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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

 

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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

Shut In. Easter Vigil 2018 Gen. 7:16

March 31, 2018 1 comment

easter vigil.PNGVigil of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

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

March 31, 2018

Shut In

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

And the Lord shut him in.  Gen 7:16

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And it was the end.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

And the grave that shuts us in

Shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus, here with You I die,

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

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

A New World. Funeral Sermon–Job 14:1-17, 1 Cor. 15:20-26, Matt. 27: 33-60

February 26, 2017 Leave a comment

In Memoriam + Kathe Schroeder

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Job 14:1-17, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, Matthew 27: 33-60

February 25, 2017

“A New World”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Sandi, Ron, John,

All of Kathe’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

Her family and friends,

Members of her church family at St. Peter:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

God’s Word for our comfort today comes from all of the readings we just heard, and in particular these words from first Corinthians: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  (1 Cor. 15: 22-24)

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

In the old version of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism that I had to memorize, the fourth commandment was longer than the one the kids learn now.  Honor your father and mother, we learned.  But it used to have more, a promise: that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. 

 

I want to start off by saying that I have not seen, in ten years as a pastor, a family that honored their parents (and grandparents) more than you have shown honor to Reiner and Kathe.  I have seen quite a few families that loved and honored their parents at St. Peter, don’t get me wrong.  But in a day when people no longer do this, your family has been exemplary—even the grandkids.  The promise of blessing God attached to the fourth commandment applies to you.

 

Frequently when loved ones, particularly parents, die, people feel guilt that they did not show enough love and honor to them when they were alive.  Perhaps some of you feel this way today.  It is true that before God even the best fall short of keeping this commandment like we do all the others.  Before God we can’t brag that we have done all that He asks even when we’ve done our best.  But God covers our sins; He blots them out with the blood of His Son, and covers us with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, just as now Kathe’s body is covered by a white cloth emblazoned with the cross.  She always expressed to me her feeling that God had blessed her and Reiner by giving her children and grandchildren that loved and honored them.  So I hope that this will be a comfort to you—your care for Kathe was an example, and wherever you failed, God has covered your failings, just as Kathe’s whole life was covered with the perfect life of Jesus when she was baptized.

 

Kathe was blessed in many ways in this life, and she always said this when I visited her.  She was blessed with a husband that was the love of her life, a gift which is not given to everyone.  She was blessed with three children that she loved and that loved her; then with a similar relationship with her grandchildren.  She had a beautiful family, a beautiful home.  God gave her a good character, an ability to work hard and do good for others, which she passed on to her children and great-grandchildren.  Above all, she was blessed in a way that so many are not.  She was baptized into Christ as a baby and taught to know Him as her only Savior from her sins and from death.  And she remained in this faith which was given to her in baptism until her end.

 

For all these blessings she received, and for the blessing her life was, we give thanks to God today.  You remember her, and you rightly feel grief that this woman, with all of the little things she did, will not be present in the rest of the years of your life on earth.  You are right to feel grief about this and even to express it to God.  For years when I would come to visit she would make me tea and give me those pieces of sugar that looked like ice; when I put them in the tea they would make cracking noises.  She would put a plate of cookies and pastries in front of me.  I will remember those times, but I will not experience them again in this life.  You have other memories.  One that was in her obituary that made me laugh was that she never let her grandkids win at any board games!  You have many memories like this, and it is a loss over which it is right to grieve that during the years of this life you will no longer see her or hear her voice.

 

I say this not to rub it in, but because we try to deny the loss to make the pain go away.  But it is in facing the reality of the pain of death that God’s comfort comes to us.

 

Kathe’s life was filled with a lot of happiness.  But in a way it was happiness snatched out of the hand of great powers that loomed over her and the whole world.  She had many griefs.  She just didn’t talk about those—at least not to me—or dwell on them.  Her father died when she was a child, leaving her family in poverty.  She was confirmed in 1942, when the world was in the middle of a terrible war and her country was a police state.  And when the war was over, it only kind of got better for her country.  Half of it came under the control of another police state from the other side of the political spectrum.  The world sat on the brink of a much worse war in which the whole world could be destroyed.  No one was sure when that might happen.  And Germany was right on the border.

 

People kept on living.  They got married, like Kathe and Reiner, and started families.  Yet it could have all come crashing down.  They were lucky and moved to the United States where it was a little safer.

 

But even now, this world is under the control of dark authorities and powers.  We live in their shadows.  It is the darkness of the shadow of death.  In this world, God appears remote and absent.  When we want to come near to Him, there is a barrier—that in thought, word, and deed, we break His commands.  Pain, sickness, and hardship come to all of us, and also death.  And for many people, at many times, the sense arises that these bad things are happening to us because God is against us.  People don’t say this usually, but the feeling lingers.

 

That was what Job was saying in the first reading we heard.  Why do you keep such close watch on my sins, God, he asks, that you are punishing me so intensely?  I’m only on earth a little while—then I’m gone.  I was born in sin, and when I have done my best, I still am a sinner in your sight.  He expresses longing that God would bury his sins forever, deal with him as a father, give him life in place of the death that comes as a result of sin.

 

Then we heard another apparently depressing reading.  Jesus was led out to “the place of the skull” and crucified.  And while he hung on the cross by nails in his hands and feet, Jesus cried out in agony, My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?  A few hours later He let out a loud cry and gave up His spirit in death.

 

Then something happened that doesn’t usually happen.  The earth shook.  Rocks split open.  The curtain in the temple that closed off the holy of holies, the place where God dwelt on earth, ripped from the top to the bottom.  Almost unbelievably, graves were opened and a bunch of holy people who had died rose and appeared to many people.  The event was so overwhelming that even one of the Roman soldiers who was there, who probably didn’t believe in the God of the Jews, said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” 

 

This was not an ordinary, natural event.  Jesus was and is the Son of God.  When He died, God tasted death.  The punishment of death, the penalty for rebellion against the God who made us, was experienced by God.  Jesus took our sins as His; and He took the punishment for them.  He experienced being forsaken by God.  He died.  And the result was—the earth shook, as if the world itself was being moved, changed.  The way into God’s presence was made open.  The dead rose to life again.  The dark powers that have controlled the world were thrown down.  And the way was paved for a new world to being—a world in which there is no death, where God is near, and the darkness over our world and in our hearts becomes light.

 

That all happened in a moment when Jesus died.  But then everything seemed to return to normal.  Jesus was taken down off the cross and buried, just like everyone else.  That seemed like the end.

 

You know what comes next.  If not, Paul reminds us.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Even though the world seemed like it had gone back to normal, to darkness and death, it had not.  Things had changed. Jesus rose from the dead; his followers came out on Sunday and found an empty tomb.  Then He appeared to them, told them what was going to happen next, and forty days later ascended to heaven.

 

What was going to happen next was His disciples would go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They would also say what this means.  It means that the sins Jesus carried on the cross have been paid for.  God released Jesus from them into resurrection and eternal life.  And everyone who believes this shares in Jesus’ release from sin and death and His eternal life.

 

People often say to grieving friends, “Don’t worry; she is in a better place.”  For those who die believing in Christ this is true.  But people seldom believe that this world will be the better place.

 

Jesus is the firstfruits.  He rose from the dead.  And all the people He died for will also rise from the dead in the same way when He returns.

 

It will be a new and better world.  It won’t be a world where our happiness comes in the shadow of the powers of darkness that run this world, where we enjoy what we can while we can, and God seems far away.  It will be a world where the powers of darkness are thrown out forever, and the darkness of our hearts is also gone, and God will be all in all.

 

Kathe became a citizen of this new world in 1927 when she was brought to the baptismal font in Firrel, Germany.  She was baptized into the risen Jesus, with His righteousness, life, and victory over death.  Her sins were forgiven.  That is why now the Easter candle burns in front of her body.  The life of Jesus, risen from the dead, became her life.  The perfect righteousness of Jesus, and His atonement for the sins of the world, was drawn over her infant life.  Today it still covers her like the white pall with the cross covering the casket.  We do not know what she will look like when the day of resurrection comes exactly.  We know that just like the image of Adam was on her when she suffered, when she got old, when she died, the image of Jesus will be evident in her body when she rises—the image of righteousness, joy, victory, everlasting life.  There will, beyond all shadow of a doubt, be a smile on her face—of gratitude, of joy, of victory.

 

Jesus died and rose again and claimed the whole world—all people who share His flesh and blood—to live in that new world.  You as well—whoever you are, whatever you have done, whatever you believe.  Everyone is in, no one is out, except those who refuse to be in, who won’t believe it, who insist on their right to remain in the darkness, in the shadow of the dark powers running the world now.  He claimed you with His blood, and when you were baptized He put on you the garments of righteousness of the new world that He will reveal when He returns.  Don’t throw it away.  Daily take off the old clothing of slavery and death and put on, by faith, the new man, risen from the dead.

 

That is where we get peace and strength to live in this world where the darkness overshadows us.  We receive the life of Jesus—in His Word, in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, in the sacrament of His body and His blood given and shed for us on the cross.  We receive in those things the assurance that we belong to Him and His new world which enables us to come near to God without fear and ask for the strength and peace we need to continue until the day when we will no longer be without the visible presence of our loved ones who have died in Christ—the day when we will see Kathe and Reiner, happy forever—and when we will see the God who made and redeemed them and us, face to face.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Victory Remained With Life. 16th Sunday after Trinity, 2016.

September 13, 2016 Leave a comment

widow-of-nain-waterford.jpg16th Sunday after Trinity (10:45 Church Picnic Service)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 7:11-17

September 11, 2016

“The Victory Remained with Life”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

It was a strange and dreadful strife

When life and death contended;

The victory remained with life,

The reign of death was ended.  LSB 458

 

 

I imagine everyone here who was alive will never forget what happened fifteen years ago on this day.  Strange and dreadful strife appropriately describes what I saw on tv all day that day in 2001, and for the next several weeks.  It was strange—the world felt strange for weeks afterwards.  Strange to watch an airliner come screaming into a skyscraper and explode into an orange ball; strange to watch Manhattan fill with atomized concrete and pieces of paper—who knew that that was what comes out of a skyscraper when it falls—white paper everywhere!  It didn’t feel real.

 

It didn’t feel real because the World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange and the giant metropolises of our country and the airports that enable people to do business one side of the country in the morning and go home in the evening—that’s what feels real to us.  What happened on September 11th in 2001 was—for just a day—we saw how fragile our reality is. For a second we sensed that our reality is not real.

 

They said on the news people went back to church for a little while after the attacks.  Maybe that’s because people realized that our American way of life—represented by skyscrapers and jet airlines and megalopolises and stock exchanges—aren’t God.  Some fanatics screaming Allahu akbar fly four planes the wrong way and two of the world’s tallest buildings collapse, one of the most important cities in the world shuts down, and the whole country goes into shock.  The gods we trusted in didn’t fall over; they just swayed a little.  But for a second we realized they are false gods.  There is another God who can knock them over in a second.  It inspired dread in the whole country.  Every time we saw replayed on television the flying into the tower—something that isn’t supposed to happen!—it was a voice that said, There is another God who with a flick of His finger can destroy this whole country.  He can destroy the whole world if He wants to.  And He just let us know that He might not be happy with us.

 

We saw death that day.

 

Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.  He said that when he saw the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima he thought of a passage from a Hindu scripture: I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. 

 

Death destroys worlds on a smaller scale every day.  The widow from Nain who lost her son, for instance.

And sometimes death destroys the worlds of people who haven’t died.  People who live in marriages where love has died and they have stopped hoping that it can be brought back to life.  People whose life has been interrupted, scarred, by illness, chronic pain, or depression.  People who had bright idealistic hopes to accomplish something with their lives who now laugh bitterly at their youthful selves.

 

A surprising number of people say things like, “I think God hates me” in response to death or suffering.  You hear it expressed more frequently than you’d expect by people that aren’t religious at all.

 

The voice that whispers that God hates us is closer to the truth than the voice that says God never would do anything so harsh.  The truth is that everyone who sins provokes God’s anger and hatred, comes under His curse.  Paul writes in Romans chapter 5, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God…” (Romans 5:10).  We were God’s enemies, Paul writes to the Christians at Rome—not just that we hated God, but He hated us, because we followed the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.  Among these we all once lived…following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Ephesians 2:2-3).  Doing what comes naturally, following the desires of our bodies and our minds, we, along with the whole world, were following the devil and were “children of wrath”.  God was full of anger toward us.  He was angry enough with us to give us pain in this life, kill us, and sentence us to eternal torment.  All this because we followed the desires of body and mind that we were born with, desires which add up to wanting to be like God, to do what pleases us and answer to no one.

 

God was angry with us, angry enough to destroy our worlds.  And He had been angry for a long time with us.  And has anything changed?  Has God gotten over His anger?  From what we can see in the world, there is no reason to think so.  People still die; they are still receiving the wages of sin (Romans 6). 

 

And the widow from Nain?  Sin had just cut her a check too.

 

The truly terrible thing about coming to the knowledge of sin is that—unless God’s heart is changed—there is no relief and no way out.  The teachers of the Jews told people that repentance would atone for their sins and bring about a change in God’s heart toward them.  But who could be sure they had repented enough to change God’s heart?  The only sure way would be to never sin again.  The widow, if she believed what the rabbis taught, couldn’t be sure if her son was in heaven or hell, nor which way she would go when she followed after her son into death.

 

Now the rabbis said that people should join in any funeral procession they came across.  To do this was to do something that found favor with the Lord; it was good in His eyes, and it would help take away His anger at your sins or increase His love for you.

 

Jesus, who is the Lord, doesn’t do what He’s supposed to do.  He doesn’t get out of the way. Instead He has compassion on her, which is to say He feels her grief like a stab in his own stomach.  He says, “Don’t cry.”  He moves past her, up to the stretcher on which men are carrying the body of her son, and reaches out and touches it.  They suddenly stop.  They are probably in shock that he would touch the dead body and contaminate Himself with the uncleanness of sin and death.  Then Jesus simply says, “Young man, I say to you, arise!”  And the man sits up and starts to speak, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.

 

The crowd’s response to this is interesting.  They call Jesus a great prophet and say that God has visited His people.  They are also stricken with fear, but they still praise God for the miracle.

 

That they are afraid is not surprising, really.  To see a man tell a dead man to rise, and the dead man does so—that would shake your world more than the twin towers falling.  If the technology and wealth are reality to us, death is even more so.  To see someone dismiss death with a few words is to behold power.   When they say “God has visited His people,” they are more right than they know.  They think it means that God has sent a great prophet through whom He will work to deliver them.

 

But a prophet, like Elijah, doesn’t raise the dead like this.  A prophet calls on God, and God in answer sends His limitless power to raise the dead.  But Jesus didn’t do that; He spoke the word that raised the young man from the dead Himself.  They are afraid when they see Jesus as a prophet who can pray to God to raise the dead and be heard.  They cannot fathom that in the man they see all the fullness of God dwells bodily (Colossians 2).  If they could they would probably run.

 

But God is not there in human flesh to destroy or to give out the due reward for our sins.  He is here to change the reality of death.

 

He is on earth to reconcile God and human beings.  To take away God’s anger toward us and replace it with love and favor.  To take away God’s anger toward mankind means to take away sin.  And where sin and God’s anger is taken away, death goes with them.

 

Jesus doesn’t preach in this Gospel.  This is an illustration of His preaching.

 

Jesus didn’t preach like Moses; He still doesn’t preach that way today.  His preaching was not about what you should avoid, what God wants you to do, the rewards and punishments that go with obedience and disobedience.  The substance of Jesus’ preaching was Himself.

 

I have come, He preached and still preaches, to make a sacrifice to God.  I offer up my life of holy obedience, and my agony and dying, to God for you.

 

When Jesus is dragged out through the gates of Jerusalem carrying His cross to the place of His death and burial, God will impute to Him the sins of the world.  And Jesus will feel the agony of those sins and God’s anger as He hangs on the cross.  He will feel the sins of the world as His own sins, and the wrath of God as His own wrath, and cry out that He is forsaken by God.  Until He gives up His spirit and hangs dead on the cursed tree.  And by submitting to sin, death, and God’s wrath, He undoes it—this reality that is the only one the world knows.

 

But by this suffering God will be reconciled to the world and all the sinners in it.  And that is how things stand now.  People can’t figure this out from looking at the world.  They can only learn this in the church where Jesus continues His prophetic ministry through the pastors who preach Christ (and not the wisdom of men.)  The message is that God is reconciled to the world and no longer counts the sins of men against them.  Which is to say, God has forgiven the world and all the sinners in it.  His anger has been discharged.  Our sins have been blotted out.  When Jesus offered up His holy life, His agony and His death, God’s anger against us was spent, and His favor came in its place.

 

The debt of our sins was paid and the price for our release, and the receipt was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

 

And if sin and God’s anger has gone, then so has the power of death.  Death is different for those who believe in Christ.

 

The grave is no longer a place of uncleanness.  It is a holy place, sanctified by the body of the Holy One who laid there before us and was resurrected in glory.  So our grave is the holy place out of which we will rise imperishable, never to die, never to weep, never again to sin.

 

And dying no longer has the sting and terror of God’s wrath, the despair of being abandoned for those who believe in Christ.  God’s wrath ended on the cross, that Jesus was forsaken once, so that God will never forsake us.

 

And the deaths we experience in life also are not death to Christians who cling to Jesus.  Neither pain, nor sickness, nor failure can separate us from the joy, life, and victory we have in Him.  In Jesus we have God’s good pleasure; in Him God says of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”—because Jesus has done well.  Because of what Jesus has already done for the world, God regards and declares us to be righteous in His sight, overruling the accusation of our conscience, the raised voices of those who know our sins, even the curse of the Law on our works.

 

This meeting of the two crowds was a foreshadowing of the strange and dreadful strife that happened on Calvary.  There were crowds there too, but only two wrestlers—the eternal Son, pinned to the tree and forsaken by God, and Satan, wanting to hold all people in bondage to sin and death.  It was a strange and dreadful strife…

 

The victory remained with life. A new reality emerged from this struggle. It appeared that Satan had won, that He had claimed Jesus with all the men who had come before Him.  They took Him down from the cross.  No one stopped the funeral procession.  They laid Jesus in the tomb and rolled the stone to shut it.  And then…you know the rest of the story.  Those who go to the tomb to mourn, honor the dead, pay their debt to death, find that the world has changed.  The tomb is empty.  The book recording the world’s transgressions has become clean white paper. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended. 

 

When we come out of our graves we will see how true that hymn is.  A little rest in the earth.  Then these mortal bodies will put on immortality.

 

A little cross and suffering here with our Lord.  Then God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

 

But we should not forget that life is ours now before the resurrection.  It lives within us, in these jars of clay that break so easily.  And when they break it shows the more clearly that the life within us is not from us.  When you break, and your world is destroyed by death, God is giving you a new world, and bearing witness to this world of the life of the world to come.

 

 

Holy Scripture plainly saith

That death is swallowed up by death;

Its sting is lost forever.

Alleluia!  LSB 458

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Holy Easter 2014 + St. Mark 16:1-8 + “The Very Flame of the Lord”

resurrected-christHoly Easter Day + St. Peter Lutheran Church Joliet, Illinois + St. Mark 16: 1-8 + April 20, 2014

“The Very Flame of the Lord”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  (etc)

 

First we consider the history of our Lord’s glorious resurrection from the dead, and second, the meaning of His resurrection for us.

 

First of all it is necessary to emphasize that this is the history of the resurrection of Jesus that St. Mark presents to us.  It is clear that he understands what he is writing to be fact rather than fiction.  He presents us with historical, public figures interwoven into the story, men that people knew and could possibly talk to at the time the Gospel was published.  None of these men tried to deny that Jesus was crucified and was buried.  People in Jerusalem could show you the place of the skull where he was crucified and knew the place where the guards stood watch.

 

Why is it important that this is presented to us as history, as the accounts of witnesses?  Because the Gospel of Jesus has no meaning if He didn’t really rise from the dead.

 

Jesus’ resurrection is either a fact that makes claims on everyone who lives in the real world where people die, or it is a lie that would be laughable if it had not had so much influence on the world’s history.  It really can’t be something in between.

 

Too often not only non-believers but also Christians act as if this belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a non-threatening, domesticated belief that can safely be brought around unbelievers and taken for a walk in polite society.  Such a Christianity doesn’t make any claims on people.  It says, “Jesus lives in my heart” without at the same time insisting that He also lives outside of our hearts at the Father’s right hand.

 

No, if Jesus rose from the dead, it means nothing in the world can remain the same.

 

It meant in the days of the early Church that it was wrong to worship Caesar as a god.  In fact, it upset the status quo by claiming that all of the old gods worshipped by the Romans and all the other nations of the earth were idols.  And the Jews, who had the Scriptures from the true God, had nevertheless not known their God.  They had actually called for His crucifixion when He visited them.

 

The preaching of the resurrection of Jesus was an announcement that all the people of the earth, especially the wise and noble ones, had not known God.  And now they were to repent.

 

Now they were to turn and worship the true God, who was a Galilean who had died the scandalous death of the cross.

 

To both Jews and Greeks this was blasphemy.  To say that God would allow Himself to be spit on, put to shame, torn by whips, cursed and suspended naked from a gallows by nails pounded through his hands and feet was like saying that God was not God at all.  That’s why the early Christians who died as martyrs were condemned for being “atheists.”  They said everyone else’s gods were not gods.  Then they proposed as the one true God a man who had come from a miserable town in Galilee and was crucified.

 

The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus is no less earth-shattering today.  If Jesus rose from the dead, the idols of our time are exposed for what they are.

 

Islam is shown to be a false religion that not only brutally oppresses women and adherents of other religions, but also leads people to worship a false god and be damned.

 

The worship of reason, knowledge, earthly prosperity and pleasure—which is the dominant religion in the West—is shown to be foolish idolatry if Jesus is risen.  Because if God was crucified, prosperity and pleasure can’t be the highest good.  If this crucified man is God, that means human reason is not the final authority about where human beings came from and where we are going.  Human reason would never have looked for the eternal God in a man nailed up to die naked, suspended above a public place of execution.

 

Jesus rose from the dead.  He will return to judge the living and the dead.  This message is an attack on politeness and tolerance as our age defines it, claiming that all religions are equal.  It means God is calling the world to repent, because the world in all the great things it has done has not known God and has been giving His worship to idols.

 

The history of Jesus’ passion and resurrection as Mark has written it does not put the disciples of Jesus in a favorable light either, though.  It tells us that the three women, as they went to the tomb of Jesus to finish embalming him, were worrying aloud about who would move the stone that sealed the tomb shut.  The disciples had abandoned Jesus and weren’t even around to ensure that He got a decent burial after His death, and now they seem to have been too afraid to go out with the women to help them open the door of the tomb.

 

As the three women walked by the place of Jesus’ execution to the nearby garden where He had been buried, they saw, unexpectedly, that the stone had already been rolled away.  And when they came to the tomb, they were startled to find no mangled corpse of a man who had been crucified, but instead a young man in white clothes sitting where Jesus’ body had been.

 

Imagine the terror you would likely have felt if you were there.  What is a young man doing sitting in Jesus’ grave?  As though he had been waiting for you to come?

 

And the young man said, “Don’t be alarmed.

 

You’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified.

 

He isn’t here.  He is risen.

 

Behold the place where they laid Him.”

 

And there the women could look and see—no Jesus.  Only the cloths in which He had been buried lying there, unoccupied.

 

“But go and tell his disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

 

And the women fled from the tomb.  They were trembling and in a trance-like state.  And they were afraid, and said nothing to anyone until later.

 

The women were expecting what the disciples expected, and what human reason expects today.  They were expecting to find the body of Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, lying cold in the grave.

 

But Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, was no longer there.  And the young man who met the women said, “He is risen and going ahead of you to Galilee.  He is not only alive, but He is ahead of you.”

 

Now regarding the significance of this for us.

 

Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, is no longer in the tomb.

 

He is now no longer suffering and put to shame, but has been raised from the dead.

 

He really and truly died.  His life in the flesh ended.  But He has been given a new life in the flesh.  And this life is not the same as the one before, where He was subject to weakness and humiliation, shame, and death.  In short, subject to sin.

 

He is now free from sin and death and all the suffering that comes with them.

 

Instead He is glorified.  He lives forever.  The nature and life of God is not hidden any longer but radiates from His body.

 

And why is this significant for us?  Because the life of God that raised Him and that is manifested in His human body is communicated to us.  He shares the life and glory in His flesh with our flesh.

 

When God wanted Moses to hear Him He had Moses see a bush that burned and was not consumed.

 

That is the nature of God.  He is a fire that does not burn out; He burns forever.  God is love.  The Song of Solomon says, “Love is stronger than death; jealousy is fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”  [Song of Solomon 8:6-7]

 

God is love.  God is the fountain of life.  He burns with love and life and never burns out.  And He does not consume those who are in His fire.

 

That fire of the divine nature always burned in Jesus, the man from Nazareth, but it was not clearly visible.

 

And it was not yet visible to the women, because they did not see Jesus yet.  They only heard the report of Him—just as you and I do not yet see the glory of Christ face to face, but only hear the report of Him in preaching and the Scripture.

 

But because Jesus had truly died for sins that were not His own but ours, now that He is risen, the divine fire that Moses saw now burns in Jesus without being concealed.

 

And it burns in Him, this immortal life of God, so that every human being might also burn with this fire of God’s life.

 

This happens not because we choose it but because Christ has done it.  He has laid our old nature in the tomb and raised a new man who is united to God and shares His nature.

 

Moses looked at the fire of God from outside.  The resurrection of Jesus means that the fire of divine life that never burns out is inside everyone who hears the word of Jesus’ death and resurrection and believes that his sins are forgiven on account of it.

 

What does this mean for you?  It means you are reborn in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

 

He lived our life under the law, bearing our sin.  He died under the penalty for our sin.  And after His life poured out in water and blood from His heart, and He was buried, God raised Him up, not to live the old life under sin, but the new life, in which He lives and reigns forever, true God and true man, the unquenchable fire of the divine nature burning in full glory and strength and brilliance in Him forever.

 

From His risen body He pours the divine flame into us in the Word of Him—when it flows over us in the water of Baptism, when it enters our ears in preaching, when we eat and drink the word with the bread and wine.  You could say we eat fire at the altar—the body and blood of Jesus, and the unquenchable fire that is God’s life and passionate love.  Like Isaiah, whose sinful lips were touched with a coal from the heavenly altar when He saw the Lord on His throne and heard the seraphim singing the Sanctus—Holy, Holy, Holy…

 

That fire does consume our sinful nature.  But it does not destroy us.  Because when our life in the flesh is over He will raise us up and we will have not just a little gospel light burning in the darkness of our sinful bodies in the great gloom of a sinful and dying world.

 

We will be flames in the blazing fire of God’s love and life.  That fire will illuminate our bodies forever, but not consume them.

 

What does this mean?

 

It means if you do not believe that Christ has been raised from the dead you are cut off from the God of life.  You bear your own sins, and the fire of God burns against you instead of for you.

 

But if you do believe that He rose from the dead, you must also know that He was raised for you, for your justification, your being counted righteous, just as He was handed over for your sins.

 

He is the righteous one with whom God is pleased.  He stands before the Father in human flesh not simply for Himself but as your advocate.  Because He is before the Father as the righteous one who was crucified for our sins, the Father no longer counts your sins against you.

 

Yet just as the women were terrified when they heard about Jesus’ resurrection, so it is often with us. 

 

We are afraid.  How can it all be finished, without my choosing, or willing, or changing?

 

Don’t despair because of your doubt and fear and because you feel how your flesh doesn’t believe, how it wants to go on living as though Christ were still in the grave.

 

He is risen.  His new life is ours.  His righteousness is counted to us.  We will have this life in its fullness in the resurrection.

 

So as we experience weakness and draw closer to death we are really drawing near to the day when these mortal bodies are consumed completely and we put on bodies that are glorious not with earthly splendor but with the glory of God.

 

That fire does not burn out.  It burns in you now, but then it will burn from within you like the sun.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

SDG

Sermon Holy Easter Day 2013 Mark 16:1-8

empty tomb iconHoly Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8

March 31, 2013

Jesu juva.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Christians: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I was a child being raised in the Lutheran Church I felt like I was close to God.  Maybe some of you had the same experience.  It’s not that I was innocent.  But I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  I believed that He rose from the dead.  It was not an effort to believe this.  I just did.  And I had peace, even though not everything in my life was perfect.

It seemed impossible that I would ever doubt that Jesus was my Savior and that He had risen from the dead.  When I was a child, falling away from Jesus was not something I thought about because it seemed utterly impossible.  I just could not imagine my faith in Christ failing.

I imagine at one time it must have seemed impossible, unthinkable, that there would come a day when nearly everyone in America didn’t put on a spring dress or a suit and go with the family to church on Easter.  It was hard to imagine Christianity (or at least cultural Christianity) being anything other than a success in the United States.

When I got older the certainty of my childhood no longer seemed desirable and no longer seemed possible.  I doubted things that I never thought that I would.  I no longer was a child, and it seemed like Christianity was easy answers for people who would accept easy answers.  I dabbled with other religions and other philosophies.  And this was intoxicating because it meant that I was the judge.  I would determine on my own what was true.  A side benefit of this was not having to observe all the moral requirements of Christianity—not having to be humble, or forgiving, or chaste.

But then the day came when I needed to be rescued from myself.  Actually that is every day.  But a day came when I really knew that I needed to be saved from myself.  And then I found myself helpless, hanging on the edge of the cliff of hopelessness by my fingernails.  What I never doubted as a child, I couldn’t stop doubting.  Really, God turned the entire Nile River into blood?  Really, when Jesus died dead people came out of the tombs and showed themselves to people?  Really, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven?

My faith, my conscience, and my life were bruised and torn and broken.  When I stopped doubting what the Scripture said happened in history, I started doubting whether the promises of God applied to me.  Whether I was forgiven my sins and would not be cast out by Jesus on the last day.

I did not have a victorious faith.  I was like the body of Jesus that Joseph buried—torn, humiliated, past hope.

My inner life was like that.  Outwardly I didn’t have a mark on my body.  I was like the young man in St. Mark’s account of the passion.  When Jesus was arrested they tried to arrest this man too, but the young man left everything behind to save his own life.  When they grabbed his garment he left it behind and ran away naked.  His body had no scars or bruises, but it was covered with shame and sin.

Read more…

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