jesus and come out into a broad place, into a new world, as people belonging to that world, who are all brothers of Jesus the righteous.

 

But while you are shut up in the darkness and hear the roaring of the waves, destruction all around you, fear not.  It will not harm you.  The Son of God who is with you in the flame will not allow a hair of your head to be singed.

 

He is the eternal, consuming fire, but He does not burn you.  The light shines quietly on you and gives light, just as the paschal candle gives the light of the fire outside, but we are not burned.  The consuming, eternal fire shines in His flesh, and from the light in Him we have been set alight.

 

All unseen, while all was still dark, He descended into hell in victory and shattered the ancient foe forever.  And now the window of the ark has opened, the stone has been rolled away, and He has risen, bursting open the grave.  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, I am your pestilence, Oh hell, I am your poison.”  They cannot hold you because they cannot hold Him.

 

While you are shut in, He will be your light in the dark, cramped hold, as the flood rages around you.  His hand that shut you in will open it again for us into a new world after we have come with Him through the great deeps, and in Him conquer.

 

Let us gladly die with Jesus.  Since by death He conquered death,

He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath.

Let us mortify all passion That would lead us into sin;

And the grave that shuts us in

Shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus, here with You I die,

There to live with You on high.  (LSB 685 st. 3)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

And Was Buried. Holy Saturday Tenebrae 2018

jesus burial.PNGHoly Saturday Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Matthew 27:57-66

March 31, 2018

..And Was Buried

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are two parts of the Creed that almost never get preached.  “And was buried.  He descended into hell.”  How often are these preached?  Almost never.

 

That’s why we are observing Holy Saturday today.  Because, surely, of all years, this one for us at St. Peter is one where we would benefit from hearing Christ’s burial preached.  And you who are here today are mostly members of the altar guild.  This year two of the altar guild’s saints died and were buried.  Others who we loved and who were pillars of this congregation also died and were buried this year.

 

How do we deal with this?  Apart from Christ, we just do it.  Death is part of life, and you have to go on as best you can, soldier through it.

 

You women on the altar guild have a lot in common with those women who were the only ones left with Jesus when He died on the cross.  The disciples fled.  Only John was left.  But none of them had the authority to bury Jesus.  You could not take someone off the cross and bury them unless Pontius Pilate gave permission, because part of the penalty of crucifixion often was that the person crucified was not buried.  His body was left to become food for the birds and to serve as a warning and an example.

 

So the women watched as two members of the Sanhedrin buried Jesus, wrapping His body in a linen cloth.  But they went home that evening and prepared spices and ointments to anoint His body on Sunday.  They would have to wait, because they still believed that it was against God’s Law for them to give Jesus the common honors of burial on the Sabbath day.

 

But you are like them.  Because it falls to you to make sure the house of Jesus is adorned, treated with honor, treated with dignity.

 

There are no doubt many people who say or think, “What is the point of all the work the altar guild does?  The point is that God’s Word is preached, that we receive Holy Communion.  What does it matter how the linens are arranged, whether there are lilies on Easter, whether there are flowers and candles?  These are all just decorations.”

 

That is what some people said when a woman broke open an alabaster jar of expensive, perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus at the beginning of the week of His death.  “This is a waste.  We could have sold that and given the money to the poor.”

 

And today people say, “What difference does it make whether you bury me after I’m gone?  You can just throw my body in a ditch.  Or just cremate me.  It’s much cheaper.  What’s the point of the ceremony of a funeral?”

 

Perhaps people who say these things would be right if there was no resurrection of the body.  But Jesus rebuked the people who criticized the woman who anointed Him.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She did this to prepare me for burial.”  So Jesus commends her for preparing His body for burial.  It may seem like a waste to us.  After all you don’t need to be perfumed and embalmed to be buried, since your body is going to return to dust regardless.

 

But the people of God hoped for the resurrection of their dead loved ones.  By their actions they said, “These bodies matter, because God will raise them from the dead.”

 

And Christians did a new thing that the Old Testament saints did not.  The Jews typically had tombs, like Joseph of Arimathea—family burial places.  That is what we see throughout the Old Testament.  The kings from David’s house were buried together, but not with everyone else.

 

But from the earliest days of the Church, Christians buried their dead together.  Christians were buried together in cemeteries—which means “sleeping places.”  That’s what the catacombs under Rome were.  Imagine the danger involved in having a Christian burial place when your religion is illegal, and if you are caught practicing it you could quite likely be tortured and finally sent into the arena to be torn apart by lions or bears.  And yet the Christians did it anyway.  And when Christianity became legal, they began to bury the dead Christians in the church yard—around the church.  Even our church has its cemetery, even though it is full and it is a distance from the church.  The old church books call it Gottesacker—“God’s Acre.”

 

Why did the Christians for so long think that God needed an acre in which to put the bodies of dead Christians together?

 

Because, as St. Paul says, 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

 

If we were not Christians, we would die alone and to ourselves, just as we also live for ourselves alone.

 

But we live and we die in Christ, who lived and died for us, in us, so to speak.  In our life, in our humanity.  He entered into our sin and wretchedness and died in it.  That is why the women had to watch Jesus suffer and die on the cross.

 

And He also entered into the grave.  He entered the grave that human beings began digging and placing their dead in.  And human beings began doing this—Adam and Eve did it with Abel, no doubt, and Seth did it with Adam and Eve—because they believed God’s promise, given long ago, that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head.

 

A son of a woman would destroy Satan’s power, would destroy sin.  And having destroyed sin He would also destroy death and conquer the grave.

 

So Jesus is placed in the tomb to conquer it.  Later tonight, with the smell of lilies in our nostrils, the church will light up and alleluias will sound from our throats, the bells will peal.  The ancient darkness, we will sing, has been forever banished.

 

When we bury our dead, we do not bury them as those who have died alone.  We bury them in Christ.  They go into God’s acre because their dead bodies are the Lord’s. They are His planting for the resurrection, and He will raise them from their graves in the glorious freedom of the sons of God.

 

They have died not to themselves but to the Lord.  They are not their own.  They are the Lord’s.  He bought them with His blood.  He placed His seal of ownership on them when they were baptized, His Name, and He sanctified their bodies.  Their bodies, though still sick and corrupted by sin, are nevertheless holy.

 

When they are buried, their graves are not unholy places of decay and death.  They are sanctified and holy because Jesus’ body rested there first and then rose in life.

 

He purchased them to be His own and to be united to Him as members of His body.  So, with Him we die and are buried.  And with Him we will rise.  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.

 

We are not waiting for God to fulfill His promise.  His promise has been fulfilled.  The resurrection of the dead has come, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

That is why Christians buried their dead together.  They are not so many separate people who have died alone with their separate graves.  They are members of one body—the mystical body of Jesus, who died and rose again.  They are members of the same body that we are, who come together to eat His body and drink His blood; so they were buried together, preferably near where we who still live gather as the body of Christ.

 

Today, unfortunately, it is not so.  We do not have this picture before our eyes when we bury our dead.  Increasingly funerals are no longer in church, but private family affairs.  That is too bad.  It is sad, because have seen more than one person who stopped coming to church because a pious loved one died, and the pain of remembering them in church was too much to bear.  Or they didn’t have a loved one’s funeral in the church because they were afraid that if they did, they would break down every time they came.  They could not put the death of their loved one together with the church and with Jesus Christ.

 

That is unutterably sad to me.  On Holy Saturday we see that Jesus has entered fully into our death.  He has been placed in our tomb.  When we die, our tombs will be Jesus’ tombs.  For we are the members of His body.

 

The women who followed Jesus spent the Sabbath in pain, longing to go to Jesus’ grave and anoint His body.  But when they went they did not find Jesus’ body there.  He was placed in our tomb, but He conquered it, and left it empty.  Death was swallowed up in life.

 

So it will be for those who rest in the tomb with Jesus, who are baptized into Him.

 

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?  (TLH 206 st. 2)

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Laying Him Bare From Thigh To Neck. Good Friday–Tenebrae. March 30, 2018

Good Friday—Tenebrae (7pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 2:8-3:9; Hebrews 4: 16-5:10; Habakkuk 3:1-12jesus crucifixion grunewald isenheim.PNG

March 30, 2018

“Laying Him Bare from Thigh To Neck”

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.  They say to their mothers, “Where is corn and wine?”  When they swooned in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mother’s bosom.  Lamentations 2:11-12

 

It’s good this is in King James English.  Otherwise we might all be crying as we hear Jeremiah’s lament.

 

The prophet is sick as he looks at what is going to happen to the daughter of his people, Jerusalem.  My liver is poured out on the earth.  He vomits as he watches, until nothing is left except bile coming out of his mouth.  He sees children and babies dying of hunger during the siege of Jerusalem.  Babies die on their mother’s breasts because their mothers can no longer produce milk.  And little children say to their mothers, “Why is there no food?  What happened to all the corn and wine we used to have?”  Anyone with children can imagine what it would be like to try to answer this question from their small children who are too young to understand.  And watch them fade with hunger, and finally faint in the streets from it, and die.

 

This has probably happened to people in my lifetime thousands, millions of times, in places ravaged by war.

 

It just has never happened to us.  Just like it hadn’t happened to Jeremiah’s people, to the nation that was in a covenant with God.  But finally in Jeremiah’s day, all their years of forsaking that covenant with God caught up with them.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  The temple was destroyed.  Children died.  Those who didn’t die were taken in chains to Babylon.

 

What happened then is going to happen again.  As judgment came upon Judah, so it will come on the whole world for all its centuries of casting aside God’s Law and ignoring the Gospel of His Son.  And the hunger, the chains, the death that will come will not last for seventy years.

 

That’s why Jesus told the women who followed Him as He carried His cross to Golgotha: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children!  For the time is coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

 

What our Lord says is true, but it is so painful that we cannot bear to think about it.  It would be better to never be born than to be damned, better to never have a child than for that child to be lost forever.  Yet that is the road most people are on.  Can’t we see it?

 

And even before the last judgment, the years leading up to it will make people wish they had never been born.  There will not only be physical suffering and a famine of bread, but a spiritual famine that will make the eyes of Christians fail with tears and pour their livers on the earth.  People will starve because they will not be able to find the bread of God’s Word.  The walls of Jerusalem will be broken down, and the hosts of the devil will pour in with their glinting weapons, with teachings that destroy souls.

 

And these days are already upon us.  Can’t we see it?  Those of us with children, grandchildren.  Do we have tears in our eyes as we see the gaping holes in the walls of the church and the demons howling through the gap?  How few of them will remain in the church a few decades from now?  And those who remain—where will they go to have their babies baptized, to receive the body and blood of the Lord, to hear the pure, saving word of God?  Will they have to drive hours?  Will they have to choose between going to a church with corrupt teaching and worshipping God in their homes?

 

This is where our world is.  If we had hearts that were not mostly dead, we would cry like Jeremiah, be sick like Jeremiah.  Yet neither you nor I feel much.

 

It is too much to bear, and we have so little faith that we do not pray about it very often or for very long.  So we turn on the television, fire up the internet, get busy with this and with that, and get numb.

 

Another prophet about the same time as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, had a different reaction.  He did not weep.  He prayed and asked God to renew the work of vengeance He had done in the Exodus in his own day.  We will be singing Habakkuk’s prayer shortly.

 

And God gave Habakkuk a vision of the day when He would answer his prayer.  God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran…His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand; and there He veiled His power.  Before Him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.  He stood and measured the earth.  He looked and scattered the nations…The sun and the moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear…You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.  You crushed the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.

 

Oh, that would be wonderful, would it not?  To see our God come out to save us with His unspeakable power, and destroy those who are destroying us?

 

Do you realize that that is what Jesus did today?

 

The compassion of Jeremiah that is lacking in us is not lacking in Jesus.  He went out for the salvation of His people to Calvary to be brutally killed.  Because though the daughters of Jerusalem were not weeping for themselves and for their children, He was.  He did.

 

Jesus our Lord sees very clearly what is in store for you and your children and your neighbors because of your sins.  He not only sees it.  He feels the agony of the hell that opens its mouth to swallow you, the agony ahead of the unrepentant, from which you and I hide our faces.

 

What Jeremiah said about himself in the 3rd chapter of his Lamentations was fulfilled in Jesus:

 

I am the man that hath seen affliction and the rod of His wrath.  Surely against me is He turned; He turneth His hand against me all the day… He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out, and made my chain heavy.  Also when I cry and shout, He shutteth out my prayer.  He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone…

 

Paul says to you who believe in Jesus: As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes.  (2 Cor. 1)

 

In Jesus God says yes to us and holds nothing back from us of His grace, love, riches, glory.

 

But when Jesus prayed to His Father in Gethsemane, God’s answer was “No.”  No, Jesus could not escape the judgment of God, the hell of our sins.  Until, with the sun gone black, Jesus screamed from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  God shut out Jesus’ prayer.  He closed Jesus in, not merely with mockers and enemies, but with our sins and their unending punishment.  He could not get out.  The heavy chain of our sins that sinks us down to hell was fastened on Him.  Until He died and was enclosed with the hewn stone of the tomb.

 

He was the man. Pilate brought Him out to the crowd covered with blood, bruises, spit, with a reed, a robe, a crown of thorns.  “Behold the man,” Pilate said.

 

Behold the man who has seen affliction and the rod of God’s wrath, and removed that rod from your back forever.

 

For God appointed Him a great high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  He was appointed to be priest not because he was born in a priestly family or because he went to school, but because of the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.  He is the king of righteousness.  His righteousness makes Him a priest who lives forever, able to reconcile you to God once and for all, to settle with Him for you.

 

So the author of Hebrews tells us that we should boldly, confidently come near the throne of grace to receive from the one who presides over that throne grace and mercy in our time of need—for ourselves, children, and neighbors.

 

We should not let ourselves shrink from facing the terrible plight of the people around us who are on the way to hell, or timidly draw back because of the terrible coldness of our hearts, but boldly go and lay before Him our hearts and the lost ones we cannot save ourselves.

 

You do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who was tempted with them all.  Even more, who was condemned for the temptations you gave in to.  He plunged into the endless death, the bottomless pit of condemnation that belongs to your sins and those of your unrepentant family and neighbors.  Do you think he doesn’t care about them, that he won’t hear you when you plead for them?

 

Do not think that.  Don not believe it.  Rejoice in the privilege you have been given.  You have a great high priest who not only offered a sacrifice that removes your sins, but gave Himself to be the sacrifice.

 

When He did that the might of the Lord Habakkuk saw in His vision was at work.  His power was veiled on the cross, but there He became the plague and pestilence of hell.  He shook the earth with His death and it gave up its dead.  The sun stood still and was darkened at the flash of His spear as in fury He crushed the head of the wicked one, laying him open from thigh to neck.

 

When He went out to Golgotha under His cross He went out for the salvation of His people, for your salvation.  And what He set out to do in omnipotent might He performed.

 

Hear His cry from the cross, the cry of victory—your victory cry.  “It is finished!”

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

When I am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men to Myself. Good Friday, Chief Service, 2018. John 18:31-32

jesus crucifixion de ribera.PNGGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18-19 (18:31-32, 19:33-37)

March 30, 2018

“When I Am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men To Myself”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.”  The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”  This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 18:31-32

 

By what kind of death He was going to die.

 

St. John draws our attention to the kind of death Jesus was going to die.

 

He was going to die by the form of execution the Roman world considered the worst—crucifixion.

 

And John draws our attention also to the fact that Jesus had said beforehand that He would die this kind of death.  That God had planned it out beforehand.

 

In chapter 12, the Gospel for Monday of Holy Week, Jesus said, Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.  He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 12:31-33

 

Jesus was going to be lifted up.  Not fly away into heaven, away from all the pain and ugliness down here, but be nailed to a tree and lifted up as the very image of all the evil of this world.

 

Our natural response to John’s words about the kind of death Jesus was going to die is to say, “So what?”  We’ve all known since Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross.  Why draw attention to it?

 

The Holy Spirit is impressing on us the offense of the message about Jesus, the craziness of the Gospel.

 

For John’s hearers and readers in the first century of our Lord, and for centuries after, the message of the Gospel was madness.  For Romans and Greeks who believed in the old gods it was insane that Christians preached that the Son of the One True God was crucified.  For the fundamental characteristic of pagan gods was that they were immortal and could not die.  And for the philosophers who believed in one God the message of the cross was crazy because reason told them that the Creator, being eternal and omnipotent, could not suffer.

 

For the Jews, it was unthinkable that God would be crucified, because the Scripture says that people who are hanged on a tree are cursed by God.  And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.  Deut. 21:22-23

 

And if we lived then and saw the horrible suffering and shame of people who were crucified, it would not take much faith to believe that they were cursed by God.  They were usually pierced through their hands and feet after being flogged and made to carry the beam of their cross to the place of execution.  When they were lifted up, they died slowly, often taking several days to finally die from suffocation.  They were usually crucified in public places, where their last agonies could be watched.  When they died, they typically were left on the crosses to rot and be eaten by vultures and crows.

 

People did not sympathize with those who were crucified.  Many were glad for the peace and order the Roman rule provided, and they supported the Romans making examples out of those who threatened that order.  Crucified people were considered bad people who deserved their death, people whom God had cursed.

 

So when the apostles went out and preached that a manual laborer from out of the way Galilee, who was crucified was the Son of God and the world’s Redeemer, it was mostly received as insane folly.  When Paul wrote in first Corinthians the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, he was speaking from years of experience as a missionary, where his message encountered rejection upon rejection.

 

Today, the word of the Cross is not as strange to us or the people we live among.  It has been preached and pictured in Europe and America’s literature, art, music for more than a thousand years.  It is not strange, but it is still crazy to us when you scratch the surface.  People do not react to it because for the most part they do not take it seriously.  It’s just religious talk, even to many people who go to church.

 

But you see in the popular preachers of today that the message of the cross is still considered ineffective.  And when a church wants to, like Paul, know nothing..but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the feeling that this is craziness begins to rear its head.  At the grave of my half-brother’s mother, one of the pall bearers talking to me about his church told me, “What is killing churches like yours is a lack of marketing.”  This is a common idea.

 

But it does not appear to be Jesus’ idea.  Now is the judgment of this world.  Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

 

By this craziness of God being lifted up to die, accursed, on a tree, Jesus says that He will cast out the devil, judge the world, and draw all men to Himself.

 

According to our wisdom, that is simply insane.

 

And yet, Jesus lifted up to hang from the tree, that message brought down the worship of the old gods in Rome.  Then in northern Europe, Russia.  Then in America.  It is doing the same now in Africa and in Asia.

 

And even if few seem to be listening to this word of the cross today, let us hear it and take it to heart.

 

John also makes a point of drawing attention to the reality of Jesus’ death, how he witnessed Jesus’ side pierced with a spear and the outflow of water and blood from His heart.

 

He is drawing our attention to the fact that Jesus really and truly died; He was not simply passed out from shock or something like that.  He was dead.  As really as our loved ones are dead when we go up and stare into their faces at their wake.

 

God was dead, just as God was cursed and put to shame, just as God was condemned.  And Jesus had said before that this would happen, because it had been God’s plan before the foundation of the world.

 

It was God’s plan for you, who face condemnation and judgment and shame for your sins before the court of God.  And for you whose loved ones die, and who are facing death.

 

God had planned long ago that His Son would be put to shame and cursed and would suffer so that you would be released from the curse you were under and the shame that belongs to you.

 

God planned that His eternal, undying Son would be lifted up and die for you.

 

And in doing so He would bring you to Himself and back to God, without curse, without shame, free from eternal death.

 

The spear that pierced His heart let loose the sign that you are free and that the ruler of this world no longer has any power over you.  Water.  Blood.

 

These streams that flowed out as proof of Jesus death flow to you as God’s pledges that you live.

 

The water flows from Jesus’ death over you in Baptism and cleanses you from sin.  It flows over you and begins your new life.

 

The blood flows from Jesus’ body into the cup that you drink, where Jesus seals to you with His own blood that the folly of the death of God, this unspeakable kind of death on the cross, has given you life.

 

And for all who receive these pledges in faith, now is the judgment of this world, and they are judged righteous, acquitted.  Now the prince of this world is cast out from them, and the prince of heaven reigns in their hearts.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

SDG

 

 

Christ the Glory and Power of God. Wednesday after Laetare 2018

jesus ecce homo domenico feti.PNGWednesday after Laetare: Matins/Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History: Pilate

March 14, 2018

Christ the Glory and Power of God

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

“We have a law, and according to that law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

 

When the chief priests say this, Pilate becomes afraid of Jesus for the first time.  Before that he sees nothing in Jesus worthy of his fear.  Neither does Herod.  Jesus is not worthy of death.  He’s not dangerous enough.  He doesn’t have an army.  He doesn’t do a miracle to hurt his enemies or even to win Herod over to his cause.  He doesn’t even try to answer the charges against Him.  Herod and his men laugh at Jesus and at the chief priests who think Jesus is worth their time.  And Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, answerable to Tiberius Caesar, or at least to his prefects, has more important things to worry about than the Jews’ latest power struggles.

 

But when the priests say this—“This Jesus claims to be the Son of God”—Pilate becomes afraid.  Pilate seems to wonder whether he is dealing with a god walking the earth incognito.  Greek and Roman gods were said to do this by their poets.

 

But what Pilate suspected we know to be true, truer than he knew.  Jesus stands there not lifting up His hand or His voice, but in Him is all power and authority, because He is the only true God dwelling among us in human flesh.

 

 

 

 

Can you wrap your head around the idea that someone with that kind of power would not use it to defend Himself from mockery and abuse?  And death?  Who among us, if we had the power, wouldn’t have more money, better clothes, a nicer house?  Who among us, if we had the power, wouldn’t make it so that we, the people we love, the institutions we love, are strong instead of weak, prosperous instead of poor and struggling?  Yet Jesus has the power to have whatever He wants, to do whatever He wants.  And there He is, being falsely accused and saying nothing.  Being beaten and not defending Himself.  Having crowds call for Him to be crucified and saying and doing nothing.  Can you wrap your head around that?

 

We can’t.  Our church has lost the favor of the crowds, and we are in great fear that we are dying.  Any one of us if we had Jesus’ power would not allow this to stand.

 

And the reason for this is that we have the same way of thinking as Pilate and Herod.  We understand power the way they do, because, though we have the mind of Christ, we do not put on that mind very well or for very long.

 

It is faith that makes us able to see power and glory in Jesus when He is abandoned, mocked, condemned.  It’s not faith to believe in Jesus’ power and glory when He is on the mountain of transfiguration or when you see Him risen from the dead.  It’s faith when you see life in Jesus’ death, glory in His humiliation, power when He is mocked and flogged.

 

It’s faith when you believe that God embraces you when you are abandoned, that God is glorifying you when you are humiliated.

 

Do you know why Jesus our Lord doesn’t use His power to impress Herod or hurt His enemies, or to get a real purple robe and a real golden crown?  Why He didn’t become an emperor with His own soldiers?

 

It’s because our Lord despises what passes for power and glory in this world.  Not that He hates it, but that He thinks little of it.  Fine silk, gold, diamonds, cadillacs, and all that passes for glory and wealth in this world are garbage compared with the glory of God.  Paul understood this and said in Philippians 3: Indeed, I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).  But really the word is not “rubbish” but dung, something detestable.  Money, fame, power, honor, and all the things this world offers is dung in comparison to what God gives us in Christ—His glory, His power, Himself.

 

Roman legions, Navy Seals, hypersonic missiles—they are feeble compared to the glory of God.

 

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  1 Cor. 1:22-25

 

When Jesus is silent before those who lie about Him, when He doesn’t break the ropes binding His wrists, but lets them hold Him like Samson with his shaved head—when Jesus allows the Roman soldiers to lay the whips to His back and tear it open—He is displaying God’s power.

 

Those bloody stripes befitting a criminal, the laughter of the soldiers and Herod in His face, the crowd screaming for an evil man to be released and for Him to be crucified, the long spines pressed down as a mock crown into His head—with this humiliation Jesus is displaying the glory of God.

 

Because the mockery of the sinful world is to be preferred to its praise, since the world is hostile to God.  And it is a bad trade to exchange God’s almighty power for the feeble power of this world.

 

Yet when you and I receive a little of the humiliation and weakness that reveal God’s power and His glory in us, our faith falters.  As though Jesus stopped being God when they mocked Him and bound Him.  As though we stop having God dwell in us when popularity departs from us.

 

Repent, you of little faith!

 

When we are humbled and weak, we should not try to escape.  We are either getting what our sins deserve, like the penitent thief realized on the cross during his last hours.

 

Or we are being made partakers of Jesus’ power and glory.  We are being treated as sons of God.

 

Either way God means us well.

 

If we are chastened for our sins, it comes from the hand of our Father in heaven, not our judge, sentencing us as criminals.  That cannot happen to you unless you have no Jesus, unless there is no Jesus who suffered for the sins of the world.

 

But there is.  The one with all power has just been portrayed before our eyes, how He made Himself weak enough to be bound, beaten and mocked.  He was doing what our flesh was powerless to perform with His mighty power.  He was fulfilling in His flesh the Law of God with its demands.  It not only demands obedience, but punishment for those who break it.  And Jesus was fulfilling its requirements, as the forty lashes minus one fell on His skin.  With His divine power He was fulfilling what the Law demanded of every person in the world.

 

His weakness is your strength.  Through Jesus’ weakness, you have fulfilled the Law’s requirements.  Through His weakness, we who are by nature prisoners of sin gain the power to will to do what pleases God.

 

His humiliation is your honor, your golden crown, your royal robe, your fame.  Because you are the one God’s Son so loved.  And for you He allowed Himself to be humbled, so that your humiliation would be His.

 

Because of this love of your Lord, God the Father gives Himself to you.  All His power and glory are yours.  They are yours when He chastens you for your sins.  They are yours when you share in Christ’s weakness and humiliation in this world.  But crowds ignoring you, even crowds screaming against you, spitting on you, mocking you, condemning you to die, if God allows this, cannot take away God’s power and glory from you.  They can only do that if they can take away Jesus, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

You are Not a Hypocrite When You Call Jesus Your King. Palm Sunday 2018

jesus palm sundayPalm Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

John 12:12-19

March 25, 2018

You are Not a Hypocrite when You Call Jesus Your King

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey, and there is a celebration.  A multitude goes out to meet Him.  They acclaim Him as the King of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah.  John tells us they carried palm branches.  Matthew tells us in his gospel that they laid their outer garments on the ground for Him to ride on—a costly sacrifice when most people owned one set of handmade clothes.  This is the first time Jesus allowed Himself to be honored in public as the King of the Jews.  It was a day of joy, when His disciples and the crowd expected the world to change.

 

And why did the crowd come out to meet Jesus?  Because a little while before in a small town a short distance from Jerusalem, Jesus said to a man who had been lying in a tomb for four days, “Lazarus, come out!”  And Lazarus came out.

 

In a desert land, the ever-green branches of the palm tree signify life in the midst of death.  And because palm trees live for centuries, the people regarded them as symbols of immortality.  The crowd carried them and waved them before Jesus because they rightly believed that He was the King who had come to give them life.

 

But only a few days later a crowd in Jerusalem is shouting and crying out for the King of Life to die hanging on a cross.

 

How quickly it all changes when people praise Jesus as their King.  When I was a child they put palm branches in our hands in the narthex and we all marched into church happily singing, “Hosanna, hosanna, the little children sang!”  But within a short space of years all of us were gone, and as Jesus looks down from heaven into pews on this Palm Sunday, no doubt He sees that very few of those children who once called Him King have come back.

 

And in a slightly earlier time, this Sunday not only saw Sunday School children in a crowd singing, but children on the cusp of adulthood making vows, confessing their faith in the Triune God and promising to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith they had been taught by their pastors.  But most of them have not kept their promises either.

 

And as we sit here, we reflect on how we have watched and prayed since Ash Wednesday, whether we have spent this season of Lent fruitfully, whether we have been renewed in our struggle against sin and the evil one, pressed forward to take hold of the crown of life, or whether we have remained unchanged, treaded water, been carried downstream a little further.

 

There is a reason why the crowd that shouts “Hosanna!” becomes the mob crying “Crucify!”  Why the twelve who say they will die before they deny Jesus are all gone on Good Friday when He is hung from a tree; why the newly confirmed in white robes forget their promises to their King.

 

It is because the King of Life leads us into death.  It is because the Son of the Most High does not lead us to a throne to be waited on and glorified, but to the slave’s quarters, to wait on others.  He does not lead us to the halls of power except as prisoners who are to undergo trial and condemnation.  He leads us with Him to Golgotha.  Only through that way do we come, at last, to glory.

 

And though by now we know this and heard it many times, we still choke on it.  Every day we have to learn it again.  Every year on the first Sunday of Advent Jesus begins to teach it to us again, as the Gospel of His triumphal procession is read to begin the new church year.

 

He is the King of humility and patience.  The epistle for today reads, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a bondservant, being born in the likeness of men.  Phil. 2:5-7

 

The One who shared the glory and nature of God the Father shared our nature too.  He was born a man subject to death, like us in every way, to serve us.  God the Son was born to serve lowly, lost slaves, by giving His life for us.  He calls us to become what He is.  And He is making those who believe in Him what He is—making us like Him in giving up our lives in service to others, making us like Him in immortality and glory.

 

And because He was willing to make Himself nothing and serve you, He does not give up on you when you prove to be like the crowd and the disciples—fickle, unsteady, quick to return to the old ways of seeking to keep your life instead of giving it up.  He does not give up on you when you think He will or should and discover about yourself what Peter did when he denied his Lord, or what Paul did when He wrote: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  Rom. 7:18-19

 

He is not surprised and does not shy away from you in your wretchedness because He who was in the form of God made Himself nothing and emptied Himself to serve you, to take your place under God’s judgment.

 

And that is why you are not a hypocrite when you praise Him as your King and shout “Hosanna!” with the Palm Sunday crowds.  Hosanna means “All hail!”  It is praise to our King.  But it also means “Grant salvation; save now!”  It comes from Psalm 118, which was sung by the priests of the Jews as the Passover lamb was led into the temple to be slaughtered.  Save us we pray, O Lord!  O Lord, grant us success!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord!  The Lord is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us.  Bind the festal sacrifice with cords up to the horns of the altar.  Ps. 118:25-27

 

“Bind the festal sacrifice with cords” means “prepare your animals for sacrifice.”  Our Passover lamb is Jesus.  When He rode the donkey’s colt to Jerusalem He prepared Himself to be sacrificed to make us free, to redeem us from slavery to death and our sins.  But He had been preparing Himself long before—when He was conceived as a man, when He emptied Himself of glory and majesty and took our form, joining Himself to us in the lowest place where we were captive to the power of sin, in bondage to the devil, doomed to an eternity of God’s punishment.

He does not balk at serving you there.  He comes willingly and gives Himself to be slaughtered so that His blood may mark you as one to whom death has already come.  His blood marks you as free from sin and judgment.

 

And He comes to serve you with that blood, to mark you with it again, to mark you free, to mark you as one belonging to God and life.

 

So do not be afraid to call Him your king.  Don’t be afraid to come out to meet Him and to start down the road with Him to Jerusalem.  Don’t be afraid that what you start you won’t be able to finish.

 

He knows you.  He knows your depths because He descended into the depths of your sin and its punishment.  He was bound as a sacrifice to the altar of the cross, bound to you and the full punishment of your sins.  He knows you, what you are capable of, what your weakness is like.  And He carried it all.

 

So acclaim Him as He comes to serve you.  Eat His body, drink His blood in memory of Him, in praise of His patient love toward you.  Glorify Him by calling upon Him to save you with the depths of your failings and believing that He does not turn away from you there, but that He, who was in the form of God, made Himself nothing for you.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Worthiness is Unworthiness. Maundy Thursday Tenebrae. March 29, 2018

jesus last supper cranach.PNGMaundy Thursday—Tenebrae (9:15a)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 1:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

March 29, 2018

Worthiness is Unworthiness

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The service of shadows, called Tenebrae, began with readings from the first chapter of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem, the capital city of the people of God.  She has become lonely, like a widow.  Once she was a princess, but now a slave.  The lovers with whom she has committed adultery—the false gods, the idolatrous worship—have abandoned her.  No one comes to the festivals of Passover and the other holy days of Jerusalem.  She has been stripped naked.  Her dignity has been taken away.  So have her sacred things, her treasures.  And she mourns as she remembers the good things she once had.

 

Jeremiah’s description of Jerusalem sounds very similar to the way people describe the decline of this congregation, St. Peter.  It is also a description of the degradation of all human beings from the dignity we had when we were created in the image of God.  And Jeremiah says clearly why this happened to Jerusalem:  God gave them over to punishment because of their sins, because they had turned away from Him.

 

We read about the suffering of Jerusalem on these three days at the end of Lent because the suffering of God’s people is the suffering of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  On Thursday night, after celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples, He went out to the garden called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.  There He pleaded with His Father that the cup He had to drink might pass from Him.  The cup He gave His disciples was the New Testament in His blood for the forgiveness of sins.  The cup that His Father gave Him was the cup of woe and punishment for the sins of Jerusalem and of the whole world.

 

The desolation of Jerusalem became the desolation of Jesus.  His sweat in the garden became like great drops of blood as in agony He experienced what it is to be the subject of God’s burning anger against lawlessness and evil.

 

He was led away from the garden as a captive.  His followers deserted Him; His enemies laid their hands on Him.  His dignity was taken away.  He was beaten as a wrongdoer, a slave, held up to mockery and stripped naked.  And after being nailed to a cross and lifted up to die a death of shame, He was forsaken by God to die alone with His sins.

 

His sins.  Because He had taken them as His own, not because He had done them.  The sins of Jerusalem, of God’s people; the sins of the world; the sins of this congregation; your sins.  He made them all His sins.  Our desolation became His desolation.  Our destruction became His destruction.

 

When we eat the bread of the Lord and drink the cup of the Lord we are to do it “in remembrance of Him”—in remembrance of His death and desolation for us.  Christ shows us the greatness of His heart, the wealth of His love, in instituting this Supper before His suffering, and turning the yearly Passover meal into the Sacrament of the Altar.  He was not content merely to suffer for us, but even before He suffered for our sins, embraced our destruction, He instituted a memorial meal by which we would be comforted and assured that His suffering and death applies to us.  That we also have the forgiveness of our sins through His desolation on the cross.

 

It is not only on Good Friday or in Holy Week that we are meant to remember His death.  Every Sunday is a commemoration of His death and resurrection from the dead, along with every other day we eat His body and drink His blood.

 

In the epistle to the Corinthians, Paul faults the church in Corinth for misusing the Supper of the Lord.  The Corinthian Church is not recognizing that they eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood in the Supper.  They have made it into a mere eating and drinking of bread and wine, or perhaps some mystical divine feast that is supposed to unite them with God.  But they have forgotten the death of Jesus in shame and agony, the death which made this Sacrament.  So Paul warns: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  1 Cor. 11:27-30

 

A person who drinks the cup of the Lord worthily, in a worthy manner, is a person who is like Jerusalem in the reading from Lamentations.  A person who eats the Lord’s body worthily is a person who knows himself to be unworthy of God.  You are worthy when you know yourself to be unworthy.  When you find yourself to be weak in faith and afraid of hell and death; when you have failed to keep God’s law and have fallen into sin; when your heart is cold toward God and you know that you have not been living as His servant but as a servant of yourself—then you have the first part of what makes you worthy to be a guest at the Lord’s table.  That is, you know yourself to be a sinner, worthy of God’s wrath and destruction.  Because it is unworthy sinners Jesus came to serve and for whom He came to suffer, whom He came to call to Himself.

 

The second part of receiving the Lord’s Supper that He instituted on the night of His betrayal in a worthy fashion is this: that you believe that Jesus’ body and blood are given for you, as He said on that night.  That you believe that He made your destruction and your punishment His own.  That He received the cup of God’s wrath that belonged to you when He sweat blood in the garden, and that He drank that cup to its bitter dregs when He cried “It is finished” from the cross.

 

This is not so easy to believe as we imagine.  In fact, for flesh and blood it is impossible to believe.  That God our judge would be punished to free us from our sin and its condemnation?  That God Himself would endure the hell that He threatens us with for our sins?  But this is the Gospel.  This is what Jesus clearly said when He instituted this Supper: “This is My Body, which is given for you.”  And this is what we confess in the creed when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died, and was buried.”  We are not confessing simply that Jesus died and that He rose again, but that I believe that Jesus died for me, for my sins, to take away hell for me and to make me an heir of God.

 

When you come wanting to receive a public declaration that Jesus was abandoned and forsaken for you and that you have the forgives of sins through Him, then you come to the Lord’s Supper worthily.  And so you should come.  Jesus wants you to come and eat His body and drink His blood.  He wants you to come with your desolation and affliction, your weakness of faith, your poverty of good works, and eat His body that He gave for you, and drink deeply, not of the cup of God’s wrath, but of His blood of the New Testament, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

 

He wants you to come so that you may become strong in faith and grow until you do not fear death and hell.  He wants you to come so that you may become strong, and die to sin, and rise to new life.

 

If for years you have been His guest at His table but have seen no change, and you seem to be just as weak in faith and loveless as you were years ago, Jesus calls you and me today, as this Lententide ends.  He calls us to remember His death during the Holy three days ahead and as we receive His holy Supper.  To remember His sufferings, His death, and believe that these sufferings were for you.  And to take our weakness of faith and lack of good works and lay them before Him as we receive His body that He gave to be pierced and bruised for our transgressions.

 

He who was willing to suffer to redeem you will by no means despise your prayer when you ask Him to strengthen your faith and increase your love.  He has provided everything necessary for your salvation and your sanctification when He offered up His body and blood for you.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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