7th Sunday of Easter

7th Sunday of Easter

May 13, 2018

John 17:11b-19

“The Heat Is On”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that serves as the basis of the sermon today is the Gospel lesson that was previously read from John chapter 17.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

HEY! Where did everyone go? What happened? Oh yeah, now I remember. This is that awkward time of year when everyone leaves Sarasota because it gets too hot in the summer. The average temperature in Ohio this month is only around 73 degrees; next month that jumps up to 83. By comparison, our average temperature this month will be around 86 but will quickly jump to 90 next month and will stay there for the next 4 months. And that’s why everyone leaves…because it gets too hot for them. It’s an awkward time, no? The stores and streets and restaurants are less crowded, which we like, but so many of our friends are gone for the next 4-5 months and that part we don’t like. Awkward time, is it not?

Today is also a awkward time in the church year. This Saturday/Sunday falls between the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord (which was Thursday) and the festival of Pentecost. This is kind of an awkward week in the church year. Given today’s temperature, some would say that it is already summer, but that’s not what the calendar says…the calendar says it’s still spring. In the church year we can say that it is still sort of Easter and not quite Pentecost. It’s all so confusing!

Today’s Gospel lesson from John 17 helps bring some clarity to at least the church year, but doesn’t help with the temperature outside…you’re on your own out there. John 17 is a portion of Holy Scripture commonly known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is the prayer that He offered up to God the Father before the events of His passion began to unfold. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He had accomplished His earthly ministry, He knew that His suffering and death were almost at hand, and He knew that following that He would ascend back to the glory of Heaven. Jesus knew that after He ascended, we would be left in the awkward in-between time following Jesus’ ascension and His return. Jesus knew we would still be on earth, and He knew that the heat was going to be turned on and turned up repeatedly until His return. This prayer was offered up for many things, and among Jesus’ requests was that the disciples and us be prepared to live in this world during the awkward, in-between time when the heat would keep getting higher and higher.

And the heat is on. There is no denying that this world has been and is still hostile towards Jesus Christ. The world hated Jesus’ disciples and almost all of them died a martyr’s death. Peter was crucified on an upside-down cross. James was put to death by the sword. James the younger (son of Alphaeus) was thrown off the Temple tower. Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross. Thomas was killed by a lance in India. As those first apostles went forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the heat was definitely on, and in many cases, they died as a result.

So much has changed over the last 2000 years, or has it? The chances are slim that you will find yourself on an x-shaped cross, at least not in the U.S., but world still has intense dislike for Christians and Christianity. The heat is on for the Christian Church. According to the International Society for Human Rights, in 2009 Christians were the victims of 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world. Closer to home, church attendance and membership numbers are shrinking. Over the last 20 years, LCMS membership is down 14%, a trend across Christendom. The Christian church has lost its voice in the public square having been shouted down by those who oppose the church. The number of children being baptized, attending Sunday School and getting confirmed is shockingly low. And in so many places, the church has abandoned its message of sin and grace and the cross in favour of entertaining people with praise bands and smoke machines. Churches stopped standing for something and so now its members fall for everything; they have no theological backbone. One of the questions of the confirmation rite is to ask the Confirmand if they “intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” They say I do, by the grace of God…but where are they? They didn’t ALL go to Ohio. See what I mean about the heat is on for the Christian Church and its future?

It is easy to feel that way with declining membership and empty spots in the pews. It’s too easy to feel alone and unprotected. It is too easy to feel isolated and abandoned and helpless and hopeless. It is too easy to lose heart and give up when the heat is turned up in your life when you deal with the pain, addictions, anger, loss, and so on. The modern Christian church isn’t too helpful; contemporary pastors know more about guitar solos than dealing with grief. Being a Christian is hard in any time during any age, but today with the heat turned up even more, we truly walk in danger all the way.

The reality is that we are not alone. Jesus, our High Priest, has been praying and continues to pray for us. He also told us that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against His church! From John 17 we heard Jesus pray for His disciples and, therefore, He prays for us as modern-day disciples. Jesus prayed that His disciples would be protected from the world – please note that we’re not to be taken out of it – and protected from the evil one. The danger that we face is not so much protection from suffering. Suffering is a natural by-product of living in a world stained by sin. The protection that Jesus is praying for is that we would not lose our faith. When the heat gets turned up in our lives and things get difficult, Jesus’ prayer is not that we be automatically taken away and spared from any suffering. Jesus knows that suffering WILL come. But the prayer is that when the heat does get turned up, that we would not lose faith in Him and all that he did for us. He came to earth for us. He lived here amidst the pain and persecution and strife for us. He died on a cross for us. He rose again from the grave for us. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified – the people of God made holy by God and set apart for God’s service by the truth of God’s Word.

God the Father has heard Jesus’ prayer. How do we know? Because we have seen the results! We have been given that joy that Jesus prayed we would receive (v. 13). We have the joy of sins forgiven! We have the joy of fellowship with each other! We have the joy of eternal life! Amidst the heat and danger of this world, we have been and are protected by the power of God’s name. Jesus prays for His church – and He prays for you – that we may live and have our sanctified being even in the midst of a hostile world. And there is nothing – NOTHING – no amount of heat, no enemy, can stop our faith or our church for we know the truth, and the truth has set us free.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone. Amen.

6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

John 15:9-17

“In Jesus’ Love”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read from John 15.

My dear friends,

What do you think of when you hear the word love? Do you think of a couple walking hand-in-hand on the beach? Do you think of Valentine’s Day and a warm fuzzy feeling in your stomach? Today we want to understand that such a concept of love is just a very, very small part of the capacity to love and to be loved. Last week we focused on the shocking things that love can do. Today we want to explore the motivation of Christian love, a love modeled after the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What was love to our Savior Jesus Christ? What did Jesus think of when He heard the word love? Jesus would not define love with words, but with actions: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). “Having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end. . . . Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (Jn 13:1, 5). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). There you have it—that is love. Last week we considered the question “is love not shown still love?” The answer is NO! For Jesus, love meant nothing apart from deeds. Jesus didn’t just speak love, he did love. Love for Jesus was sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed his time, energy, personal comfort, and the sacrifice of his very life.

Jesus gave all of this love to us very unlovable, sinful human beings. Jesus didn’t choose us to love because we loved him first. No, people aren’t too good at that….not even the disciples. The night of our text—early that night, that is—Peter and all the disciples were sure they’d make any sacrifice for Jesus, even die with him. Well, you know how that turned out. The disciples were good with love that was words – they were “all talk” – but when it came time for sacrifice, to put their lives on the line, even their words bailed out: “I don’t know the man. I don’t know the man! I don’t know the man!” No, Jesus didn’t choose to love the disciples because they chose to love him. He’s quite emphatic: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (v 16).

And Jesus did choose you—you who were no more lovable and reliable than Peter. You who bail when it’s time to tell your friends, right out loud, right there when he’s being mocked, “I love Jesus.” We claim to love Jesus but we’ve let the world re-define His intention for love and marriage. We’ve let our love for the unborn grow cold and watched them die day after day. We claim “we love Jesus,” yet find excuse after excuse to not attend church or Bible study regularly.

We weren’t lovable, but Jesus says, “I love you—your sins are forgiven.” Jesus says, “I love you—I lay down my life for you, my friend.”

What is love to you? How would you define love? Why do we love? First of all, we love because God commands us to love. It’s not an option. Twice in today’s Gospel, Jesus does not suggest that we love—he commands us to love. How do we love? We love as Jesus loved. Now that’s a pretty tough order. To love as Jesus loved means that we serve as Jesus served.

We love by sacrifice. We love not by words but by deeds. We love by laying down our lives for others. Not necessarily literally, but as we give of our time, our comforts, and our treasures, we are laying down our lives in love for others. We lay down our lives in favor of the needy when we visit a homebound member or give to All Faiths Food Bank. We love not to get something but to do something. Maybe we shouldn’t say, “I love you.” Maybe we should say, “What can I do for you?” Love without sacrifice is nothing.

The story goes that in 19th century England there was a daughter (Marie) of a princess (Alice, 2nd daughter of Queen Victoria) who was deathly ill with diphtheria. The mother was forbidden to kiss the child because of the almost certain danger of contracting the disease. In one of the many moments of pain for the child, the mother was so distressed that she took her daughter in her arms and soothed her into quietness. The daughter looked into the eyes of her mother with an expression of pure pain. This was too much for the mother’s heart. She took her child, pressed her against her body and kissed her. It was a kiss of death. Love is sacrifice without counting the cost.

Whom do we love? Anyone for whom we sacrifice is someone we love, starting with our spouses, children, and friends. We can love people whom we don’t even know. We sponsor a child through World Vision as do thousands upon thousands of Christians. How many people give money for the relief of those caught in natural disasters? That is sacrificial love. We love those who do not love us. We love as we do deeds in the name of Jesus Christ. We do because Jesus loved us first.

The sacrificial love of Jesus is hard for us to do. It takes effort, practice, and concentration. It takes open eyes to see the needs of others. How can you better love those at home, at church, at work, in your neighborhood? Love with the love of Jesus. Love because he loved you first. I love you. What can I do for you? May that question always be on your lips in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018

1 John 4:7-11

“Ain’t it Shocking What Love Can Do?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s sermon is based on the Epistle lesson read from 1 John.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

 

Internet bloggers who write about sermons say that a good sermon opening should include an attention getting statement or attention getting question so that the sermon becomes the most interesting thing in the room. Okay. How about this for an attention getting question: what do the introduction of Crack cocaine, the withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army from Afghanistan, and my wedding all have in common? Answer? They all happened 30 years ago in 1988.

Ah yes…1988. America 30 years ago. There were no Internet bloggers because there was no Internet; no Google, no Amazon. A gallon of gas cost 91 cents. Stamps were only 24 cents and a movie theater ticket would set you back $3.50. It was also a year when an up-and-coming singer was starting to get recognized. Her name was Whitney Houston. For those of you who have no idea who Whitney Houston was, she was a very famous and successful singer starting in the mid 1980s until addiction and a poor marriage ruined her career. Whitney Houston’s career ended badly in 2012. She had performed in England to terrible reviews that she was behaving in an erratic matter and seemed pre-occupied while on stage. Her final performance was on February 9th in Hollywood, CA when she took the stage with R&B singer Kelly Price to sing (oddly enough) “Jesus Loves Me.” 2 days later, on February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston was found submerged in the bathtub in the guest room where she was staying with a host of chemicals in her system, and not all of them legal. Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012; she was only 48 years old.

When she was still sober and a rising star, Whitney Houston had a #1 song in 1988 that I heard again recently and it got me thinking as I prepared this sermon. The song is called, “So Emotional” and the refrain goes like this: I get so emotional, baby. Every time I think of you. I get so emotional. Ain’t it shocking what love can do?

And as I was thinking things over, that last phrase kept resounding in my head…ain’t it shocking what love can do? And I have come to the following conclusion…yes, it is shocking what love can do, and I think you will agree with me.

Yes, ain’t it shocking what love can do. Everyone here already knows what people do in the name of “love.” People steal and lie in the name of “love.” People rape and abuse in the name of “love.” People kill one another all in the name of “love.” What the world often considers “love” is actually selfish and self-centered. Many times our idea of love is a corruption of what God created as good. Ain’t it shocking what love can do?

Is that kind of love real love? Is that the kind of love that John was writing about in this letter? Absolutely not. John, Jesus in John 3:16, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 all use the same word for love (Agape). Paul wrote that true love is “patient, (it) is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV). Wow…ain’t it shocking what love can do?

It is shocking what God’s love can do and has already done. In Genesis 2 we read about God creating Adam and Eve, the very first people. That was a very loving act. But in Genesis 3, God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden – Paradise – because they sinned. Is that loving? Absolutely. Really? It is shocking what love can do. For God loved His creation and knew that we could not spend eternity with Him in a state of sinfulness, and so in loving kindness, He again did something about it. We heard those words in 1 John: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That is the kind of true love that God exhibits. He loves His creation so much, that He sent His only Son Jesus Christ into this world to live and die and rise again for us for the forgiveness of our sins; to fix what we broke in the Garden of Eden. Jesus dying on the cross is not a pretty picture, granted, but it is an act of love that forgives you and me and all of humanity! Ain’t it shocking what love can do?

The love of God is a forgiving love. The love of God is a sacrificial love. The love of God is a perfect love that doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, but keeps loving and forgiving because of Jesus Christ. And, as a result, we are encouraged to exhibit that same kind of love. 1 John 4:11 reminds us that, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Despite all of our selfishness and sinfulness, we are still loved by God and called to be His children in and through Baptismal faith. God’s love for us is not corrupted in any way, and in the same way we are to love one another. But is love not shown still love? God’s love inspires us to SHOW our love for God and neighbor. Stewardship is way more than the money you put in a plate. Stewardship is a way of life. We have an amazing opportunity right at our feet to show our love through our involvement at All Faiths Food Bank. Is this a significant opportunity? You bet! And what greater way for us to share and show our love than giving and serving our neighbor the same way God gives to and serves us.

You already know how human love can and does fail people. But God’s love inspires and maintains our relationships. We are inspired to love each other with the same kind of love that God shows His people ever since they were created. God has loved you, He forgives you, He bought you with the sacrificial life and death of Jesus. He loves you that you may now love one another and show that love to each other every day in your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Ain’t it shocking what love can do? Hey, just be thankful I didn’t hear “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, another 1988 hit song. Not sure to preach that one. I could always ask an Internet blogger I suppose.

Amen.

4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter/Good Shepherd Sunday

April 22, 2018

Psalm 23:1-6

“Getting to Know Your Shepherd”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the well-known Psalm 23 spoken earlier in the service.

My dear friends,

This summer I will celebrate being a pastor for 15 years and being your shepherd – your pastor – for 4 years. Since August of 2014, I have been your shepherd in this place to help you do the ministry God has called us to do and to train you in the ways of righteousness. You called me to come and preach/teach the Word of God, forgive/retain sins, and rightly administer the Sacraments which I have tried to do. But how much do you really know about me? Well, how about you get to know me a little better by playing a game we’ll call “Getting to Know Your Shepherd.” Okay, question #1: Where was your shepherd born? (A: Lincoln, NE). Question #2: From where and in what is your shepherd’s college degree? (A: Bemidji State University in English). Question #3: What is your shepherd’s favorite football team? (A: Nebraska Cornhuskers). Question #4: What was your shepherd named in high school? (A: Most Outstanding Senior). Finally, question #5: how many grandchildren does your shepherd have (A: 3). Well, all that information is well and good, and I’m glad you know some stuff about me, but I’m not always going to be a part of your life. Knowing that, today would be an especially good day to get to know your Shepherd, but not me.

Psalm 23 is so familiar, so comforting, so recognizable, so memorable. That’s probably why everyone almost knows it by heart. David points out that the Lord is our shepherd. Some of the impact of that statement is immediately taken away because you see quite a few less shepherds in 21st century America then in the ancient Near East; when was the last time you saw a shepherd leading a flock of sheep along Tamiami Trail or anywhere for that matter? But I think we still get the point. Just as a shepherd cares for the flock and all of the flock’s needs, God cares for every human need: spiritual, emotional, and physical. Our Good Shepherd provides everything that we need in this life, but usually one of three things happens. #1 – we fail to recognize that those gifts come from Him. Or, secondly, when smoke and bullets and screams fill the air we believe that the Good Shepherd wasn’t there to help bind up the wounded who lay in pools of their own blood clinging to life in the valley of the shadow of death.

The third thing that can happen is that we focus on the things that we want, but do not necessarily need. As selfish people we think we know what we NEED: flawless security, perfect health, nurturing relationships, abundant material possessions, and a constant Facebook presence in which our every word is adored by the viral masses. I hope you’re picking up on the sarcasm; I’m laying it on pretty thick. But is that the way reality is? Nope. The awful string of school shootings this past academic year reminded us that we are not always safe in human terms; the best laid plans of mice, men, and administrators are only so helpful if someone is bent on hurting you. Prescription drugs, that are supposed to be there to help us, are abused at an alarming rate; our collective health is FAR from perfect. Are all of our relationships with all other people nurturing and healthy and filled with vitality? That’s rich. Nobody in this country can make up their minds whether they should stand or kneel for our national anthem or whether teachers should carry guns or how open our borders should or shouldn’t be, and I’m not suggesting I have the answers.

But when the smoke clears, when the sirens fall silent, and when the wailing ceases, we remember we have a Good Shepherd who is ALWAYS THERE in order that you and I shall not want. That doesn’t mean we will never have desires, but instead Psalm 23 reminds us that all of our needs will be met. Your Good Shepherd leads you. He leads you to green pastures and still waters in order that you may be restored on the right path…the path you NEED…the path of righteousness.

Yes, there are plenty of times that we, even as the flock led by the Good Shepherd, walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Let’s not kid ourselves…this world is a frightening place. I’m not talking about the fear of having a cavity filled or that nobody “liked” your pictures on Facebook. This is a dangerous place; we have all buried ones we have loved and lost because death is the ultimate consequence for all sinners. Some lives are cut shorter than others, and I don’t know why. But I do know this. Even in life’s most frightening situations, we can always – ALWAYS – be confident of God’s guiding presence. Indeed, when God the Good Shepherd is with us, the valley of the shadow of death is one of the paths of righteousness. What I mean by that is that every day we draw the breath of life, we are always one bad turn, one misstep, or one poor decision away from death. But even in the midst of death, we are God’s forgiven and loved sinners. As His faithful flock we follow Him, encouraged by Him, comforted by Him, guided by Him. In life’s ups and downs, not even death itself can take us away from the forgiveness and love and grace of the Good Shepherd.

Additionally, the Good Shepherd prepares a table before you…and that table is here before you. It is here that you are nurtured by the Shepherd’s Word. It is here that you are fed by the Shepherd’s body and blood. It is here that the Shepherd gives you His most precious gifts…the Means of Grace: His Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Every time you skip church you are denying the Good Shepherd a chance to give to you from His rich table of Word and Sacrament. Makes skipping church in the summer seem less appealing, right?

Finally, you and I not only know the Shepherd’s blessings in life, but we know we will live with Him forever in heaven. Because of your Lord, your Savior, your Shepherd Christ Jesus crucified, dead, and raised, you and I will be able to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Heaven is a place prepared for you (John 14), purchased for you, won for you, waiting for you.

In Hebrews 12:1-3 the author encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the perfecter of our faith, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV). As one who competes in a race, you don’t get to pick the course or conditions (hot/cold, wet/dry, uphill/downhill) and sometimes our life race is down-right tough. One of the greatest aids you have at your constant disposal is prayer. Pray for our nation and our leaders. Pray for our church, our school, and one another. And be encouraged, whether I’m here or not, that you know the Good Shepherd and, as a result, by faith you will dwell in the eternal house of the Lord which is the perfection of heaven…forever.

Amen.

3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Acts 3:11-21

“Strike Three! You’re Safe!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Acts 3.

My dear friends,

One of the unique things about living in Sarasota is that it’s unique to meet someone born and raised here. The majority of people who live here relocated because of work, family, but mainly in retirement. Because of that, we all come from different backgrounds and experiences; we don’t have a lot of common, universal experiences. But I’ll bet that everyone here has played baseball at least once or played its overweight, middle-aged cousin softball. And I’ll bet that everyone here has struck out at least once. Maybe it was a long time ago for you, but think back. What do you remember about how that experience felt…striking out?

You’ve waited (or dreaded) your time to get a turn at bat. Now that it’s finally your turn. You’re up. You have to walk out there all by yourself. Standing there at the plate, swinging your bat around, you might feel kind of tough..invincible almost. You’re the one with the big wooden stick, and you can just imagine yourself blasting the ball over the fence. So you step into the batter’s box in front of all those people; you get yourself set. You look toward the pitcher and . . . bam! The ball snaps into the catcher’s mitt and the umpire calls, “Strike 1!” Oh, that feels so stupid! How could you have let that go by? You got distracted. You weren’t paying enough attention. You straighten up and wiggle the bat. You swing it over the plate once, right where the ball should be, and you get set again. This time you’re ready as the pitcher delivers and you swing the bat with all your strength! You swing so hard it makes you step out of the box, but you realize that you did not hit anything. You tried so hard you closed your eyes and the ball went right past you. “Strike two!” Now it’s do-or-die time. You’ve got two strikes. You know you’ve got only one more chance. You can’t afford to mess this one up in front of everybody. This time you’re going to do everything right! The right stance. The right grip. You don’t even take your eyes off of the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, but you’re not sure. Is it too high? Is it a little outside? Is it going to be a ball? And you hesitate for just that split second, and then it’s too late. The ball goes by you and snaps into the catcher’s mitt, and you’re standing there with the bat still on your shoulder. It’s the worst feeling in the world. “Strike 3!” He doesn’t have to yell, you know. And so you drag yourself back to the bench; a long trudge back to the condemning glances of your teammates at your failure. Striking out is the WORST! Your teammates were counting on you and you let them down. You failed.

Do you know what it means to fail? Do you remember the lecture—maybe it was only a few sentences, but it felt like it lasted for hours, as if they were just laying on the guilt. “Didn’t I tell you about this?” your father asks. “Don’t you know better than to do that?” your mother lectures. “Honey, didn’t you promise me? Haven’t we been over this before?” your spouse says to you for the hundredth time. “I thought I told you,” your boss says. “Do you have any idea how much this is going to cost the company? Do you realize what this means?” I’m sure it only lasts a minute—maybe even less—but it feels like a hundred years. It feels as if every word is dropping another load of bricks onto your back. It feels as if you’ll never recover from your failure.

If you know that feeling, then listen again to our Scripture lesson where Peter is addressing the crowd. Peter and John have healed a man who was born with crippled legs, and it was such a remarkable miracle that everyone is running around talking about it. The man himself is walking and leaping and praising God. And now, in this happy crowd, Peter gives them “the business”:

When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (v.12-16)

We saw what you did, Peter says. God finally sent the answer to all of our prayers, and you killed him! “You delivered him over to be killed”: strike 1! “You denied the Holy and Righteous One”: strike 2! “You killed the author of life”: strike 3!

“But God raised him from the dead.” Peter crushed them with the truth of their sin. But then he opened a tiny window of hope. That hope was for the people of Israel and it is the hope for all of us in our failures: in our relationships, in our finances, in our morality, in our faithfulness, in our witnessing, in our health, in our parenting, in our stewardship. Sin makes us dead in our failures; Christ makes us alive by faith and by the resurrection. You too have been made alive again, for your resurrected Lord has called you forth from the deadly sinful failures of your daily living to the life-giving and certain proclamation of your adoption by God’s grace. Having been called forth by name, we come from different backgrounds but in this place we gather as one body and partake of the feast of victory in the Holy Supper.

Have you failed this week? I’m sure you have. We have all acted and spoken in ignorance. But today we come to repent, to have our sins blotted out by the blood of Christ so that a time of refreshing renewal would be with us when we leave this place. Today we are faithfully fed and nourished by the pierced hand of the One who calls us out of the darkness of failure into His marvelous light of grace and peace and love. And we are faithfully led and guided by the voice of him who has called us by name. Even if you “strike out” in the days and weeks ahead, you are still a loved, redeemed, and forgiven child of God. So don’t be afraid to swing away and live your live to the fullest confidence of who you are in Christ!

Don’t be afraid to play ball, because in Christ you are eternally safe.

Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter

April 8, 2018

John 20:19-31

“Irritating No More”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is today’s Gospel lesson from John 20.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Well..guess what? This is the part where you say “what.” We’ll try that again. Well…guess what? We went and had our taxes done and turns out that we have a refund coming – albeit a small one – and that’s better than paying in…been there, done that. But here’s the thing. Our tax lady was looking at our previous tax records, and at some point last year the IRS – check this out! – the IRS increased our taxable income for which no taxes had been taken, then they assessed us a fine/late fee for not paying! What! We poured over the numbers for 25 minutes and now our accountant has the call the IRS because none of it makes any sense. Tax stuff and the IRS. Argh! It’s so frustrating! It’s so irritating.

It’s a good thing it’s the 2nd Sunday of Easter, because right about now I NEED this Gospel lesson. Every year, our assigned readings for the Sunday after Easter always assign John 20:19-31; kind of like the way that the Gospel lesson every Thanksgiving is Luke 17 and the 10 Lepers. It’s a good thing we hear about “Doubting Thomas” today (more on him in a moment), especially since next Sunday is April 15th…that irritating day when taxes are due. In today’s Gospel lesson our risen Lord Jesus comes to remove the irritation and brings what you and I really need…peace.

I’m sure that most if not all of you have, at some time, seen or read the saying “NO Christ, NO peace; KNOW Christ, KNOW peace.” That is most certainly true today. When there was no – NO – Christ, the disciples were irritated, frustrated, afraid, and conflicted. They had locked themselves away out of fear that the irritated crowds might come after them, the followers of Jesus whom had just been arrested, condemned, and executed. Jesus comes to them amid their irritation and fear and reveals Himself as risen to them and giving them…well, peace.

However, the disciple Thomas hadn’t been there. Why not? Who knows. That sounds about right, because little is known about Thomas anyway. In John 11:6, it was Thomas that suggested the disciples follow Jesus even if it meant death. In John 14 and the well-known passage typically used at funerals, Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5-6 ESV).

Anyway, as a result of today’s lesson, we have a habit of calling Thomas “Doubting Thomas.” We never call him “Denying Peter,” so why Thomas? Be that as it may, Thomas is irritated and skeptical. “You’ve seen Jesus? Right. I’ll believe that when I see it. Good one, guys” (paraphrase of 20:25). Thomas needed tactile proof. He was skeptical; full of doubt and irritation at such a preposterous situation.

So also you and I live in a doubt-ridden, skeptical society. Our communities, nation, and world are FULL of skepticism and irritation. There was a time when, if you heard something on the Network News, you believed it as absolute truth. Not anymore. Everyone has a “I’ll believe that when I see it” attitude. We really struggle to trust anyone. And because we lack trust, we are anxious about our economic future, doubtful about the future of our wellbeing and our rights, irritated with government, family, even our Church. And the areas that should be safest – our school and churches – keep getting shot up and blown up and these attacks continue to undermine our confidence. Like I said, NO Christ, NO peace. Giving ourselves over to sinfully charged and powerful emotions like irritation, doubt, anxiety, anger, and the like does exactly what Satan wants it to do – drive a wedge of doubt between you and God.

Easter reminds us of the second half of our saying: “KNOW Christ, KNOW peace.” When Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, notice what He brings: “peace be with you” (20:19, 21). Thomas needed tactile proof? Well, he got it. Jesus showed him those awful scars inflicted by nail and spear. Thomas no longer was irritated. He believed: “My Lord and my God!”

And now, check it out. Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Whoa. The kind of peace that Jesus brings and offers is way more than the “put down your weapons” kind of peace that people think. Jesus brings a peaceful reconciliation with God secured through His death and resurrection. By believing – faith – in our risen Christ, our sins are forgiven (20:23). We have peace with God, something the world cannot offer us. In addition, Jesus says that those who believe, but have not seen, are blessed. That’s the same word He used in Matthew chapter 5 and the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.

Yes, ours is a skeptical age full of irritation and irritating things, but Christ Jesus brings peace – reconciliation with God so that by believing we will have life in His name (20:31). That reconciliation comes to you through His Word and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. The life that Jesus offers you – the peace that He brings – is the kind of life that forgives the co-worker, the neighbor, the family member who is irritating you to no end! The life that Jesus offers you – the peace that He brings – is able to love that difficult child, reconcile with your spouse who you’re fighting with, and strengthen you to face tomorrow even amid the pain and fear and uncertainty. The life that Jesus offers you – the peace that He brings – enables you and strengthens you to forsake the material things of the world and seek instead of the Kingdom of God; to leave behind irritations of the flesh in favor of eternal things that are ours in the promise of heaven.

Yes, paying taxes is necessary. It’s irritating, but it is necessary. Money comes, money goes. No big whoop, right? What REALLY matters is what Jesus secured on that cross and in that now-empty tomb: reconciliation with God, hope, life, peace. NO Christ, NO peace. KNOW Christ, KNOW peace. Check it out…I’m not irritated anymore! I pray you aren’t either.

Happy Easter everyone. Amen.

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

March 25, 2018

Mark 11:1-10 and 15:1-47

“You Are The Weakest Link”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is from the Gospel of St. Mark

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

 

Do you remember the TV show, “Weakest Link“? It was a show that came out in 2001 and tried to “ride the coattails” of the success of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Initially, in America the show was a pop culture sensation. Why? It wasn’t popular because of contestants or the questions that were asked. It was popular, at first anyway, because of the host Anne Robinson and the way she handled contestants. When a player was deemed to be restricting the team’s ability to answer questions correctly for money, they were “voted off” the show and Anne Robinson would throw in her catch phrase in her crusty, snooty British accent: “You are the weakest link! Goodbye!”

Obviously there were not game shows as such in ancient Israel, but if there were, Jesus would have made for a great contestant on “Weakest Link,” at least after Palm Sunday anyway. When He arrived in Jerusalem the crowds were fired up; Jesus was an overnight pop culture sensation! Their deliverer was here! Their king was here! Hosanna to the Son of David! But by the end of the week, as far as the crowds were concerned, Jesus really was the weakest link. His message was ludicrous to them and the kingdom he proclaimed seemed ridiculous.

For the people of Jerusalem at that time, Jesus was the “weakest link” in that He was the wrong kind of king. Jesus did not intend to establish the peace envisioned by the people. The people wanted a powerful king who would remove the oppressive Romans. Their response was as simple as it was short-sighted. By Friday they wanted him not gone, but dead. Their shouts of “Crucify” were their way of saying “you are the weakest link. Goodbye!”

The High Priest, Chief Priests, and religious leaders truly believed that Jesus was the “weakest link.” He was a “Blasphemer,” one who slandered the name of God. When Jesus was falsely arrested and put on trial, they asked him if he were the Son of God, to which he replied, “I Am” (Mark 14:64). To Jewish leadership, this was completely unacceptable! This was blaspheme, and the penalty for any Israelite who blasphemed against God was death (Lev. 24:14-16). You and I know the real reason why, though. The chief priests and leaders saw Jesus as the “weakest link” because they were threatened by him. Believing in Jesus and what he was saying and what he was doing threatened the “status quo” of their day, and so in reaction they sought the fastest way to have him erased. They accused him of blaspheme which was punishable by death.

Pontius Pilate must have thought that Jesus was the “weakest link.” They brought Jesus to Pilate because the Jews determined that Jesus deserved death, but because the Romans were in charge, any death sentence had to come from and through the occupying Roman forces. They brought Jesus to Pilate and accused him of many things and Jesus did not respond (Mark 15:4-5). Pilate must have thought, “this guy is a fool!” Here they are bringing accusation after accusation and he’s not saying a word.”

To Pilate, it is obvious that the peasant Jew before him was no king at all…certainly not the king of the Jews. Kings have bodyguards and armies and money and power. Jesus has none of this. Any reasonable person would simply defend himself against the aggression of his enemies, save his life, and get out of there the best he could. Yet Jesus said nothing. Why? Simple. If Jesus speaks up, Pilate may have a reason to set him free. And if that happens: no condemnation, no crown of thorns, no whip, no nails, no blood, no cross. No salvation. No hope. No eternal life. No comfort in this life. Who knew so much hinged on silence?

The consequence of Jesus’ silence meant that Jesus would die. On the TV show “Weakest Link” when you lost and were out the host Anne Robinson would say “You are the weakest link. Goodbye!” And you had to leave in humiliation. The sad reality – the real humiliation – in this whole Palm Sunday/Passion narrative is that WE are the weakest link! When tempted, we give in. When confronted, we are sheepishly silent. We sinfully lie, cheat, deceive, gossip, slander, complain, and covet. In the salvation equation, we are the weakest link. But we have one who stepped in on our behalf – the King of the Jews…Jesus Christ.

Jesus is not the “weakest link.” He is the Son of God who is the King of the Jews. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus refuses to accept the title of king and messiah as the people understood. He is a different kind of king of a different kind of kingdom. He is the Son of God and the king of the kingdom of grace and peace, not military power and warfare. And nothing will prevent this kingdom from being permanently established, not even the horror of the cross. Paradoxically, the event intended to put an end to this “weakest link” becomes the means by which the kingdom of peace puts an end to all of the kingdoms of this world! The cross was once a symbol horror. Now it is the ultimate symbol of hope!

Have you watched “Weakest Link” lately on TV? Unless you have an obscure cable channel, the answer is “no.” After the 9/11 attacks people cared very little about those kinds of reality game shows and “Weakest Link” was canceled in 2002 after a year-long run in America. It may have looked like Jesus and his reign as king was “canceled” on Good Friday, a day that we remember this week, but instead on that day Jesus said “Goodbye!” to the power of sin and death and the devil for our benefit and for our salvation. Death will never cancel us. We cannot be voted off, because we have already won. The resurrection ensures our victory.

Welcome to Holy Week 2018.

Amen.

5th Sunday in Lent

5th Sunday in Lent

March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The Ultimate Fix”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for the sermon is today’s First Lesson from Jeremiah 31 as read previously.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

I am not mechanically inclined. Nope. Fix a car? I don’t think so. Fix a small appliance? That’s rich. Fix a TV? Why not just buy a new one? That being said, over the years I got real good at fixing our clothes dryer and vacuum cleaner. Both of those appliances have a tendency to break down, and I decided that I would roll up my sleeves and give it a try. Over the years I bet I fixed our dryer about 10 times: broken belts, blown elements, bad relays, etc. And our vacuum cleaner? I replaced everything in that vacuum and least once if not twice for 17 years before finally retiring it last year.

Now I have no idea how your clothes dryer or vacuum cleaners are functioning these days, but I will venture a guess that everyone in this room knows something about the brokenness of life, and I’m no longer talking about appliances. We all know about the brokenness of life: broken bones, broken promises, broken marriages, broken families, broken budgets, you name it. Is there anything that we touch in life that doesn’t seem to end up broken at one point or another?

All this brokenness in life in symptomatic of our broken relationship with God. Our stuff, our relationships, our bodies, our relationship with God, all have been broken because of the presence of sin in this world. That is the ultimate answer to the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Easy…“bad” things happen to everyone because of sin in this existence. And yet, in today’s First Lesson from Jeremiah, we hear not a word of condemnation, but a word of restoration – a promise of renewal – for the people of God. It is the promise of the ultimate fix.

Did you know that Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible in terms of the total number of words? It’s longer than Revelation, longer than Genesis, even longer than the Psalms. Perhaps it was the situation of the people at that time that required so many words. Jeremiah was a prophet from around 640-586 BC. If you lived in ancient Israel in those days, this was NOT a good time; there was loads of brokenness. The covenant people of God had broken their relationship with God. He had made a covenant promise to be their God back on Mount Sinai, but that had been a long time ago, and the people had become distracted by a great number of things, chief among them the fertility gods of the Canaanite culture. God sent prophet after prophet to call the people back to Him, but they would have none of it.

The terms of the old covenant relationship had been broken, and when an obligation of this nature is broken, then someone has to pay. God sent first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to punish the rebellious and wicked Israelites who worshipped false gods. It is during this time of broken relationship that Jeremiah was a prophet to Israel. The Israelites were losing all that they had as they were taken away one by one into exile in foreign lands. This was God’s way of purging the evil from the land; a way to call His people back to Him through repentance. We know they broke the covenant; verse 32 of today’s lesson verifies that the covenant relationship had been broken, and the Israelites suffered a load of brokenness as a result.

Now, to really understand how God was and still is working with His people, you have to understand a bit about covenants. Today we deal primarily through legal contracts, but in the ancient near east, they used covenants instead. The Hebrew word for making a covenant is literally the verb for “to cut.” In the Old Testament, you “cut” a covenant, that is, you cut an animal in two and the two parties walked through the shed blood of the animal. It was blood that sealed the deal of the covenant and if one party broke the terms of the covenant relationship, their life was taken just as the life of the animal was taken in the creation of the covenant. In terms of being in a covenant relationship, blood has always sealed the deal.

In addition, blood has always been the necessary agent of the forgiveness of sins. As a part of the old covenant relationship, God gave the Israelites a long laundry list of sacrifices that had to be made. Just read the book of Leviticus sometime to get a sense of just how detailed this system was. The old covenant system needed the blood sacrifices of animals to bring about the forgiveness of sins. For the exiles, this is a big problem! Their temple where they made the sacrifices in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC, so just where and how were sacrifices going to be made? When and how will God forgive their sins? This is where the restorative Word of the Lord provides the ultimate fix in Jeremiah 31, the high point of his prophetic ministry.

The terms of the new covenant are different. “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (31:34). This was a great promise for the people of Jeremiah’s day! God was going to forgive them and remember their sins no more despite their wicked rebellion and brokenness; God was going to make right what they had made oh so wrong without the temple or animal sacrifices.

But don’t forget…to seal a covenant requires blood; it always had. And this, my friends, is why Jesus says on the night when He was betrayed, “…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). When Jesus was beaten and nailed to Calvary’s cross, His shed blood was the price that was needed to seal the new covenant. Just as we pound nails into wood to fix our homes or garages, nails were pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet to bring about the ultimate fix; to restore our broken relationship with God. We’re not talking about fixing some old clothes dryer or vacuum cleaner here. Jesus gave His body and blood to seal the covenant deal between God and His people so that we can be and remain the loved people of God forever and ever! Under the terms of the old covenant, they had to sacrifice animals over and over again. But Jesus, as He fulfills the terms of the new covenant, does what it takes so that God no longer remembers our sins and forgives our iniquities. It is the shed blood of the Lamb of God that seals the covenant relationship once again between God and His people.

Hey…let’s face facts. Stuff like clothes dryers and vacuums will continue to break in this life. But one thing that cannot break ever again is the one thing that has undergone the ultimate fix, and that is our relationship with God because God in Christ has sealed the new covenant deal with the blood of Jesus so that we might be His people forever.

Amen.