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The King of Love My Shepherd Is. Misericordias Domini 2018

jesus good shepherdMisericordias Domini—The Third Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 10:11-16

April 13, 2018

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the Old Testament, kings and other leaders were called “shepherds”.  Like a king, a shepherd guides, protects, leads.  But nobody thinks a shepherd is a king.  Kings sit on thrones, in palaces, exalted above their people.  Shepherds stay with their flock, in the cold, in the rain, in the danger from wolves.  Shepherds personally lead their sheep to places where they can eat and lie down in safety.  They personally care for the sick and weak sheep, and they go into dangerous places to seek the lost sheep.

 

Lots of people fear their king and the kings representatives—the police, judges.  But sheep do not fear their shepherd.  They know Him.  He is near to them; they come to him for help and protection.  They know his voice as it calls out to them over the fields because he is always in their midst.  He is their safety and their helper.

 

Jesus could have called Himself “the good King”, because He is our King.  He is more majestic, rich, noble, and powerful than any king on earth.  But He never calls Himself “king.”  He calls Himself “the good Shepherd.”

 

He does this so that we know who He is and what we can expect from Him in His Kingdom, and where we should look for Him.  We should expect Him to be good and kind so that we are not afraid to come to Him, no matter what we have done.  And we should expect Him to be found among His sheep who hear His voice.

 

Even now that He is risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, we should expect to find Jesus among His sheep, shepherding them.

 

When we say people are “sheep”, we mean that they are dumb.  People who are sheep are easily led, naïve, easy to take advantage of.  They follow without thinking wherever they are led.

 

That is because sheep only have one quality that keeps them alive—they listen to the voice of their shepherd, stay close to him, follow him.

 

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of sheep.  People who have nothing going for them spiritually at all, but they hear the voice of the good shepherd.  We should not expect to find Jesus among the people we think are spiritual masters, great saints.  If a person is a great saint, if he is holy and strong in faith and good works, it is only because that person knows that he is nothing.  About 1500 years ago there was a Christian hermit who lived in the desert.  When he grew very old, some people came out to him looking for wisdom, and he told them, “When I was young, I used to say to myself, ‘When I am old, I will finally be able to accomplish something good for God.  But now that I am old, I see that there is nothing good in me at all.’”

 

That is where Jesus is found.  He is not found among those who think they are something spiritually.  He is found among people who know that they have nothing.  They have nowhere to go and nothing to bring to God.  They have nowhere to go except to the sound of their shepherd’s voice.

 

What does His voice sound like?

 

To the self-sufficient who trust in themselves, His voice sounds like foolishness.  His voice sounds fanatical to the world when it says that unless our righteousness exceeds the spiritual giants of the earth, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

But to His sheep, who say with St. Peter, Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), His voice has a different sound.  Peace be with you, he said to his terrified disciples on the evening of Easter.  I know my own, and my own know me, He says in the reading today, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  His voice proclaims that He Himself is our peace, the atonement for our sins, our wisdom….righteousness and holiness and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  He defends us and answers for us before God and the devil and the world.

 

Shepherds do not abandon their sheep when they run off, or when they do something dumb and hurt themselves, or when they are weak and can’t keep up with the flock.  Shepherds on earth do this because their sheep are their livelihood.  They are worth money.

 

That’s not why Jesus is good to His sheep.  He doesn’t need anything we have.  Yet He chose to come down to earth and live among His sheep.  He wanted to camp out among us like a shepherd does with his sheep, and endure the storms and the wolves and lead us to safety and pasture.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10: 11, 10)

 

So He became a man and lived among us.  Then He laid down His life for us to protect us from the devil, who wanted to separate us from God forever by holding our sins over our heads.  But Jesus died for our sins so that he could not do it.  And that is what His voice says, when it echoes out from the Scriptures, when it is preached faithfully by faithful shepherds.  It tells us that however weak and helpless and dumb we are spiritually, however far we have strayed, we belong to the Good Shepherd.  He does not abandon us.  He does not chase us away.  When we stray, He goes after us until He finds us, even when everyone else has given us up for dead.  When we are sick and weak, He does not leave us behind, but tends to us until we become strong.

 

In the Old Testament reading, God has harsh words for the shepherds of Israel in the time of Ezekiel.  He is speaking to the leaders of God’s people, in particular the ones who were supposed to minister to them and teach them God’s Word, the priests and the prophets.

 

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I , I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will seek the lost, and bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…

 

Christians often fall into the trap of thinking that if they are injured or weak, they do not belong to Christ at all.  There are Christians who have a weak conscience, and they continually struggle to believe that their sins are really forgiven.  Then there are those who are injured and have sins that they keep struggling with—a bad temper, maybe, or a lack of zeal to hear God’s Word and seek the lost.  Christians struggling with sins like these, because they are weak, are often tempted to think that they do not belong to Christ at all because they are not strong.  And other Christians see their faults and say, “These people are no Christians at all.”

 

Then there are those who are strayed and lost.  Some people fall into open, grave sin and deny Christ.  They commit adultery, or they become addicted to alcohol, they abandon God’s house and no longer come to worship; or even like Peter, they openly deny Jesus.  They have strayed.  And often they think that they have fallen too far for Christ to receive them.  And Christians and churches and pastors often say and think, “It’s a waste of time to try to bring them back.”

 

But that is not the kind of shepherd that Jesus is.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and the sick.  He is with them.  That is what He calls His kingdom.  His church is not an army of spiritual giants but a flock of sheep who have nothing good spiritually except their shepherd.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and wounded.  He binds them up with the forgiveness of sins, and makes them strong by feeding them with His Word and His body and blood.

 

Nor does He give up on the lost, the strayed, and the fallen.  He seeks them out so that they may have life.

 

Where the shepherd is, there His sheep will be also.  We hear His voice that calls us to good pasture at the altar.  In His goodness He feeds us His body and bids us to drink His blood that we may have abundant life.  And when we become strong from this food, we also become patient with the weak and injured and eager to see those who are lost and strayed return to the flock.  We go out with Him to find them as He found us.

 

We think that we will find God among the strong and noble things of this world.  But the good shepherd is found among what is foolish, weak, and sinful.  We find Him when we hear His voice proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to sinners who seem to be beyond hope.  If you are such a sheep, strayed, lost, weak, injured, hear the voice of the good shepherd who has come to find you today.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

What is the Use of Salt?

From Mundabor’s blog, a traditionalist Catholic that I follow:

On the blog “Southern Orders” there was the usual exchange of comments about the Novus Ordo on occasion of the latest scandal (yours truly reported), when the usual Comment Sissy showed up (nickname: “anonymous”; you never know which “anonymous” is “anonymous”) and said the critics of the Novus Ordo were uncharitable, un-this, and un-that. There had been no vitriolic comments, merely a very mild sarcasm.

A good soul, nickname “Templar” (nice one, by the way) intervened with the following words:

I grew up in New York, the Priests from my parish lived exactly 7 doors down from me and our interaction with them was daily and very personal. They were mostly Irish and Italian, most cussed like sailors (refraining only from taking the Lord’s name), used acerbic wit to cut down many a sinner, and wouldn’t back down from a fight if it came to it.

Good Bye good men.

Now we have anonymous posters who wring their hands over bruised feelings, and perceived slights. What you sow is what you reap. We have raised up milquetoast Catholics. Where is the Church Militant? Where are the Warriors? Islam is burying the world through birth rate and butchery, and us Catholics are afraid of some rough language.

The poster hits the bull’s eye in a very pithy way.

We live in times of such unmanliness that by every exchange of opinion that reaches the level of more than mild disapprobation someone – the Comment Sissy; they are everywhere – feels the need to intervene and say how “disparaging” and insensitive other people are.

In former times, such people would have been invited to go play with their dolls; nowadays, the Comment Sissy is socially accepted, and thinks he has firmly taken the moral high ground; it is like a pervert game of political correctness, in which the first one crying “disparaging” has won.

Reminded me of another Catholic priest, about 500 years ago:

I  have  indeed  inveighed  sharply  against  impious  doctrines,  and  I  have  not  been  slack  to  censure  my  adversaries  on  account,  not  of  their  bad  morals,  but  of  their  impiety.  And  for  this  I  am  so  far  from  being  sorry,  that  I  have  brought  my  mind  to  despise  the  judgments  of  men,  and  to  persevere  in  this  vehement  zeal,  according  to  the  example  of  Christ,  who,  in  his  zeal,  calls  his  adversaries  a  generation  of  vipers, blind,  hypocrites,  and  children  of  the  devil.  Paul  too  charges  the  sorcerer  with  being  a  child  of  the  devil,  full  of  all  subtlety  and  all  malice;  and  defames  certain  persons  as  evil  workers,  dogs,  and  deceivers.  In  the  opinion  of  those  delicate-­‐eared  persons,  nothing  could  be  more  bitter  or  intemperate  than  Paul’s language.  What  can  be  more  bitter  than  the  words  of  the  prophets?  The  ears  of  our  generation  have been  made  so  delicate  by  the  senseless  multitude  of  flatterers,  that,  so  soon  as  we  perceive  that  anything  of  ours  is  not  approved  of,  we  cry  out  that  we  are  being  bitterly  assailed;  and  when  we  can  repel  the  truth  by  no  other  pretence,  we  escape  by  attributing  bitterness,  impatience,  intemperance,  to  our  adversaries.  What  would  be  the  use  of  salt,  if  it  were  not  pungent?  or  of  the  edge  of  the  sword,  if  it  did  not  slay?  Accursed  is  the  man,  who  does  the  work  of  the  Lord  deceitfully.

The Freedom of a Christian

Ecumenical moment over.

In A Broad Place. Quasimodogeniti 2018

jesus thomas.PNGQuasimodogeniti—The Second Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

“You Have Set My Feet in a Broad Place”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

A week ago from last night, we observed the vigil of Easter.  It started after darkness had fallen.  Then the new paschal candle that through most of the year stands next to the baptismal font was lit from a fire outside.  Everyone had little candles in their hands, like we do on Christmas Eve, and they were all lit with the fire from the candle that symbolizes the life of Jesus that conquers death.  Then we processed into the totally dark church.

 

Then there were several readings from the Old Testament.  All of them pictured some part of Jesus’ descent into the darkness of death and His resurrection.  One of them was the story of Noah, who went into the dark, cramped box called the ark for a year as the wrath of God descended and wiped out all life from the earth.  After he had gone in with the remnant of animal and human lives that would repopulate the earth, the Scripture says, The Lord shut him in (Gen. 7). 

 

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are also shut in.  Eleven men (ten on the evening of Easter), plus others, probably, are sitting in a living room with the doors shut (or locked).  They don’t go out lest people recognize them as the disciples of Jesus, and the chief priests do with them as they had done with Jesus.  They are alive, but in a prison, fearing that at any time there will be a knock on the door that will mean the end for them.

 

Even worse, they are shut up in the darkness of a bad conscience.  Have you ever been in a narrow place where you couldn’t stand up straight, where you were so packed in that you couldn’t move?  It’s like that when you have a conscience that condemns you as a sinner.  You would like to believe that you are at peace with God, but your sins press in on you, bind you up.  Every time you get your head above water another wave of condemnation hits you.  For the disciples of Jesus there were two waves that kept crashing into them.  The first was the events of the last week, the flogging, mockery, and crucifixion of Jesus, which made it seem that their faith in Him had been misplaced.  The second was the way they had abandoned their Lord when they were put to the test.

 

Some of you, most of you know what it is to have done what the disciples did.  You were faced with some temptation or other and you abandoned Jesus.  Maybe it was long ago.  And when the memory of it returns, you are closed in, shut up, fighting for air.

 

Or it is simply the awareness that every day, no matter how faithfully you have tried to live a new life in Christ, you have never quite accomplished it.  You always fall short of what a Christian life should be.  And so you are always in a dark room, like the disciples, fearing that when the knock comes on the door, you will not be ready to stand before God.

 

And others are closed in by the feeling of despair that your faith in Christ is in vain.  When you see how your life and the life of Christians does not seem to be one of “victory on to victory”, but instead one wave of trouble after another, the darkness closes in on you, and you are tempted to think that it is foolish to put too much confidence in Jesus.

 

When I was a little kid, I watched a movie on TV one Saturday.  You may have heard of it; it was called Star Wars.  There is a scene in that movie where the heroes jump into a garbage compactor to escape a bunch of storm troopers who are shooting at them.  They are knee deep in garbage and nasty water trying to find a way out when they realize there is some kind of giant snake swimming around their legs.  One of them gets pulled under, but then for some reason the snake lets him go.  They quickly discover why.  The walls have begun to close in to crush the trash.  They try desperately to brace the walls with big pieces of metal, but nothing works.  At the last minute their robot friends contact them on an intercom and manage to shut down the garbage compactor by hacking into the computer.  Then one of the robots hears them screaming over the intercom and thinks he is too late.  But they are shouting for joy because they have been saved.

 

That was what happened to the disciples.  In their cramped prison, with the doors shut, Jesus suddenly appears and says, Peace be with you. 

 

Instead of the knock on the door that means the end, Jesus comes in without knocking.

 

He doesn’t show them their sins and let the walls close in on them forever.  Instead, He shows them the marks in His hands where the nails had been and the place where the centurion’s spear entered His side, proving He was really dead.

 

Those marks are all there is left to say about their sins, their abandonment of Jesus.  Those marks are the signs that the walls of judgment have stopped closing in on them forever.

 

Then, as if that was not enough, He sends them out of their prison.  Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you.  Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And having said this He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them; if you bind them, they are bound.”  (John 20: 21-23)

 

Jesus has the authority to open up the doors and unlock the chains of darkness, sin, death, and a bad conscience, and the authority to lock people in.  He has this authority because He was bound in that prison for us.  That is how He got the marks of the nails and the spear.  He also burst those chains and broke out of that prison for us.  That is how He stood before them alive after those mortal wounds being inflicted on Him.

 

Since He conquered sin and death, He owns them and is able to release from them.

 

And He not only released the disciples from their sins; He gave them His authority to release others.  He authorized them to forgive sins and to bind, to release and lock up.

 

That is how Jesus comes into the midst of us in the prison of sin and a bad conscience and stops the walls from closing in on us.

 

He comes and proclaims release by sending out first the apostles and then ministers to preach His death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins.  He entrusts to His believers the power to forgive and retain sins.

 

The message that He proclaims to us is not, “If you do this and that, you will be forgiven.”  He proclaims that sinners are bound and condemned to eternal death.  But to those who feel their chains, He proclaims unconditional release.  You are released, He says, because I have been released.  I bore your sins.  See the marks in my hands and my side.  I was closed in by death and judgment.  But now I am risen.

 

And if you still find yourself to be a sinner and wonder if you are still set free, see these marks.  They are the answer to any accusation made against you.

 

Jesus wears those marks before God His Father.  They always stand before Him.  He cannot see or hear about your sins without seeing the nails that went into His Son’s hands, and the spear that went into His side when He died for those sins.

 

Those marks always stand before God and speak louder than our sins.  They say, “It is finished.”

 

But Jesus still comes into our midst to proclaim peace to us, to release us from our chains and darkness and our old life.  It is His voice that speaks when the minister, called to exercise the public office of the Keys, says, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all you sins, in the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He is Going Ahead of You. Easter 2018

jesus empty tomb.PNGThe Resurrection of our Lord—Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8

April 1, 2018

He is Going Ahead of You

 

Iesu iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

The women were the strong ones that first Easter.  They got up early in the morning, at the first opportunity, and went to Jesus’ tomb.  It would have been easier to avoid going to His grave.  We have all heard stories about people who would not go into the hospital room where their father or mother was in their final hours because they couldn’t bear to watch them die.  I’ve done things like that; avoided or put off facing death, facing people who were mourning a death.

 

And it’s what the eleven men whom Jesus had called to follow Him had done.  They all—except for St. John—had abandoned Him when He was arrested.  They weren’t there when He died.  No doubt they were scared that they would have to suffer with Jesus.  But I’m sure it was also because they couldn’t stand to watch Jesus their Lord die.

 

So now on the first Easter the women show great strength because they do not hide from His death.  They go out to finish His burial as soon as the day of rest was over, at first light.

 

Ah.  It’s very sad.  It’s so sad.

 

Our lives are so full.  Our calendars are so full.  We have so much at our fingertips in this world.  Right now your phones are seconds away from your hands, and in them there are games, there are your friends, you can talk to whomever you want.  There is music of all kinds.  You can buy just about anything by tapping the screen a few times.

 

Even those of you who are too old to be tied to smartphones have a life that is so much more full of possessions and activity than your parents had.  They had their work, their family, not much money.  Maybe they had a club they belonged to.  Probably they had their church.  And they had a limited selection of vices to choose from—booze usually, maybe gambling, women.  But we have a million things to do and a million ways to be entertained.

 

But one thing we do not have.  When our full lives with a million options come to an end, we do not know how to die.

 

We don’t face death.  We keep it out of sight, and pretty it up, and lock it out of our minds probably more than any generation before us.

 

Jesus’ disciples also could not face His death.  Tied up with His death was also the shameful fact of their betrayal of Jesus, how they had left Him alone on the cross.  They had not understood or believed Him when He told them that He was going to be killed and rise the third day.

 

Even these women who had not fled and who showed strength and love and went out to His tomb to anoint His wounded and dead body—they had not understood or believed Jesus either.  What are they talking about as they walk?  “Who will roll away the stone?”  They aren’t discussing how He said He would rise.

 

To not believed God is to call Him a liar, or to consider His words not worthy of attention.  They should have known that no word drops from Jesus’ mouth casually.  Every word He speaks comes to pass.  His words are like light and dry ground and ocean and sky—more real than these things.  The earth you stand on and the air you breathe are less substantial than Jesus’ word, because those things came into being because He spoke them.

 

Yet we also don’t believe Him.  It’s why we have other things to do than hear His word and why, even when we hear it regularly, we doubt it.  It’s one thing to understand the message of the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose to declare the forgiveness of those sins, the end of our death and separation from God.  It’s something else to draw comfort and confidence from those words so that we have joy in suffering and confidence in the face of death.

 

Not believing God is the source of all your other sins, whatever else they may be.

 

So the angel that surprises the women at the tomb says wonderful words to them, the disciples, and us.  “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; He is not here, He has risen.”  These words are full of joy and wonder not only for Jesus, but for the disciples who have failed Jesus, fallen away from Him because they did not believe His words, and for us who have done the same.  “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

 

Hear those words, because God sends them not just to Peter and the disciples but to you.

 

They had all fallen, and Peter had even denied that He was Jesus’ disciple.  But the angel makes angels of the women—messengers.  Go tell them not only that Jesus has risen.  Tell them, “He is going before you and you will see Him.  He is still leading you, teaching you.  He is still your Lord.  You still belong to Him.”  They had failed Jesus when the test came, but that is gone.  It is not spoken.  It’s not held up in their faces.  They are unworthy to have a share in Jesus, who conquered death, because they did not believe Him.  But they share in Him anyway.

 

The bloody wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet that stained His grave clothes were for them.  His death and lying in the tomb is where God put their sins and death, and ours, and also the root of them all—unbelief.  He laid them on Jesus.  And He is no longer there being held by them.  “See the place where they laid Him.”  It’s now empty.

 

He is loosed from your death. The bonds of your sins has been broken.

 

The disciples and you and the whole world has been made new.  It is more solid than the earth you stand on and the sun in the sky.  They will not remain, but the word of this Easter victory, the word of God’s justification of us sinners, endures forever, as long as Jesus lives.

 

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  1 Cor. 5:6-8

 

You really are “unleavened.”  You have been cleansed of sin.  These words are more solid than the earth, but the faith with which we grasp them isn’t.  Otherwise we would not fear death at all, and nothing that comes after today would interrupt our joy.

 

Nevertheless, come with your fear and your trembling faith and say, “Lord Jesus, I would like to believe what you say firmly, but my heart is too weak.  But I come with my doubt and eat Your body and drink Your blood, asking You to make my hear wider, so that the joy of Your Easter may enter in, that I may follow after where you have gone ahead as your disciple.”

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

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