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.

4th Sunday in Lent

4th Sunday in Lent

March 11, 2018

Numbers 21:4-9

“The Antidote For All”

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 our First Lesson read from Numbers chapter 21.

My dear friends,

By now it is a WELL KNOWN fact how I feel about snakes. I hate them. I hate the way they slither. I hate their stupid forked, gross tongues. I hate their beady little eyes. I hate that stupid rattle at the end of their stupid tubular bodies. I hate snakes. I loathe them; snakes are an abomination! Gee…what do you know? The ancient Israelites felt the same way about their daily manna. Even though God was daily providing both freedom and provisions, the people were more mindful of the content of their gullets than reverence for God; they would rather please their palette than please God. They “loathe” the provisions of God Almighty. Literally, the Hebrew word for worthless is even stronger: an “abomination.” The Israelites are calling God’s provisions abominable, which can literally be rendered as “to make one sick to the stomach.” God’s quail and manna were sickening to their stomachs! Nice manners people!

This disrespect for holy food was not just an insult; it was downright rebellion against God and Moses! This abomination was a loathing of all of God’s goodness and mercy. Their rebellion was a complete disregard for Moses’ authority. Friends, don’t let your piety get to you! We as God’s people are no better. We also disregard the holy gifts of worship, Word, and Sacrament convincing ourselves that our plans are WAY MORE IMPORTANT than taking an hour (.6% of your week) or two a week to worship. When we ignore prayer before meals, regard worship as a weekly required chore, when young families diminish their child’s need of Baptism, or we minimize the value of the Lord’s Supper, we also make desolate that which is holy and pure; in action or in attitude we too “loathe” the “worthless” gifts of God, and that’s not good…not good at all!

In addition to being mostly worthless, snakes are rather abnormal creatures. They’re among the few creatures that have no legs at all, not even for show, and they crawl on their bellies. Gross! Sure, that way it’s easier to chop them in half with a shovel, but no legs for a land-dwelling animal? That’s just abnormal, right? In our text, some of the worst of these miserable belly-dwellers bit the people, and their venom brought the demise of many. This is an abnormal event from our vantage point as humans. “This cannot be happening,” we might say. However, events happen every day that don’t seem normal from our vantage point. A plane flying into a building is not normal; it’s abnormal. Children exposed to gun violence, drug usage, and sexual sins in school is not normal. It’s abnormal. A child comes into the world but that life is quickly terminated in abortion. This, too, is not normal. It’s abnormal. In the classic Mel Brooks comedy “Young Frankenstein”, Master Frankenstein tells his assistant, Igor, to find a brain at the laboratory. By mistake, Igor reads the label “abnormal” as “Abby Normal.” The monster, as a result, receives an abnormal brain. Humanity’s history is “Abby Normal,” or abnormal, too as we are distorted by the effects of our sinful rebellion and unbelief against the only true God. This last week, your thoughts, words, and deeds did not always match up with God’s holy will and that’s not normal. Our thoughts, words, and deeds went astray; you went astray. You are abnormal because of sin.

And for that there’s only one antidote. Look to the Savior and live!   As the people cried for mercy, God was not deaf to their cry. He provides a means of healing: look up to the one lifted up and live. Still today, paramedics wear a very obvious symbol on their uniforms. This symbol is that of a snake on a pole; wasn’t my idea. This is really an abnormal symbol apart from a biblical explanation and I’m shocked no one has suggested its revision. In fact, it’s really a completely opposite sign; snakes don’t normally symbolize healing, which the medics set out to do for the ailing. In the Bible the snake-bitten people looking to the bronze serpent, a replica on a stick, were spared.

But even graver are the circumstances of humanity needing absolution from God. Mankind is not simply headed for the grave, but for eternal punishment in hell. Since Eden’s fall, humanity was in desperate need of a look. It was God’s loving look from heaven that made it all possible. He saw the poison of sin rampant in the world. He looked and loved so much that he gave His one and only Son (John 3:16). As antidote is drawn from venom, so our Savior drenches himself in the world’s sin to take our blame. He took our abominations and our abnormalities, and he absolved us freely and fully as we look upon Him crucified and risen again for our forgiveness and salvation.

Now we, as medics to the world, offer the antidote in our contexts of daily living. Our offerings, our prayers, our service, and our worship all work to be medicine and antidotes for sinners everywhere. We all need this antidote daily and richly. It’s absolution in Holy Baptism, where we are buried in water and Word with our Savior and raised again. It’s absolution in Holy Communion, when his body and blood are given and received for our salvation. It’s absolution when we hear “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And to think that the best is yet to come in heaven’s high home, where the threat of illness, death, or destruction is no more…a 100% completely snake free eternal existence for which we can ALL say “thanks be to God!”

Amen.

3rd Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent

March 4, 2018

John 2:13-22

“Breaking News”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the assigned Gospel lesson read previously from John 2, and my apologies if this sermon seems a little, well, weird.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

“Good evening everyone and welcome to the 6:00 evening news. I’m Walterimus Cronkititimus. We have breaking news for you this night so we go right to our reporter in the streets of Jerusalem, Decievum Majorium, for this rapidly breaking news story. Decievum, are you there?”

“Yes, Walterimus I’m here. I’m standing outside the Jewish Temple here in Jerusalem where we are being told that someone has caused a huge uproar inside. Fortunately for us I have located someone close to the story and let’s see what we can find out. What is your name, sir?” “My name is, uhh, “Cheatimus” and I work here in the temple.” “Okay, and what do you do here at the temple and can you tell us what happened here today?”

“Well sir, it all started out just fine. We was a sellin’ stuff in the temple area and I was changing money with the others. You know, with Passover coming so soon and all we had our hands full! People was a comin’ from all over the place and when you come to Jerusalem you gotta have an animal to sacrifice in the temple. And nots just any old animal. Our temple animals are all checked over and only the bests. We sell them animals to the people who come to worship in the temple.” “Oh, okay, I see. Say Mr. Cheatimus, is it a problem having all those animals in the temple?” “Well, I reckon those animals were making a lot of noise in there, not to mention the smell…and the mess, I guess. Come to think of it, it was getting’ a bit ripe in there from all those critters.”

“Mr. Cheatimus, can you tell us about the activities you were involved in and what happened today in the temple?” “Yeah, I reckon I can do that. I’m a money changer, that is, people bring all their money to give to the temple but we don’t take none of it ’cause of all the various images and whatnot. Only certain kinds of money is allowed in the temple. We take all their heathen money and exchange it for temple money so people can give it right back to the temple for their offering.” “Oh, Mr. Cheatimus, do you make a profit off this practice?” “What’s it matter to you, boy? Sure, we charge an extra 4-8% to do this…guys gotta make a living, right? Anyway, there was so many people coming in for the Passover that we had to up and move operations right inside the temple itself. Things was a going just fine…until that feller showed up.”

“Mr. Cheatimus, I take it from your tone of voice that you’re referring to the breaking news story we’re covering. Can you tell us what happened?” “I sure can! We was a sellin’ and doing business as usual until this guy, some carpenter from up north, came into the temple and went loco on us! He made a whip out of rope and made everybody get out! He said stuff like, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a house of trade!” (v. 16). I don’t know what he was talkin’ about…we was just doing business. I heard later that feller’s name was “Jesus” or something like that. He sure put a crimp on my day, and during our busiest time of year, too!”

“Mr. Cheatimus, do you think he had a reason to be angry? Were you supposed to be selling animals and exchanging money in the temple? Doesn’t that kind of activity belong in a marketplace or somewhere else rather than the holy temple where it is both disruptive and disrespectful?” “I has no comment.” “Okay, that’s all from the temple for tonight. This is Decievum Majorium reporting from the streets of Jerusalem. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.”

“Good evening everyone and welcome once again to the 6:00 evening news. I’m Walterimus Cronkititimus. We have breaking news for you tonight so we go right to our roving reporter, Decievum Majorium, for tonight’s breaking news. Decievum?”

“I’m standing here with Peter, a disciple of Jesus. What a unique 40-day period it has been! If you remember, we reported earlier that Jesus has risen from the dead and instructed Peter and his followers to now go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything (he) commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). I was wondering, Mr. Peter, what insight do you have to add to this breaking news situation.”

“Well, Decievum, I gotta tell you. This has been quite a time for us. Ever since our teacher and Lord Jesus has risen from the dead we have come to realize so much about what he was talking about. We have come to the realization that he was more that just a teacher or rabbi. He was and is the Son of God, the Messiah that we have all been looking for and waiting for.”

“The Messiah…THE Messiah…is that right?”

“Yes. When Jesus cleared the temple he was doing more than just cleaning house. He was, as we have now learned, taking the first step of looking beyond the temple itself. He was showing us that if you want to come into the presence of God you don’t need the temple tax or temple sacrifices or even the temple itself. Jesus is the temple; he is the presence of God among us. He is the one that takes us to the Father. The road doesn’t go through the mess and blood of the temple; it goes through the mess and blood of the cross. The Temple is now open for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. He has removed the stink and filth and corruption from all of us by dying and rising again for us and for our sinfulness.”

“That’s very profound, Mr. Peter. Do you have anything else to add to this story?”

“Yes, I do. The breaking news of what Jesus has done is now to be proclaimed by all those who hear the truth of his Word and have been changed by his love and mercy and grace and sacrifice. Some day people will proclaim Christ and him crucified for this world’s salvation using whatever means necessary so that as many as possible hear the Good News proclaimed and have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the one who has become the Temple – the meeting place of God – for us and for our benefit.”

“Any means possible? Even the 6:00 news?”

Even the 6:00 news.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Sunday in Lent

2nd Sunday in Lent

February 25, 2018

Mark 8:27-38

“Sticker Shock”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark chapter 8.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

 

Have you ever been shopping for a new car? Have you ever walked along the rows and rows of new vehicles admiring their appearance? Then you wanted to look at the interior and so you took a good, long look through the window, and then you walked to the other side where that list of all the options and features were and that’s when BLAM! There was the price of that vehicle. And so you moved to the next vehicle and BLAM! It happened again! This phenomenon is known as “Sticker Shock.” “Sticker Shock” is defined as “the feeling of surprise or shock experienced by consumers upon finding unexpectedly high prices on the price tags of products they are considering purchasing” (www.wikipedia.com).

Many years ago now (2004), the movie The Passion of the Christ was a regular part of many conversations at this time of year. The movie caused some “sticker shock,” that is, the movie was too violent, too graphic. Blam! The scourging and crucifixion scenes were too long and bloody. Blam! It was seen to be inappropriate for children and even for many adults. To many, it was just so offensive. Blam! It was just too much! The Passion of the Christ was absolute sticker shock to perhaps the majority of those who saw it. They were shocked at the brutality and the violence, and even 14 years later, the shocking nature of the film cannot be ignored. You know what is going to happen, and it is still shocking. Blam!

Humanity has its idea of what the sticker price should be for salvation, but Jesus reveals God’s sticker price for salvation. In verse 31 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus announces, “The Son of Man must suffer many things” and He must do so because of the sin of mankind. Jesus had no sin; when He was tempted he overcame. He was the perfect, spotless Lamb of God – yet He had to die to pay the price for our sinfulness. In fact, the word in verse 31 that we translate as “must”(dei) is commonly translated “it is necessary,” and that is the translation that I prefer. That phrase demonstrates the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death, and when we hear of that happening, it creates – Blam! – sticker shock.

It shouldn’t, though. Ever since the days of Abraham, the forgiveness of sins required the sacrifice of something, and typically that involved a blood sacrifice. The forgiveness of sins carried the price tag of death. It always had: pigeons, oxen, bulls, lambs, sheep, goats, rams, and doves were all sacrificed to atone for sins. When Jesus revealed that He too must be killed (v. 31), – Blam! – sticker shock. There are no shortcuts to the forgiveness of sins. It requires, it necessitates, the shedding of perfect blood. That is the price – Blam! – but Jesus has paid that price in full.

Consider what the disciples heard. They heard that their teacher, the one they had followed, was saying that he must go and suffer and die. All they could hear right now was the price that Jesus was saying he would pay and not looking any further than their own needs; “what will happen to us if something happens to you?” And Peter suffered a severe case of sticker shock. Blam! “Oh never, not you Lord. This shall never happen to you!”

It seems harsh what Jesus said in return – “get behind me, Satan” – but you can hear the mistake behind Peter’s reasoning. Peter failed to grasp the utter depravity of the sinfulness of man and, as such, the price seemed too heavy to him. “Well,” Peter may have thought, “sure we do some stuff wrong, but no one has to die because of it…right?” Blam!

The sticker shock of Peter is common today. “Our sin is not so bad,” we may rationalize, “it’s no big deal. No one gets hurt by what I do. I’m not nearly as bad as so-and-so.” And so we go through the motions of confessing ourselves as “poor, miserable sinners” with a bit of a pious snicker. “That’s somebody else…not me.” Blam! Because our sins aren’t so bad (we think) what we need is the cute, huggable Jesus; the smiling, non-bloody, pal who’s going to forgive all our “little” transgressions anyway which then allows us to rationalize all kinds of sinful behavior. The reality is that all of us, ALL OF US, need the bloody, beaten, scarred, and suffering servant Savior because it is OUR SINS for which he suffered and died. Sure, it’s not pretty when we think about what Jesus had to do for us and sure, it is shocking…and maybe it should be.

Imagine what the reaction would be if people went to a car dealer, found the perfect car, and found out that there was no cost. Wouldn’t everyone drive off the lot in a brand-new, perfect car? The same is true when it comes to our salvation offered by and through Jesus. There is no price demanded of us; it comes to us as a gift. And that gift prompts a response. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must (not dei) deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v 34). These words are not stating that he has set a price for us to pay in regard to our salvation. No, he has paid the price in full on our behalf. Instead, he enables us to respond to his grace with a life of self-denial, a life of “cross bearing,” and following him.

The cost of being a disciple is neither a payment nor divine mandate, but it is a joyful connection to Jesus by grace through faith in his unconditional love. That joyful attachment changes us. It gives hope in the face of uncertainty. It gives love in the face of anger and hatred. It gives a future where before there was none.  It enables us to make the correct decision in various situations. You know what all that adds up to? Frankly, something rather shocking. Blam! The sticker shock of Jesus’ passion is our passion to serve and follow him.

What a miracle! God has given us a passion for denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following him. His Passion makes this a reality in our sanctified life. We do not have to live for ourselves anymore, but desire to live for him who died and rose for us. The Gospel makes us new. We proclaim it daily in our Baptism, and we feast on it in the body and blood of the One who faced the shock of damnation, so that we can put on the new self wrapped in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Blam! The sticker shock of Lent was absorbed in Jesus’ Passion, which now enables us to have a passion to deny ourselves and follow him.

Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent

1st Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2018

James 1:12-18

“The Every Day Battle”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is today’s Second Lesson read earlier from James chapter 1.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Every day – every single day – of my 7th grade year at Irving Junior High School was a nightmare thanks to one J.J. Finnegan. J.J. Finnegan was an 8th grade kid at my school who, for lack of a better term – “bullied” me every time I saw him. J.J. Finnegan achieved “victory” over me every day through intimidation. The only way I achieved any victory was when we moved to Minnesota and I never saw him again…thank goodness.

Every day – every single day – we are under attack from a J.J. Finnegan in our own lives that will not go away. Not even moving will help with this bully. It’s called “temptation.” From the lure of the forbidden cookie jar to the draw of dark sites on the Internet, from the gossip we long to share to the grudge we continue to harbor. Temptation is a bully that won’t leave us alone and like every bully the intimidation is always there and so effective! Our battle against temptation is underway, even right now, and it is an every day battle.

Rabbis in James’s day, and some religions in our current age, teach that God is the author of all temptation and evil and that all the evil you are tempted with is a continual test from God. That is absolutely not true for two reasons: God cannot be tempted. He tempts no one (v 13); because God in His very nature is holy, there is nothing in Him for sin to appeal to, and God doesn’t need to use temptation to test us because we do it to ourselves each and every sin in our sinfulness, which is what James wrote about in today’s lesson.

This presence of sin is what generates for us the continual state of temptation that we live in. Consider verse 14 from James 1: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” I guess it is safe to say that, in regards to temptation, we have met the bully – the enemy – and the enemy is us! But, like Adam after the fall, we like to blame others for our sin. We try to shift the blame to others for our temptation and sin: It’s the fault of my parents, my poverty, my youth, or my addiction. They’re to blame, not me. No, James writes, each person is tempted when they are lured and enticed by their own desire; dealing with temptation starts with accountability.

Perhaps we may think that, well, since temptation is such a daily occurrence, maybe it’s not such a big deal. Actually, it is. It is a VERY BIG deal. You see, the end result of yielding to temptation, any temptation, is death. Remember what James wrote in today’s Second Lesson? “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v 15). Let’s face it…when it comes to temptation, it would be as if we rounded up a team to play 9 innings of baseball against the Tampa Bay Rays. We lose…well, then again, it is the Rays. We just might win. But the Tamp Bay Lightning…now THAT’S a different story! We’d have NO chance against them! Temptation is an every day – every single day – battle we just cannot win.

However, you are not alone in your battle. Christ Jesus knows all about temptation. Even better, He endured it without a single sin. Jesus Christ overcomes temptation, sin, and death to give us the Father’s good gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was tempted – tempted directly by Satan himself! – and yet Jesus did not give in, and this is a significant thing for us! We have to rely on the other Gospel accounts for the details, but we know that to all of Satan’s temptations, Jesus responded with the Word of God (Deuteronomy). What does that tell you as to how we can successfully respond to temptation in our own lives?

When I was a kid, the COOL shoes to have were a pair of Nikes. The “cool” kids at Irving Junior High all wore Nikes. Well, one year my mom took me school clothes shopping, and guess what? We found a pair of Nikes on sale! I wore them to the first day of school and every day after that as proud as I could be and I tried to keep them as clean and perfect looking as I could. They didn’t stay that way, but I sure tried.

Such is the new life in Christ. In our Baptism we have this perfect, cool life of faith given to us by God. But instead of putting it in a shelf and trying to keep it clean, God desires that we take this life of faith like a pair of shoes and use it knowing it just might get dirty. The life of faith that we have been given is to be a living, useful thing, not some pretty knick-knack on the shelf. And when we tarnish it with the filthy blemish of sin, the shed blood of Christ washes us clean.

In this life you are going to get knocked around and tempted and you will face a number of trials and loads of suffering; the world is FULL of J.J. Finnegans and Nikolas Cruzs. Again, we cannot blame guns or parents or policies; you cannot legislate away or control evil. That’s what we have…a people problem. Evil, sinful people are going to do sinful, evil things every day…every single day. God knows this. This is why He has called you by faith, given you the new life in Him through the waters of Baptism, made you His own through the body and blood of Christ, and sustains you daily in the face of temptation and hardship.

   The every day battle against temptation and our many losses are deeply discouraging like we saw in Parkland this week, and it seems like J.J. Finnegan is around each and every corner. But do not lose heart my friends. Jesus has defeated the bullies of temptation and sin and death for us. He paid our debt. He lived without sin. He put Satan in his place. Jesus won, but He gives YOU the victory by faith each day…every single day. Take THAT, J.J. Finnegan, wherever you are!

Amen.