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Be Bold! Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2017. 160th Anniversary of the Congregation. St. John 16:23-33

GideonRogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter/ 160th Anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16: 23-33

May 21, 2017

Be Bold!

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Jesus tells His disciples about something in the Gospel reading that will be necessary for them after He ascends to the Father, and they are left in the world, seeing Him no longer, something that the disciples will need for prayer, and something they will need in order to carry out their mission in the world without Jesus’ visible presence.  That something is boldness, daring.

If Jesus’ word to His disciples here had been recorded in American instead of Greek, maybe it would have used our phrase, “Have some guts!”

The disciples of Jesus will need to be bold, daring in order to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. They will need to take heart, as our translation says it; they will need to “be of good courage if they are going to continue in faith in their Lord and continue His work in this world in which they will have tribulation.

That is our Lord’s word to us on this morning where we are gathered to give thanks for the 160th year of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church. Take heart!  Be of good courage!Be bold!  Be daring!

Here on our 160th year many of us are anxious. Our future as a congregation appears uncertain. Many have already concluded that it is only a matter of time before St. Peter has a service of thanksgiving that marks the congregation’s end, just as later today we will be doing with St. Peter’s school. Those who love that school are already full of anguish, grieving the loss.  We ought to have compassion for this grief.

At the anniversary dinner last night for the church I saw tears in the eyes of men who do not cry as we saw the pictures of beloved brothers and sisters in Christ who our Lord has taken from this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven. There is no doubt about how much many of you love this congregation, and the pain that would be in your heart if you were forced to say goodbye to it.  Let us have compassion on those among us who were closest to St. Peter school and are therefore already grieving.

But even now, many who work tirelessly at St. Peter, giving hours and hours every week, are anxious, full of heaviness, worn out with work that never seems to bring the desired results.  We would like renewal for St. Peter, security for St. Peter, visible assurance that when our work is over, this congregation that we have been nurtured by and love will outlive us.  But it doesn’t appear to come.

Again, the word of our Lord to His apostles is the word of Jesus to us this morning, grieving at the closing of St. Peter school, anxious about the future of St. Peter congregation: In the world you have tribulation.  But take heart; I have conquered the world.  (John 16:32-33)  Be bold, says our Lord; be daring! Be of good courage!  Have a smile on your faces in tribulation, uncertainty, in the face of looming death!

Lord Jesus!  How can you say this to us? Don’t you know we are flesh and blood, not gods?  We fear death! We are weak and needy, and are terrified when the things that give our lives meaning are taken away!  Have mercy on us!  How can we obey this command?

Don’t doubt that Jesus knows who we are, what we are, what we are capable of; that He knows our weakness, our fear.  Don’t suppose His compassion for us is as little as our ability to understand it.

Be daring, be of good courage!  This is not a command from Mount Sinai, with fire, lightning, and the terrifying splendor of God’s glory.  It is an invitation. It’s like when our Lord says, “Believe the Gospel!” That means, “Receive forgiveness, life, and the glory of God as a free gift!”  It comes not out of cloud and fire, but out of the mouth of a man who appeared with no beauty or majesty that we should desire Him.  It comes from the mouth of a man like us in every way, who is facing death Himself.

Be bold!  I have conquered the world.

 

Jesus is not a sergeant in a trench, stoking his soldiers’ sense of courage and honor to motivate them to go over the top and charge into gunfire against the enemy.  The boldness Jesus is talking about comes from Him. I have conquered the world.  He is victorious. We have been singing about Jesus the conqueror all through Easter.  This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever, Amen; for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. We sing as people whose war is already won. We sit down and feast at the victory banquet. We praise the conqueror, Jesus our Lord.

Jesus has conquered the devil, trampling him underfoot.  He cannot accuse Christians before God.  We were already condemned for our sins when Jesus was handed over by Pontius Pilate.  We died for our sins when Jesus was crucified, when we were buried with Him through Baptism into death.  And God the Father raised us, gave us new lives, made us new creatures when Jesus rose from the dead.  Our new life as sons of God, no longer slaves of the evil one, is by faith in Jesus, our righteousness and justification.

When Jesus conquered Satan, He also conquered sin.  It is now forgiven and blotted out, not through our repenting and being sorry and trying to do better, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And, as He says here, I have conquered the world. The world gives tribulation to Jesus first, then to all who belong to Jesus. Tribulation means to be threatened with death. Open persecution for Christians is part of this, but also the world’s mockery, refusal to hear, its despising of Jesus and scorn of His people.  All these things threaten the existence of Jesus’ community of holy believers, His Church, as well as the existence of congregations like ours.  The Church has always been threatened with death in one way or another.  It has never been clear to human eyes how Jesus’ true Church, that believes His Word and is faithful to it, could continue to survive on the earth.

But Jesus tells us how the Church survives, and how Christians will be bold and daring when their existence seems uncertain, even impossible.  Our security, our existence is assured not by working hard, and not by visible signs that we are secure. The life of Christ’s Church is sure because Jesus has defeated the world.

He made a mockery of the world’s threats, showed them to be hollow. When Jesus proclaimed the Word of God in purity, He was opposed by all the powerful people in His society. Also most of the masses of people didn’t hear what He was saying; they came for His miracles but didn’t believe or listen to His teaching.  If Jesus had wanted to be a success in a worldly way, He needed to change His message to something that didn’t threaten the world.  But He didn’t. He preached God’s Word even though few listened and though He was threatened with suffering and death.

The world followed through on its threats, and Jesus was crucified and buried.

And then He rose in victory.  The world did its worst to Him; it killed Him. And this only resulted in the world’s defeat.  Because now His disciples went forth and preached His resurrection.  Instead of destroying Jesus’ kingdom, tribulation only laid its foundation and caused it to spread.

Be bold, St. Peter.  Be daring, St. Peter!  Do not be afraid.  Be of good courage.  You have not and will not overcome the world by hard work, industry, virtuous living, though these things are good and necessary.  Extraordinarily talented leaders and preachers are gifts of God, but they do not and cannot overcome the world. Churches that the world marvels at because they are full, beautiful, and successful according to your eyes are sometimes that way by my blessing, says the Lord.  But they have not overcome this world. Should you be confident and bold when you have these things, and terrified, anxious, and despondent when you don’t?

Be bold and daring, says He who sits at the right hand of God.  I have conquered the world, and You have Me.

From this boldness and daring which comes from faith in Jesus’ victory come two things.

The first is prayer.  It takes boldness to dare to come and speak with God with confidence that He will hear You and grant Your prayer.  People think prayer is easy until the reality of their sin dawns upon them. Then they are full of doubt about whether God listens to them; they are doubtful about whether they should even come into His presence, how they can even dare to take Jesus’ name on their lips.

This is why Jesus said to the 12: Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  (John 16:24)  The disciples were timid in approaching God.  Who are we, that God should listen to us?  Indeed, we are nothing.  In ourselves, we are right to suspect that God will not listen to us.

But we are not in ourselves.  We come to God in the authority of Jesus His Son who came for us and gave us His Name and standing before the Father.

When our Lord says, “Be bold!” He is saying, Ask the Father in My Name.  Jesus doesn’t promise that God will give us whatever we think is good.  He promises to give us whatever we ask according to Jesus’ will for His Kingdom.  St. Peter is part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is His fortress, His outpost on this limestone cliff, overlooking an anxious, depressed city, full of people crushed by sin.  Many of them don’t even know what is crushing them.  They don’t know what sin is, much less who saves from it.

Kings and generals have in front of them the map of the whole campaign.  Soldiers on the front lines don’t.  Whether the Lord wills for St. Peter to be here till He comes, whether He wills, at some point in the future, to send His soldiers here elsewhere, we do not know.

But let us be bold and daring, confident that the King is victorious and will lead us in victory.  Trusting in Him, let us go to Him for the spiritual armor and provisions we need to carry out His purpose for us here and now with good courage and high morale.  Let us fight!  Let us dare to be courageous in this fight, to stand for the truth, to hold to His Word, to sacrifice and risk that His name may be glorified!  But let us do so under His authority, and call on Him to give us what we need to carry out His plan, not our own plans.

Second, the boldness that comes from Jesus’  victory works in Christians something that the world doesn’t understand.  In addition to confidence that God hears us, that we are saved and forgiven–something the world regards as uncertain–faith in Jesus’ victory over the world produces joy in the midst of tribulations, in the midst of the threat of death.

That is something incomprehensible to the world, and even to us in our weakness, much of the time.

But consider.  Jesus says, In this world you have tribulation. Tribulation, the threat of death for the Church, will never go away as long as we are Christians and are in this world.  Jesus had great tribulation; so did His apostles.  Martin Luther had it 500 years ago.  Faithful Christians at St. Peter experience it.  Various people have told me the same story at different times: It seems like God just sends me one thing after another.  I can’t understand it.

We shouldn’t look at this as though something strange were happening to us, as St. Peter says in chapter 4 of his first epistle. Instead, he says, Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Jesus says that it will be this way in the world.  When it happens, it is a mark that we belong to Jesus and will share His glory.

The president of our congregation, Mark Kroll, wrote a history of St. Peter at the 150th anniversary of the Church.  If you don’t have a copy, you should get one and read it.  It isn’t long, and it is encouraging to read, because we see that we are not unique in our tribulations; yet God managed to keep St. Peter through them in the past.  That is the benefit also of learning about the history of the Reformation.  All throughout the history of the church, people wondered how it would survive, it had so many troubles; yet the Lord’s mercy upheld her.

The history relates that a few years after St. Peter started, there was a pastor who came, after which great divisions erupted in the congregation.  He was accused of  “not fostering peace in the congregation, and not supporting the use of the German language in the school.” The second doesn’t seem like a very godly thing to have conflict about in the church. Yet the division was so bad that, a story says, one member got in the habit of carrying a pistol to church meetings.

That’s pretty bad.  We have experienced our share of conflict and division in the decade I’ve been here.  Even though no one has come to church armed–that I know of– it’s still a sad and sinful thing when the church is full of unforgiveness and division.

Eventually the pastor left with about half of the congregation.  It’s hard to see how you could look at this with anything other than mourning and near despair.

I am sure that people thought or said things like this: “How can God be in this place when there is so much sin and evil?  We have been judged for our sins.  We are defeated.”

Yet, something amazing happened.  The congregation, which had not really been Lutheran at that point–though it had that name on the door–called a pastor from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  This pastor taught the congregation patiently, and in a few years St. Peter was a different church.  It adopted the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as its confession of faith, the first statement of faith of the Lutheran Reformation, in 1530. A few years later it embraced the entire Book of Concord, the book that contains all of the Lutheran statements of faith.  As a result it joined the young synod that we now know as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

How different things would have been had this not happened!  If St. Peter had not gone this way, if the tribulation of conflict had not come to her in her formative years, if she still existed today she would have almost certainly been a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in this country.  That would have meant that St. Peter would be part of a church that does not confess the Bible as the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God.  It would be part of a denomination that has embraced same-sex marriage and other revisions of God’s commandments.  It would be served by pastors who may or may not acknowledge the Bible as God’s Word in every part. And as a result, the truth taught only in the Bible, and nowhere else–that we are by nature sinful and unclean and are saved from hell only through faith in Jesus, without our works–that would not be clearly proclaimed.

Be of good courage!  Be bold!  By faith in Jesus, who died and rose again, overcoming the world, we come to have joy in this tribulation that is always with us in the Church.  We have joy because tribulation can’t destroy us; it can’t even harm us.  Our conqueror always turns it to our blessing, as He did in such a magnificent way at the very beginning of our congregation. Our defeats become victories–for Jesus and for us.  Even our worst falls into sin are turned to blessing and victory by our Lord–as He did long ago with the fall of the apostle whose name our congregation bears.

Be bold and daring, St. Peter.  Your Lord has not left you.  He has conquered the world, and in Him, so have you.

Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

He Is Not Here. Holy Easter Day 2017–Mark 16:1-8; 1 Cor. 5:6-8

he is not here.jpgHoly Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

April 16, 2017

He is Not Here

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Jesus is risen from the dead!

 

During the weeks of Lent we have seen Jesus our Lord without form or comeliness, with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.  He has been humiliated, cursed by man and God.  Crowned with thorns, beaten and bruised, spit upon, rejected, pierced by nail and spear, forsaken by God, embalmed and entombed.

 

But now, here on Easter morning in the church, we see splendor. Our women have adorned and beautified the sanctuary and the altar just as Mary Magdalene and the two others went to honor and care for His body.  Beautiful easter lilies cover the altar.  The processional cross which was veiled last week, just as Jesus’ face was hidden under bruises, spit, and blood—now it is uncovered.  We see Jesus on it, ascending in majesty.

 

But in the Gospel reading we see no Jesus.

 

We see through the eyes of the three women who have come at the break of day on the first day of the week to anoint the corpse of Jesus.  They are worrying as they walk.  “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”

 

But as they walk past the place where Jesus was crucified on Friday, where they saw Him die, into the garden nearby that held the tomb where they laid Him, they look up and see: the stone is already rolled away.  Someone has opened Jesus’ tomb.  Was it in the night?  Did grave robbers come?  But how would they have gotten past the guards that were placed there?

 

Then entering the tomb, the dark cave cut out of the rock, they see that Jesus’ body is gone.  No Jesus!  Instead there is a young man sitting there on the right side, dressed in a white robe.

 

You can imagine why they were startled!

 

The young man begins to speak to them.  “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen.  He is not here.  Look and see the place where they laid Him.”

 

It is empty.  The women see, and we see.  Jesus is not lying there like He should be.

 

“Go,” the young man tells them.  “Say to His disciples, and to Peter, that He is going ahead of you all to Galilee.  You will see Him there, just like He told you.”

 

So we are left this morning smelling the lilies, seeing the gold on the altar, but not seeing Jesus.  We are not shown the glory that replaces the shame of His crucifixion.  We don’t see the power that replaces His former weakness, the life that replaces the death that claimed Him.  We do not see.  We only hear, “He is not here.  He has risen.”

 

Even if we read a passage from one of the Gospels where Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, we would be hearing, not seeing.  We would not see Him alive with our own eyes.  We would not see His majesty, power, His glory that He now has in place of the weakness and shame in which we saw Him die.

 

So let us talk about what we don’t see.

 

 

The women came by the place Jesus was crucified, Golgotha, on their way to Jesus’ tomb.  They had to walk by “the place of a skull.”  You might easily see why they would want to avoid that place, not only because of its grim name, but because of the suffering inflicted on them there as they watched their hope die.  But they could not avoid it, just like we cannot avoid death.  The tomb in which Jesus was buried was there in a garden nearby.

 

But at this very place named after the symbol of death, the place of a skull, death has been struck a mortal blow.  We do not see Jesus.  The women fully expected to see Him and weep when they saw Him. They expected to see His body lying still and cold beneath linen cloths.  They do not find Him.  Instead they find a messenger waiting for them to proclaim that He has come forth from death.

 

It’s true; but instead of telling them Himself, Jesus sends a messenger, an angel to announce it.  That is how Jesus does it now too.  A messenger tells you.  A messenger in a white robe is there, not a heavenly being, but a pastor—at the grave of your loved ones, at the birth of your children into this world of death, in the middle of the joy of this life where, nonetheless, like the ancient hymn says:

In the midst of life we are in death:

            From whom can we seek help?

            From you alone, O Lord,

            Who by our sins are justly angered.

            Holy God, Holy and Mighty,  

            Holy and Merciful Savior,

            Leave us not in the bitterness of eternal death.

 

Jesus is not there in the tomb.  He is not here either, not visibly, like He was before.  The reason there is a messenger telling you, and not Jesus Himself, is because Jesus is no longer in sin and death, in humiliation and weakness.  And so He sends a messenger.

 

He is risen, and so He does not do what He did before.  Before this He lived in this world that is filled with graves and tombs.  One day, your grave will add to the number.  This is the world that Jesus came to live in with us.  He was one of us in every way, except without sin.  And He came in our appearance, not in the glory which was His, which a man cannot see and live.  He looked like us—not glorious, but earthly, not above pain, weakness, and humiliation, but subject to it.  He lived here and carried out the task of a preacher. He looked like a preacher, like all the ones who have stood before you in white robes; some you liked, some you didn’t, some were talented, some less so.  But all of them were of the dust, of the earth.  Jesus looked just like that.  He went to town after town and preached that the Kingdom of God had come upon them.  Some believed Him; most were only interested in His miracles.  Many not only rejected His message but hated Him.  And finally they succeeded in putting Him to death.

 

Jesus doesn’t do this anymore.  Before He came in the form of a servant.  Though He was God in the flesh, He laid aside the glory of God, which was His from eternity.  He came in our image and likeness, shared our hunger, thirst, weariness, weakness, our pain.  He shared our obligation to obey God’s Law.  He was subject to death even though, unlike us, He had not earned death.  He preached and people were able to reject Him, turn away and laugh, or turn toward Him with clenched teeth and stones in their hands.

 

This can’t happen anymore.  Jesus can’t die anymore, or suffer anymore.  He cannot be rejected in His own person.  He no longer shares our weakness.  He isn’t subject to death.  He still allows people to reject Him, but only as they reject His preaching through the ones He sends.  But He will not share our mortal life, our humiliations, our guilt and our death anymore.  When He wants to speak with us, He sends messengers in our image and likeness.  He does not come Himself now with the glory that a man may not see and live.

 

Why does Jesus no longer share this life and speak to us visibly?  He has done it already, and it is finished.

 

He shared our image and likeness, and the suffering, death and weakness that covers us because He came to be the true Passover lamb, who was slain so that God’s judgment would pass over us, so that we would go free from His judgment, from death and hell.  Now He has been exalted, raised up to the highest place, to sit on the throne of God in His flesh and blood.  He reigns over death, over hell, over all things for us, binding them through the message of His resurrection.  He won’t and can’t dwell among us in lowliness, in the form of a servant who bears the sin of the world, because it can’t be done again.  It is already done.  He has already borne that image to its end—to the cross and the grave.

 

When Jesus was humiliated, cursed, and crucified, when He died and was buried, God was striking and plaguing Him for our sins, for your sins.  He suffocated and burned in the torment that belongs to us for eternity, which we have earned from the time we were conceived in sin.  He hung naked before this anger of God against us on the cross.  He had no defense against it; no excuses in His mouth.  He was silent like a lamb before its shearers and did not open His mouth.  He had no power to push this burning anger away, because He had laid His divine power aside to become like us.  He had laid aside His innocence by which He could have been scared God’s wrath and plunged Himself into the flood of our transgressions. The guilty conscience of the whole world was upon Him.  He sank in the depths of sin where there is no foothold, no ground on which to stand and cry out to God for help, only the full awareness that we have deserved God to cast us away.  On the cross, Jesus was thrown into the depths of this sea, like Pharaoh was thrown into the depths of the Red Sea, like the whole world outside of the ark sank in the deeps of God’s flood.  He did not say, “Father, I did nothing wrong.  Take me down from the cross!”  He had taken our wrongs as His own.

 

And the Father punished those wrongs with agony of soul and body until He gave up His Spirit, died and was buried.

 

So look now.  Jesus is not here in this grave any longer.  We cannot see Him, because He has entered His glory.  We see only a young man in a robe sitting in the empty tomb, waiting for us with a message.  When we enter the young man looks up and says, “He has risen.”

 

And because you are not out of your mind with fright like the women that morning, you can reflect on the message that is spoken to you, what it means to you.

 

Jesus is free.  Every week you say: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…who was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.

 

What does that mean for you, that Christ rose again, and is not seen in the tomb, not seen walking among us in our lowly appearance?  What does the message of the messenger mean for you, “He has risen?”

 

It means that He has been released from the punishment He received from His Father for your sins.  He has been released from the sentence of death, and therefore from the grave, the sentence He received because He offered Himself to bear our sin.

 

The Father did not release Jesus until He had tasted death.  Jesus had prayed, “Take this cup from Me.”  The Father did not; He had to be crucified and forsaken by God. He had to die and be buried.  It was clear.  The Father would not let Jesus go until He had paid the full measure of our debt.

 

But now Jesus is free.  In releasing Jesus from the chains of death, the Father is making a declaration.  The debt Jesus went to Golgotha to pay is now paid in full.  Jesus is released from death. The debt is paid.

 

Your debt is paid.  The Father releases you with Jesus from the guilt of sin, from His wrath against you, from the grave, from the fire of hell.

 

Our sins are no longer there to hold Jesus chained in death.  If they were still there, Jesus would still be in the tomb.  Or Jesus would still be among us as He was with His disciples, in the form of a slave.  He would still be serving us as our slave, with His glory put aside, and our guilt and lowliness and death still upon Him.

 

But He is not there in the tomb.  He is free.  And so are you. Unless you despise this.  Unless you refuse to believe it.

 

Victory has been won over the powers that ruled us and kept us chained; the old serpent has been crushed under the heel of the virgin’s Son.  The empty tomb of Jesus is the battlefield from which the enemy has been put to flight.

 

It is the courtroom, now empty after it has been adjourned, where the Father tried you together with all people, and announced His verdict: Not guilty.   Or: “I find the world to be righteous and just.  Set them free.”

 

It is the prison cell in which all people were held as condemned criminals, awaiting the order that would carry out their sentence.  But now, no one is there.  There is only a man in a white robe saying, “You are all free.”  He doesn’t say those words, of course.  He says, “He has risen.”

 

Paul says the same thing to the Church at Corinth.  “You really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  The Corinthian Church was doing some very impure things.  A man married his father’s wife; and the Corinthians, instead of calling this man to repentance, bragged about how he had done this.  Yet Paul says, You really are unleavened, not permeated with the yeast of wickedness, but pure.  The reason is because the Passover Lamb that bears our sins has died and blotted them out.

 

At Passover, Jews were required by God to take all the yeast out of their houses before the Passover lamb was slain.

 

Even today, observant Jews do this. They search the house for any place there might be yeast, where crumbs of bread might have fallen.  They scrape out the dark places under the cupboards and the oven to get rid of every last bit of yeast that might leaven the unleavened bread they eat during Passover.

 

Christians also do this by daily repentance; we “cleanse out the old leaven” of the sinful nature in which we were conceived.  But trying to purge out your sins is not enough to cleanse us, as anyone who has tried it knows very well.

 

God must put away our sins.

 

And He has done it through the blood of Jesus.  Jesus has cleansed the old evil leaven of our sinful natures out of us.  He has buried it.  God has forgiven it, which means, God has released us from it.  Our sin no longer stands before Him.  He does not count it, or impute it.  This is what we mean when we say that God “justifies us.”  It means He counts us righteous for the sake of Christ.  He counts Jesus holy obedience and righteousness to us, just as truly as He imputed our guilt to His Son.  This teaching is the central teaching of the Christian faith.  It is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, the article of the faith “on which the Church stands or falls.”  This is what the Reformation that began 500 years ago was about.  Whoever has this teaching and believes it is righteous before God and saved from hell, even though he remains a sinner.  Where this teaching is lost, human beings are lost. Because there is no other way that human beings can be righteous before God than for Christ’s sake.

 

This cleansing that happened by Jesus’ death and resurrection also becomes effective in you.  We sang about it in Luther’s hymn:

 

Then let us feast this Easter day

On Christ, the bread of heaven. 

The Word of Grace has purged away

The old and evil leaven.

 

Christ purged human beings of sin before God; but the purging away of sin within us happens through the Word of the messenger of Jesus.  Through that word, God works faith that Jesus has purified us.  And God counts that faith as righteousness before Him; and at the same time, He gives the gift of His Spirit, who each day purges away the sin that remains in us, so that it no longer works through the whole lump of our bodies, families, congregations, but goes into remission.

 

The angel said, “Christ is risen.”  Go tell His disciples and Peter.

 

But to you the Word comes differently.  It says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  It says, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins.”

 

When the pastor says these words, he is just proclaiming the same word as the angel; he is announcing what God has done for you and to you in raising Jesus from the dead.  He is saying, “God has released you, together with the whole world, from your guilt. God has justified you.”

 

God has not done this only for believers, and this message is not to be proclaimed only to those who already believe and are righteous.  It is to be proclaimed to the unrighteous who grieve because of their sins.  It is to be proclaimed also to Christians who have fallen from Jesus.  “Go tell His disciples and Peter,” says the angel.  Peter had denied he knew Jesus; his own voice had condemned him.  He had said, “I am not a disciple of Jesus.”  You may be here this morning and have done the same thing, by your words or actions.  You may have said, “I am not Jesus’ disciple” by willfully doing what you know to be sinful.  And you may be thinking, “Now that I have denied Jesus and bathed in the mud, and made myself unclean with Jesus’ name on me, how can I become pure and clean again?  How can I undo my falling away?”  You may not be thinking this, and yet you may be one who should think this!

 

You cannot undo the shame of turning away from Jesus, and allowing yourself to be filled again with the leaven of malice and evil.  But the angel specifically says, “Tell Jesus’ disciples, and Peter.”

 

Perhaps Jesus would have the whole congregation of St. Peter hear these words as His Word to this St. Peter.

 

Tell Peter: “He is risen.  God has justified Him.  God has let these sins go; they are paid for, the bonds of those sins are broken.  The guilt is removed.  The shame wiped away.”

 

Let us believe the word of whatever angel comes to you from Jesus with this message, for it is Jesus who sends the message to all who are bound by the chains of sin and hell.

 

Let us rejoice that we no longer see Jesus bearing our weakness.  That means our sins have been removed forever, once and for all.

 

And if we grieve over the weakness we still bear, let us receive Jesus’ pledge that we share, even now, in His glory, as our glorious, risen Savior gives us the foretaste of our resurrection.  Let us eat His body and drink His blood which have purged away the old, evil leaven from us.  See, His blood now marks our door, faith points to it.  Death passes oer.  And Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Asking God the Father. Rogate, Easter 6, 2016

Cima_da_Conegliano,_God_the_FatherRogate—The Sixth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 1, 2016

“Asking God the Father”

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

It’s been a long time for most of us since we asked our fathers for anything, but not for all of us. The catechumens who are here today still have to ask their fathers and mothers for help with their homework, or to let them go over to their friends’ house, or to play video games for five more minutes instead of doing their homework.

 

What is it like to ask your father for something? It depends on your father, doesn’t it? It also depends what you’re asking for.

 

I know with my father, who has now been gone for almost nine years, a lot depended on his mood. Since my dad didn’t talk as much as I do, I had to be able to read his mood before I could ask him for something and expect to receive it. I had to know him. And I did know him. At least I knew how to read his moods and tell whether it was a good time to ask him for something that I wanted.

 

Whatever your father was or is like, I am sure it was the same for you. Knowing your father was a big part of being able to ask him for something and getting what you asked for. You had to know when was a good time to approach him. You had to know how to speak to him. You had to know what he wanted in order to frame your request. “Dad, you know how you always tell me I need to be responsible? I really think that buying me this car will help me learn responsibility.”

 

Of course, often when we asked our fathers for things, we were tuned into the things they had said only as a means to an end. We weren’t thinking about pleasing them or honoring them when we asked for things. We were mostly thinking about getting something out of them for our own enjoyment. As I get older, I feel sorry about this. I know my dad had many failings as a man, as a father. Yet I owe my life to him. And many of the things in my character that are good I owe to him. And besides this, I know that despite his faults he loved me and wanted me to be blessed. And so, I wish that I had honored my father more, by not selfishly asking him for things that would give me temporary pleasure, but asking him for things that would have pleased him, that I knew he wanted to give me.

 

Now, as a father, I have a different perspective than I did as a child. When my son asks me for gifts, I usually want to give him what he asks for. But I don’t always. And the reason is obvious enough. I want my son to be happy now, of course. But I’m even more interested in him being happy later in life—being happy because he is a virtuous man, a good man, who knows how to work hard, manage his money, be a husband to his wife and a father to his children, who can be a blessing to his church and a help to his neighbors. I want him to be able to use the gifts God has given him to the best of his ability and not be held back by laziness, lack of self-control, greed or selfishness.

 

And even more than these things, I want my son to be happy for eternity. And because I want these things more than I want his short-term happiness, I frequently say “no” to what he asks me. When we’re at Wal-Mart and he asks me to buy him a toy, I say, “No, you have a thousand toys at home that you need to learn to pick up and put away first.”

 

So is it a surprise if you ask your Father in heaven for things and He says “No”?

 

If you look back at your life, you can probably remember many prayers in which you asked God for gifts you didn’t deserve and He said “Yes.”

 

At the same time, I know many Christians have asked God for things that seemed like they should be the Father’s will, and He said “No.” Or He said, “Not yet,” and that not yet stretched on for years and years.

 

And so when we hear Jesus say today, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my Name, He will give to you,” those of us who have struggled in prayer for years may find ourselves feeling depressed at this amazing promise. Or doubtful, or cynical, or perhaps, in spite of ourselves, a little angry. If only being a Christian was as glorious and joyful as Jesus seems to describe it here.

 

It’s interesting that Jesus describes praying to God the Father in a similar way to the experience I had with my dad. He says asking God the Father for gifts depends on two things—one is being loved by the Father, the other is knowing the Father. Through faith in Jesus we receive the Father’s love: I do not say that I will ask the Father for you, because the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:26-27) But also through Jesus we receive the knowledge of who the Father is, what He is like, what He desires. Jesus doesn’t promise His disciples will receive everything they ask the Father, but whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He will give to you. (John 16:23) “In Jesus’ Name” means we ask God the Father in the authority of Jesus, believing that God the Father receives us as His children because of Jesus. It also means that we ask what Jesus authorizes us to ask. We can ask the Father for anything, as long as we say, “Your will, not mine, be done.” But only when we ask for the things that Jesus has promised and taught us to pray for can we be certain that the Father will give them.

 

Now if we think back on many of the prayers we have prayed in our life, maybe even most, maybe even all, we will probably discover that most of what we asked the Father in heaven has been like what we asked for from our fathers and mothers on earth. We usually asked our earthly parents for things that would please us. We didn’t think, “My father and mother have been given to me by God to raise me, and He commands me to honor them; they gave me life, so I should honor them.” When we asked them for things we often thought only about what would please us in the short-term, not about what would honor and please them.

 

In the same way, even when we have prayed to the Father for godly things, often our hearts have been set on ourselves. We may have prayed for our family members, but our hearts were on ourselves instead of on what would glorify God and what would be the highest good for our family members. We were trying to escape pain and to have an easy (or easier) life.

 

But even more often we haven’t prayed. And the reason was we didn’t know or believe in the Father that Jesus reveals to us very firmly. We didn’t rightly appreciate His great power and wisdom. Even more, we doubted Jesus’ word that the Father loves us and wants to give us everything that is His. We didn’t know the greatness of God’s love for us, the love that surpasses knowledge that Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 3.

 

Christians don’t have a monopoly on the act of praying. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, it wasn’t something totally new. The Jews prayed a lot. They had a custom of praying every morning and every evening, to go along with the morning and evening sacrifices at the temple.

 

And today lots of people believe in a God, even though it isn’t the God of the Bible. They think of Him as being a Father, and they pray to Him.

 

But Jesus gives a privilege and promise about prayer to those who believe in Him that those who don’t believe in Him don’t have. His promise is that those who believe in Him have God as their Father just as truly as He has God as His Father. The unbelieving world doesn’t have this relationship to God. God is the Father of all people, because He created us all. But those who don’t believe in Jesus don’t have the privileges of being children who are fathered by God and live in His house. They don’t live in God’s house, which means of course that they don’t have to live by the rules of His house. But it also means they don’t have the benefits of dwelling in the house of the Lord.

 

As God’s children through faith in Christ, God the Father has an open heart toward us, like a loving father has toward his children, except that God’s heart is full of perfect love, where a human father’s is imperfect. Because of this love, we can make requests of God the Father and expect to be heard.

 

But also through Jesus we know God the Father. No one can see God. But in Jesus we have the exact reflection of who God the Father is. Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father, Jesus tells Philip in John 14.

 

As we grow to know Jesus by hearing and reading His Word, receiving His absolution and His Supper, we grow to know the Father. We learn to know His grace—that He doesn’t deal with us as our sins deserve, but blesses and honors us as though we had never sinned. We learn to know His mercy and kindness, His gentleness toward sinners—even when our lives are hard and from a human perspective it appears as if He is dealing harshly with us. We learn to know His power to save, deliver, and defend us, which knows no limits. We learn all these things especially from Jesus’ death and resurrection. There we see God deal once and for all with our sins. All of them, including the selfishness that has motivated us to try to use God for our own ends instead of seeking Him for His own sake, He laid on Jesus. All of them He judged and punished on the cross. And all of them He showed to be removed, taken away forever when Jesus rose from the dead. And because we don’t believe this, or doubt it, He continually proclaims it to us as we come to church week in and week out, burdened by our failures, our unbelief, our feelings of alienation from God. He continues to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, His testimony that our sins have been erased from His sight.

 

Because this is true, Jesus tells the disciples, including us, “In that day you will not ask me for anything. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23-24)

 

When Jesus rises from the dead, we are also alive from the dead. We are dead to sin and alive to God the Father. We are no longer God’s enemies in Adam, but new creatures who live to God in Christ. So when we speak to the Father, we come before Him as little Christs.

 

Just as Jesus received everything He asked from the Father, so will we.

 

That means that when we pray for the things Jesus promised us and taught us to pray for, we can be certain that we “will receive” those things. When we ask for God’s Word to be taught purely to us, that He will give us the Holy Spirit to believe that Word, be saved by it, and live a holy life, we will surely receive it. When we ask that God preserve us in that word and faith until we die, we will surely receive it. When we ask for God to give us daily bread—what we need to support this life—He will not fail us. Nor will He deny us forgiveness of our sins when we ask for it, nor support and deliverance from the devil’s temptations, and finally be to be brought out of this world of sorrow safely into the eternal joy of everlasting life.

 

We don’t pray those things and hope God will give them to us. That’s the way those who don’t know Jesus and His Father pray. Such prayers are not heard.

 

Instead we pray to the Father with certainty, not only that He hears us, but that He will give us whatever we ask, as though we were His Son.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Not of this World. Cantate-5th Sunday of Easter 2016

ascension-of-christ-guariento-d-arpoCantate—5th Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

April 24, 2016

“Not of This World”

Iesu Iuva

 

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!

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Sorrow into Joy. Jubilate-Easter 4, 2016

resurrection mantegna.jpgJubilate (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:16-22

April 17, 2016

“Sorrow into Joy”
Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

When Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer,” we know what He is talking about, unlike the disciples in the Gospel. Soon Jesus will be arrested and tried before the high priest. When that happens, most of the disciples will “see Jesus no longer,” because they will all run away, except for John and Peter. Then at the high priest’s house, Peter will deny Jesus three times, and he too will leave. Only John will be there when Jesus is mocked and beaten and Pontius Pilate hands Him over to be crucified. He alone out of the eleven disciples will see Jesus die on the cross. And then he too won’t see Jesus anymore, because Jesus will be wrapped up in linen cloths, placed in a tomb, and the stone will be rolled in front of the door and hide Jesus from his sight.

 

When all this happens, it will appear that everything the disciples believed and hoped for had died. Their faith in Jesus will seem to have been empty. Jesus’ Kingdom will appear to have come to nothing. All the disciples will have with them is guilt and fear. They will remember how they had denied their Lord and perhaps, at the same time, they will wonder whether they had been deceived and followed a false prophet.

 

This experience wasn’t unique to the eleven disciples. All Christians experience this one way or another. It may happen when you are dying; then you may not feel Jesus’ presence with you to comfort you. How will you endure that?

 

Or it may happen as we watch loved ones abandon Christ and His Church. Brothers, sisters, or children simply walk away from Jesus and fall in love with the world. We pray for them, we cry for them, we plead with them, and nothing happens.

 

Or we may watch as the Church appears to die.

 

Of course we know that Jesus will not let His Church die; He will always preserve a remnant on earth. But there have been many times when the Church appeared to die in a particular place. There were many Lutheran churches in territories that later were reclaimed by the Catholic Church during the counter-reformation in the 17th century. Those churches suffered persecution. Many Lutherans gave in and joined the pope’s church again, telling themselves they could still be saved, even though they denied the Gospel. Others worshipped in mountains and forests so that they could continue to hear the pure Gospel. But many were finally forced to leave those countries, along with their possessions and sometimes their children. Once flourishing Lutheran churches disappeared from those lands.

 

What do you do then, when your church is wiped out? When your church dies, isn’t it hard to see Jesus?

 

We are living through this as a congregation. It’s hard even to talk about it, just like often we don’t admit a loved one is dying until it becomes too late to talk with them about preparing to die. But just as in that situation, those who love this congregation are full of turmoil. Sometimes we accuse ourselves. Sometimes we accuse others. We look for a reason why God lets this happen. But nothing seems to change things. People leave, often because they can’t see how Jesus is present in a suffering congregation. Meanwhile, as Jesus said, we lament, but the world rejoices. People who are angry at St. Peter—because of our sins or because they were offended by the Word of God—privately or publicly take pleasure in seeing its decline.

 

Jesus says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21) When Jesus used this illustration with His disciples childbirth was harder than it is today. There were no painkillers; there were no doctors to perform emergency c-sections. When the time for labor came, the mother was in God’s hands. She couldn’t prevent labor from happening. She couldn’t speed up the delivery. She couldn’t bring herself safely through labor, and neither could the midwife, her husband, her family, nobody. She had no choice but to recognize that her life and the life of her baby were in God’s hands alone. Meanwhile, she simply had to endure the pain and trust that God would deliver her.

 

However, when the baby was delivered, she didn’t remember the anguish of labor. The anguish turned into joy. All that was left of her anguish was the joy of this new life that had come into the world.

 

That is what Jesus tells the disciples will happen with the little while they are not able to see Him. And He tells us the same thing.

 

The disciples forgot about the anguish they experienced when Jesus was buried. All they could see when Jesus appeared in their midst was the joy of the new life that He brought with Him from the grave—a new life no longer under sin and no longer under the condemnation of the Law. His resurrection brought forth a new life for them in which they lived in freedom, in which their sins were no longer counted to them.

 

The same will happen during the “little whiles” when we can’t see Jesus. There is no way to make ourselves feel His presence and no way to deliver ourselves out of our anguish. We only have His promise that this suffering will last only a little while. Then we will see Him again and rejoice. When He raises us up from affliction we rejoice more profoundly in the Gospel. Not that we didn’t believe it before we were afflicted, but that after we are raised up again we see that He is the one who preserves our faith. We hold more firmly to His resurrection and victory even when we see defeat and death surrounding us in the world.

 

If God resurrects our congregation when it seems near to death, we will rejoice in His power and grace that delivered us when human help failed us. And if He does not, we do what we do when He allows one we love to die. We trust in the forgiveness of sins our Lord won by His suffering and His victory over hell and the grave in His resurrection. We don’t despair but we trust Him who is victorious and sits at the right hand of the Father.

 

Jesus says that we will not only have joy, but that we will have joy that no one can take away. S0 you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:22) Now of course, this will happen in heaven, when Jesus brings us from this valley of sorrows to see His face. Then our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take our joy from us.

 

But this joy already belongs to us. With our eyes, we can’t see the outcome of our suffering—we don’t know whether our loved ones will repent and return to Christ. When we feel like we are dying, we can’t see whether God will restore us to health. We also can’t see heaven or the forgiveness of our sins on the far side of death. And when our church seems to be dying, we can’t see whether God will save it. We can’t determine with certainty the cause of its decline—our sins? The godlessness of the time we live in? We can’t see.

 

But we have seen and do see Jesus. In the Gospel we see Him risen from the dead, with death and destruction beneath His feet.

 

We see Him with us: in His Holy Supper; we see Him baptizing and absolving sinners in our midst. We see this not with our eyes but by faith in His Word. By faith we see that in His resurrection He justified us of our sins before God—even when we have been unfaithful and abandoned Him, like the disciples. By faith we see that He is with us, as He promised, until the end of the age. He will remain with us in His Word and Sacraments and preaching, whether we are few or many, whether the Church is persecuted or has peace.

 

We can’t see the outcome of the suffering we endure with our eyes. But by faith we see, because we see Jesus. We see our resurrection from the dead and our victory.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Shepherds and Hirelings. Circuit Pastor’s Meeting, Wednesday after Misericordias Domini, 2016.

peter crucifiedWednesday after Misericordias Domini

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 10:11-16

April 14, 2016

Hirelings and Pastors

Iesu Iuva

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

The Joyful Mission. Quasimodogeniti 2016

jesus risen with thomas

Quasimodogeniti (2nd Sunday of Easter)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 3, 2016

“The Joyful Mission”

 

Iesu Iuva

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

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