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Checks Jesus Signs. Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2018. John 16:23-30

jesus ascension.PNGRogate, the 6th Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 6, 2018

“Checks Jesus Signs”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

When I was maybe seven years old my mom took me and my sister down to Danville, Illinois to see my great grandmother.  She was about 90 years old, but she was still a lot of fun because she gave me a black book that looked like a check book to play with.  This is great, I thought.  I started writing checks—Pay to the order of Karl Hess, $1 with as man zeroes after as I could fit on the piece of paper.  Then I gave it to my mom.

 

But she explained to me that writing a check doesn’t magically create money.  Of course, you have to have money in the bank.  Then, when you sign your name on the check, the bank sees your name and sends the money in your name wherever you directed them to send it on the check.  So I couldn’t write checks for a billion dollars in my great grandmother’s name and then sign my name on the check.

 

When I found this out, I didn’t think checks were so great anymore.

 

And a lot of us, or most of us, think like this about prayer.  We find out that we can’t write ourselves big checks for whatever we want, and we lose interest in praying.

 

Amen, Amen, the Lord Jesus promises—It shall be so, it shall be so: whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16:23-24)

 

Listen to the promise again.  It is a huge promise that Jesus gives His disciples: Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.  (John 16:23)

 

Incredible.  Whatever I ask?  It sounds like Jesus has given us a book of blank checks to draw on God the Father’s account.

 

Maybe you have never listened closely and heard the promise Jesus made here, so you’ve never tried to cash one of these checks.

 

But if you have, you almost certainly have had this experience: You asked God the Father for something, and He didn’t give it to you.

 

You prayed for success in your work, but you were unsuccessful.  You prayed for peace in your house, and the turmoil seemed to get worse.  You prayed for someone you loved to recover from their illness or have less pain, and God appeared to say, “No.”  You prayed God would make your church grow, but it shrank.

 

So you found yourself thinking, “Maybe it isn’t such a privilege to carry / Ev’rything to God in prayer.”  And you began to rely less on praying to God and more on your own work or on human experts to make your home peaceful or your loved ones get well.

 

But if you felt this way—experienced something like this—and I have, as have most Christians, if not all—it is not because Jesus didn’t mean His promise.

 

It’s because we overlook an important phrase in His promise.  He says: Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give you.  Our Lord Jesus doesn’t promise that the Father will give us anything we ask, but only what we ask in His name.

 

If my great grandmother let me have her checkbook when I was seven years old, and write whatever checks I wanted, that would have been a big mistake.  Very quickly we would have ended up with a big pile of candy, and toy cars, plastic soldiers and guns, and no food, the gas and water shut off, and no money in the bank.  Instead, the bank only sent out money if her name was on the check.

 

It’s similar with God the Father.  All His treasure: power, His authority, His wisdom, His glory, He has entrusted to one man only.

 

He has entrusted everything to the man who doesn’t seek His own will and glory, but only the will and glory of God the Father.  God has put everything in the hand of this man, His Son, Jesus.

 

When God the Father gets a prayer that does not come in the name of Jesus, His Son, the righteous one, He rejects it—just as the bank would have rejected a check that I wrote on my grandmother’s account and signed with my name.

 

Yet Jesus promises His disciples who believe in Him: In that day, you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and I believed that I came from God.  (John 16:26-27)

 

He promises us: My Father Himself loves you because you believe in Me.  It’s not just that I will pray for you.  The Father will hear your own prayers because you believe in Me.

 

*That’s why being baptized, as Elliot is today, is so great a privilege that we constantly remind ourselves of it, everytime we invoke the Name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” perhaps making the sign of the cross.  When we are baptized, God places His own name on us.  He gives us His name.  He covers us with the righteousness of Jesus so that we may approach God the Father in that righteousness and be received as God’s sons and heirs.  He cleanses us in our Baptism with the atoning blood Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.  And so we come to the Father as though we were Jesus Himself.

 

From this day forward Elliot may call on God as her own father and be assured God will hear her and not turn her away.  And it will be her parents’ task, along with her godparents and all of us, to teach and encourage her to come with confidence into God’s presence and call Him Father.

 

Those who don’t believe in Jesus can’t do this.  They can’t come to the Father because they do not know Him.  They certainly cannot call Him “Our Father.”  They can’t receive what they ask.  They are writing bad checks, signed with their own names instead of the name of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

These prayers don’t please God.  They anger Him, because prayers offered without faith in Jesus are all aimed at getting what we want for our own sinful purposes.

 

That’s often the reason why our prayers, the prayers of Christians, receive no answer or are answered, “No.”  Not that God won’t hear us.  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, God receives you.  He doesn’t look at your long track record of sins and failures.  He doesn’t look at the evil motives that fight in your heart with the Holy Spirit.  He looks at the righteousness of Jesus that covers your sins, the suffering and death that cancelled your sin, applied to you in Baptism.

 

But to ask the Father in Jesus’ name isn’t just to come in Jesus’ righteousness by faith.  It is also to ask for the things Jesus signs his name to.  Jesus doesn’t sign His name to all our desires.  It’s not always Jesus’ will that we escape difficulty, weakness, suffering, death.  Paul prayed that his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh”, would be taken away, so that he would be able to labor harder in the preaching of the Gospel.  But Jesus said, My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.  (2 Cor. 12:9) 

 

So how do we pray “in Jesus’ name,” according to His will?  How do we know what that is?

 

We receive His Word.  In His Word, we receive His Holy Spirit who comes into us and teaches us what to pray for.  Just like you eat every day, so you need to feed on Jesus’ word every day, so that the Holy Spirit can teach us to ask not what we will according to the flesh, but what Jesus would sign His name to.

 

Still, when you don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the Father.  He won’t cast you out, because He has already received you through the blood of Jesus and put His name on you in Baptism.

 

And He has given you the Holy Spirit, who prays within you according to God’s will when you don’t know how to pray.  He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God, Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8 (Rom. 8:27).

 

Jesus has also given us the very words to pray with Him to His Father in the prayer He gave us.  When you pray them, you are praying in the Name of Jesus, asking for things God will surely give you.  Look at the Small Catechism when you get home and remind yourself of the great things you are asking for when you pray that prayer together with Jesus.

 

When you pray it and other prayers that are in Jesus’ name—that are according to His will and offered in faith in Him, you have the assurance God the Father will not only listen, but will surely say “Yes” to them.  That is why we finish our prayers with “Amen”.  We are saying, “It shall be so.”

 

And Jesus gives another promise to us—that as you do this your joy will be full.

 

At St. Peter, we are a lot like the disciples of Jesus after He died.  We are full of anxiety, fear, distress.  Much like one of Jesus’ friends, Martha, to whom He said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distressed about many things, but one thing is necessary.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

We need not be.  Jesus has given us His access to God the Father.

 

Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that Your joy may be full.”  (John 16:24)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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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

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

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

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

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