6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22

“Prepare to Defend Yourself”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Second Lesson read earlier from 1 Peter chapter 3.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

So…what do I have here? It’s probably similar to what you keep in your car or purse these days. I call it my “Coronavirus Kit.” I keep it on the passenger seat of my car. Inside this bag are the items that (I hope) will protect me from infecting myself or others when I have to go to a bigger public place like Publix or Walmart.I have a disposable mask that I got at my doctor’s office that I have “re-purposed” more than once. I also have a real cloth mask that I use more often than not. I also have a small bottle of hand sanitizer; you can NEVER have enough hand sanitizer. And I also grabbed a few food service disposable gloves that I grabbed from the church kitchen. Those are handy if I have to touch something particularly groody like a gas pump handle. Hey…in this “new normal” brought about by COVID-19, you do whatever you have to do to defend yourself against the Coronavirus. And we’re ALL doing some version of this, right? It’s not just me defending myself. Everyone has to if this whole battle against the Coronavirus can ever be won…if that’s even possible.

And that got me to thinking about the idea of being prepared to defend ourselves. Peter tells us in today’s Epistle lesson that as Christians, even when we suffer, we are daily being prepared to defend not against an unseen virus, but to defend our faith and the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, and that’s bigger than any virus could ever be.

Let’s face it…there will be times when your hope, your faith, will be challenged. Sufferings will come, and that time is NOW. In today’s lesson, Peter speaks of the sufferings that Christians face particularly for being Christian. And let’s face it, on most occasions, Christians in America today will not be persecuted for doing what is good; in fact, we are quite often praised for that. Yet Peter encourages the Christians of every era in any place – places where living your faith WILL get you persecuted, that for those who suffer even when they are doing good are “blessed,” in the same sense (same word) as Jesus spoke in the Beatitudes.

It is on this basis that Christians may be fearless in a right-now very fearful world like we find ourselves in today. If it is God’s will that a Christian suffers, it is far better to suffer for doing the right thing than for doing the wrong thing. That only makes sense. If you steal a car and go to jail, you get what you deserve. But when you suffer for doing the right thing? Peter says you’re blessed! And a great many of you ARE doing the right thing. You’re wearing your masks, wearing gloves, using hand sanitizer, practicing social distancing, and following the guidelines. In doing so, even if you “suffer,” you are Blessed!

This is a universal truth I have learned. It is easier to DO the right thing than it is to SAY the right thing. It’s not just that we don’t want to “offend” anyone. Several surveys have suggested that one of Americans’ greatest fears is public speaking. People are afraid of being unprepared or of embarrassing themselves when they speak in front of others. Many overcome this fear, but when the content of their speaking is a defense of the Christian faith, that’s when people don’t want to sound stupid or say the wrong thing, and so far too many clam up like captured spies. But the fact remains, it’s not enough for us to just go around doing the right thing; being “nice” isn’t a marker of salvation. We are to publically give the reason for the hope that we have whenever necessary; we are to have courage to confess Christ. That doesn’t mean getting up on the proverbial “soapbox,” but you should always be ready to proclaim your faith in any situation.

In our preparation to defend our faith, we boldly proclaim that Christ was raised to life! It is in His resurrection that Baptism saves (v 21). Peter makes use of the image of the flood in Noah’s day and the ark in which 8 people were saved to make the point to Christians of the value of their Baptism with water. “Baptism … now saves you” (v 21). We are baptized into the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus’ resurrection, there would be no Baptism (Romans 6), there would be no salvation, there would be no forgiveness of sins, and there would be no righteousness of Christ in us, and ultimately no eternal life. There’s no hope in that!

Through Baptism and through the Word, Christians keep the focus on Christ as the only source of strength in times of need. On this basis, Peter sets out the goal for the follower of Christ: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (v 15). The answer – the reason for our hope – always has been and always will be Jesus, telling of your hope through your words and showing them your hope through your deeds.

Saturday (May 16th) was “Armed Forces Day.” It was a day to pay tribute to men and women who serve the United States’ armed forces. We are so very thankful for those who served and gave their lives in service to our country. And if those who fought and died could see their country today like my grandfather, father, and uncle, how would they feel? Would they be happy about our silence in our world, our hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, or the continual political bickering during a time of national crisis? Or would our fallen heroes and our God have us stand up and publically defend our faith and take a stand for what we know to be right and do the right thing? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Challenges will indeed come in your life, and we are living that truth. As a baptized child of God, those made to be His disciples through Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word, you are continually being made ready to make a confident defense of the eternal hope that is in you through the life, death, resurrection of your Lord Jesus Christ. Do you feel ready and prepared? Ready or not, the time to make that defense is NOW and every day into eternity! And if you need some extra masks or hand sanitizer, I have plenty to spare. Be strong and stay safe, my friends.

Amen.

 

5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2020

Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60

“What a Way to Die”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today on the 5th Sunday of Easter is the First Lesson read from Acts chapters 6 and 7.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Death is a pretty “hot” topic these days, right? As of Saturday, there have been more than 78,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US. 1,700 of those deaths were in Florida, and nearly 60 people have died in Sarasota County. It seems like viral death is all anyone is thinking about and talking about ever since mid March. And speaking of death…

They killed him. Stephen is dead. What a way to die. Not from a virus. From rocks. The mob was loud and vicious. They gnashed their teeth – a classic expression of pure anger. They yelled. They grabbed him, dragging him out of town. He was probably half dead even before anyone even picked up a rock. But then the stones started to fly. It didn’t take long. One unprotected man against an angry mob with rocks? Forget it. Give me a virus any day! Blood, broken bones, crushed organs and torn tissues. No, it didn’t take long. Stephen was dead. What a way to die. What a way to die.

And the thing is…he didn’t deserve it. Stephen was a good man. He was a leader in the early church. He was full of God’s grace, power, and wisdom. He was faithful. He did great things for people in need. No, he didn’t deserve it, but they killed him anyway. Why? What had he done? What made them so angry?

Just this. He told others about Jesus. He spread the good news that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, who bore the sins of all people on the cross. He declared that this crucified man (what a way to die!) was the one true Messiah, the promised Savior of the world. He spoke boldly and plainly that Jesus had risen from the dead and was at God’s right hand. He confessed that Jesus was the way only to heaven, and that all other ways would lead away from God.

That was his “crime.” That’s why Stephen had to die. You see, there’s something about standing up for Jesus that brings attack: anger, hate, and sometimes even violence. Sound strange? It’s not. It’s still happening.

Facing danger daily, a nurse goes to work and wears a cross praying that she can help the sick and not infect her own family with COVID-19. Hospital administration tells her she must remove it lest it offend a patient. One worker files a complaint about another worker for harassment—the crime: having a small wooden cross on an office desk; WAY too offensive for the modern workplace. Can’t he just keep it in a drawer or something? You want to see a virtual fight erupt? Post something on Facebook along the lines of what Stephen said – that Jesus is the Son of God and only way to eternal life. Then sit back and watch the war of words begin.

Today, hostility is common for those who know Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You are attacked if you confess a belief that doesn’t agree with our social media culture. People slam you for being intolerant, insensitive, and imposing your beliefs on others when you make the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only Way to heaven. People will take offense at that. You can already guess the reaction if you tell someone they are a sinner and has done wrong in God’s eyes and they need Jesus’ forgiveness. No one wants to hear THAT. Yes, standing up for Jesus still brings attack.

So when the attacks come, look to Jesus. When your anxiety grows about the pandemic, look to Jesus. When you’re feeling helpless and hopeless and that viral death is waiting for you around every corner and on every surface, look to Jesus. Look to Jesus. Look to the One who bore your sins, who brought you forgiveness, who rose for you. Faith in the midst of distress looks to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd watching over our souls, leading and guiding us especially in these challenging, death-filled times.

Yet…looking to Jesus is not all that Stephen does here. He also has courage to confess what he saw. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” The rocks hadn’t started yet. The whole thing could have been stopped if Stephen had just quietly said what the crowd wanted to hear. If he would just go along to get along, all would be okay; just take off the necklace and drop the cross in a drawer. But he doesn’t. He says what he knows is true. He declares what he sees and believes. That took courage to confess, a courage given only by the Holy Spirit.

The same is true today. Crosses are still worn by workers. Employees find ways to witness in a work environment. We have had to totally re-think how we can “do” church if no one can come to church, and yet…here we are! The same is true for you, too. The risen Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to His people. Courage to confess comes from Christ. Especially in the face of death, the time is NOW for boldly, clearly telling others about Jesus and what He has done and is still doing for us. So, we speak out, standing up for Jesus, even when it brings attack. Maybe not with rocks, but it can bring attack. Stephen was stoned to death by an angry mob…ugh, what a way to die. I prefer to think like this: Stephen saved by the Savior…now THAT’S the way to die.

Will there be more COVID-19 deaths? Of course. But we look to Jesus and find courage, we find hope, we find life. What a way to die…surrounded by life – abundant, eternal life – for which we cannot help but exclaim “Thanks be to God!” Might want to watch out for flying rocks at that point. Be strong and stay safe everyone. Happy Mother’s Day!

Amen.

4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter

May 3, 2020

John 10:11-18

“Hearing the Call of the Shepherd”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today on this 4th Sunday of Easter is the Gospel lesson read from John chapter 10.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The idea of being a shepherd and the act of shepherding is kind of lost on us as residents of an urban community of 50,000+. Oh sure, some of you may have grown up on farms with cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and maybe even sheep, but seriously how many of you know any full-time shepherds? How many shepherds do you see out tending to their flocks as you drive by on Fruitville Road or up and down Clark? Ever seen sheep and shepherds at the beach? I bet not. We know that the Bible is loaded with “shepherd” and “sheep” imagery – and our church is even named Good SHEPHERD – but how much do we really know about being a shepherd?

Shepherds in the 1st century had a rough job. At night the sheep had to be cornered into protective areas to keep away wild animals and thieves…anyone who would do harm to the flock. By day, the shepherd would call out to the sheep and lead them in his own unique voice. Because of his close relationship with the flock, the sheep came to know and trust the voice of the shepherd and they would willingly follow and they did so because the shepherd had their best intentions in mind.

But not every voice that rang out had the best intentions for the sheep. Some voices came from those who meant to harm, steal, or even kill the sheep. This is where the shepherd came in; it was his job to protect the flock. There were a lot of competing voices, but the sheep were inclined to follow the one they knew best.

Just as there were many false shepherds in Biblical times, so there are false “shepherds” in our times. There are voices that call out to us, the sheep, that do not always have our best intentions in mind. Consider for a moment all the competing voices of our day! We live in an age that is tuned, linked, powered, wired, downloaded and connected like never before in the history of humanity. And right now we are being bombarded with those voices as we self-isolate and shelter in place. Do you really believe all those voices that have access to us and to our children have our best interest at heart?

We know that’s not the case, for just look at the example that is being set for us as sheep by the various “voices” of our age which have changed our mindset because we listened and gave in. Voices are telling us that if you have a problem with someone, a good way to work it out is through nasty Facebook posts or an Email. If the problem is severe, you simply get rid of them; you “vote them off” “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” or “Bachelorette,” style instead of following our Lord’s mandate of Matthew 18 to actually talk to a person (yikes); so old fashioned! If you have problems raising your children, just ask Siri or Alexa what to do instead of taking the time to build a Christ-centered relationship with your child…perish the thought! If you have problems with your finances, don’t worry about stewardship. You just got that big ol’ economic stimulus check, right? These voices and others, the voices of the world, do not have your best interests in mind.

As your shepherd, I have to tell you they are false shepherds; they want you to follow them, but for selfish reasons, and the sin-filled heart is all-too-happy to follow, convincing us to do all kinds of stuff we wouldn’t normally do! The devil, the world, our sinful nature, and others have plenty to say, but do they have your best interest in mind? Also, ask yourself this: are they willing to die for you?

What sets Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, apart from all the rest is that He was willing to die for His sheep. In the Gospel lesson read for today, the Good Shepherd explained His mission and His purpose to the sheep, but they didn’t get it. They didn’t comprehend a shepherd who dies for the flock; that was even beyond the grasp of those who knew shepherding best. Those whom Jesus spoke to that day didn’t get the purpose of a dying Savior, but He is the One who dies for the sheep. His is a voice that is different from the world or from other people; different from all the false shepherds who mean you harm and/or to use you.

The flock of Christ, that is, the Church is led by the Good Shepherd, Jesus our risen Lord, and He desires that we be discerning sheep. A discerning sheep is one who hears and follows the voice of the One who calls out in true love and faith and hope, and not to follow the voices that call us toward genuine hurt, harm, and destruction. Are those voices out there today? Absolutely! But the Good Shepherd, the One who willingly lays down His life for His sheep, became the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) for you to enable you by faith to pass through “the gate” – the gate that leads to life everlasting, and that is something that even the most convincing false voice of this age cannot offer you.

Jesus reassures us that He comes so that we might have life and have it abundantly. That doesn’t mean that He will live it for you or automatically make your life perfect. As a shepherd, He knows what you need. He knows you struggle financially, relationally, physically, and spiritually. God gets that; He knows your pains better than I ever could. Still He leads you to green pastures, to still waters, He restores your soul, He comforts you such that your cup overflows with blessings! (Psalm 23). Your shepherd is there with you every day leading you through life to life wherever God has placed you even as you shelter in place or self-isolate. We hear His voice, and that changes us. We follow – trustingly – wherever He leads because He knows us and our needs best.

There is a lot going on these days, my friends. But have no fear, little flock. Jesus is your Good Shepherd and He watches over you every day. He lives that you would have life abundantly. Remember that as you serve one another, and as you hope in the return of the One who watches over you: Jesus. Be strong, stay safe, and Happy Anniversary, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School!

Amen.

3rd Sunday n Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter

April 26, 2020

Luke 24:13-35

“Making Sense of the Confusion”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our living Good Shepherd Jesus. The sermon for today is from the assigned Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 24.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

So what if, if I’m out for a walk, someone’s dog on a leash walks up to me and I instinctively reach out and pet the dog’s head? Can I give the dog Coronavirus? Can the dog give the virus to me? Can the owner get the virus if I leave it on the dog’s head? Let’s face it…we have a TON of questions about COVID-19 and social media has provided an avalanche of confusing misinformation. Webster’s Dictionary says that confusion is the act in which there is a “mixing or blending so that things cannot be distinguished.” To be confused is to have truth mixed or blended so that actions and true information cannot be properly distinguished.

That being the case, today’s Gospel lesson is loaded with confusion! On the surface this lesson from Luke 24 seems simple and straightforward. But, the more we search the text, the more we will see just how much confusion there is, and then we will have a greater appreciation for how Jesus comes to eliminate our confusion by making sense of the information not only for those two followers, but in our lives as disciples as well in bring a calming peace especially in these troubling and confusing times.

Let’s make sure we are all “up to speed” to this point so as not to create any further confusion! The women came on Easter morning for a post-Sabbath body-for-burial mission, but instead of finding Jesus’ body, an angel told them of His resurrection. The women then hurried to tell the remaining disciples what had happened. Now we get to today’s lesson. These two disciples, one named Cleopas and the other is unidentified (more confusion!), are walking to Emmaus in the afternoon when the resurrected Christ appears to them. And let the confusion begin!

First of all, there is even some confusion about where Emmaus was. Some Greek manuscripts say that Emmaus was “60 stadia” from Jerusalem, while some others say “160 stadia.” That’s a difference of 7 miles versus 18 miles, which makes a big difference when you have to walk from place to place. Most modern scholars associate Emmaus with the 7 mile distance slightly northwest of Jerusalem.

Secondly, we have Cleopas and his unnamed companion being confused about the events in Jerusalem that we know as Jesus’ Passion. They knew who Jesus was and had hoped that He was the Messiah of Israel (v. 21) who would save them from all their bondage and oppression. They also knew Jesus had been crucified and was dead. They knew that His body had not been found at the tomb. All this had left them very confused.

Why wouldn’t they be? They had desires and hopes and dreams of all that Jesus was going to do for them and do for their country. Now He was dead and His body couldn’t be located. They knew what they knew and they knew Jesus was dead. This acknowledgment of their reality made them confused and sad.

Welcome to the club. Sinful people are really good at confusing the issue. Rather than trust God’s promises in our lives, we fear and worry and wring our hands and hang our heads. Sinful people are very, very good at confusing matters, as if His divine promises are somehow not enough, especially during global pandemics. When the tough times in life come we look at our outward circumstances and situation and it causes us to worry and be anxious. Sinful people are good at remembering our woes and sadness and quick to forget the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6, NIV). In this life, I have found that It is easier to wallow in sin than to bask in God’s grace. It is easier to remember our own misery than God’s promises. It is easier, and less confusing, to be afraid than to trust in God’s never ending provision.

However, in the midst of sin-infested confusion, Jesus comes to make sense of all our confusion. Starting with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained to them all that was said of Him from the Holy Scriptures (v. 27). Just think of it…this may have been the greatest theological lecture of all time! The important word in the lecture is “necessary;” it expresses a divine “must.” As confusing as it seems, the Messiah had to experience these things. Why? These events were God’s salvation plan in action; confusing to some, but God’s will nonetheless.

It was important that especially the necessity of Jesus’ death be noted, to put an end to the confusion regarding what kind of Messiah Jesus Christ is. He is a Messiah who dies so that His people can live. He is a Messiah who suffers so that we can have peace in the face of bondage and oppression to sin. He is a Messiah, a Savior, who lovingly gives of Himself on the cross of Calvary so that we might receive; receive the forgiveness of our sins and live as such in this at-times confusing world.

I know these are confusing times, and you can’t even come to church! In this life, the time that we spend apart from our Lord can create loads of confusion. Confusion and fear erode our confidence in God’s goodness. Are you feeling confused about life? Not sure why things are happening the way they are? Uncertain about where life is taking you or the direction of your life’s events? How much time are you spending with God as compared to TV? What is your prayer life like other than a quick table prayer every once in awhile? Are you being taught and fed by your Lord on a regular basis even during the country’s shutdown?

Here’s something else I’ve learned in life: When you are down to nothing, God is up to something! He was in His meeting with those disciples on the road to Emmaus putting an end to their confusion. And He is up to something in your life too even as you shelter in place. He is there to end all your confusion and put your mind at eternal ease as we walk this road together. Be strong and stay safe, my friends, for our best as a church and nation is about to be.

Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2020

John 20:19-31

“Doing Without”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s assigned Gospel text from John 20.

My dear friends,

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I bet you’re getting really sick of “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” by now. You’re tired of doing without going to the store having it not be a whole “thing” with masks and gloves and hand sanitizer. You’re tired of doing without the opportunity to be with family and friends, to go to your favorite places and the activities you enjoy doing. But hey…we can be thankful. There are families having to do without funerals for their loved ones. There are hospitals doing without morgue space. We can be VERY thankful that we still can go to essential store and that we have air conditioning and TV and plenty of food. So far those essentials are still around in abundance…thanks be to God! But in America that has not always been the case.

I once read a book called “The Dirty Thirties,” and it might not be what you think; it’s not THAT kind of sold-in-a-brown-wrapper book! “The Dirty Thirties” is about the terrible winters and equally bad summers of the Dust Bowl years – the period of the early and mid 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of American families to abandon their farms. The book is a collection of memories of those who lived through those years and the hardships they endured. The book is full of common tales: little to no money, no plows to move snow, no warm clothing to keep out the cold and no air conditioning to keep away the stiffing and oppressive heat. Little to no crops. One writer from Columbus, NE finished her contribution with the statement “the good old days, you can have them. Nothing but hard work and doing without.” Those of you who also lived in that era just might echo her sentiment – “nothing but hard work and doing without.”

Now, in your mind go back not to the 1930s but to the 30s…30 AD. Jesus has risen from the dead – the first Easter. On Sunday evening our risen Lord came to the panicked and afraid disciples and brought not anger or accusations or blame, but peace. “Peace be with you” (John 19:21). But, for some reason, the disciple Thomas wasn’t with the others. Why not? I have no idea. I do know that it’s because of this narrative that we attach the label “doubting” to Thomas.

It’s only been 1 or 2 days without Jesus, and Thomas is already learning to do without Jesus. Instead of accepting the witness and testimony of his fellow disciples, Thomas remained skeptical and wanted proof (20:25). Thomas must “see and touch.” He must have verifiable, empirical evidence. It is not enough that he has the eyewitness of others – 10 other guys (3 was enough in court) – so until he has more, he will do without Jesus in his life. Doing without Jesus – doubt – robs people of the joy of the resurrection. Doubt keeps us locked in and locked down in our fears – far worse than any virus could.

Thomas was steadfast in his doubt and disbelief. Emphatically, a double negative in the original language, he said, “I will not, no way, believe” (20:25). But cannot we be the same way? When anger and anxiety and pain and uncertainty and fear and stress rise up in life as you get tired of looking at the same 4 walls, do we not act like Thomas and sinfully doubt God’s purpopse and plan and presence and peace? Thomas robbed himself of the joy and peace that a risen Jesus offers! And haven’t you done the same this week? Haven’t you lived the same way this week? Haven’t you denied yourself Easter peace because you’re so caught up in the “shut down” caused by the Coronavirus?

Then, 8 days later, everything changed. For Thomas, no more doing without. Jesus appeared to Thomas just as He does to all of us personally. He has come to remove doubt from the heart of Thomas; there is no need for Thomas to do without Jesus any longer. To a man filled with doubt and fear and who was wrestling with an existence apart from Christ, Jesus says instead, “Go ahead…see and touch. Look at my nail marks. Feel them. With these wounds I hung on the cross. With these wounds I suffered for your sins. With these wounds I secured your forgiveness. These nail marks are a sign of my victory over sin and death. Thomas, you don’t have to do without Me any longer, for I have done it all for you.”

When Thomas saw Jesus’ nail marks, his knees buckled from under him and he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” His doubt had given way to saving faith in Jesus. No doubt about it, Jesus IS risen from the grave. Jesus IS the Messiah. Jesus IS the Son of God. Jesus has “destroyed death.” Blessed are those who have not seen, but believed; His people do not have to learn to do without Him, for Jesus is alive then, now, and forever more and will be with us always (Matt. 28:20)!

And then the Gospel lesson today ends with some of the most powerful words that John provides for us anywhere in the Scriptures: but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). And what does that mean…to you? Are you trying to live each day even in isolation doing without the resurrected, living presence of God in your daily actions and decisions? Sure, maybe your current life situation is less than ideal, but is that what really matters?

Friends, be thankful today for what you DO have – including the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, and eternal salvation – and don’t obsess on what you have to do without. The summers and winters of the 1930s were bad…so I’ve heard and read. Summers and winters come and go. But tomorrow is a new day, another day closer to resuming life, a day to live and believe and celebrate that Jesus is the Christ for you and by believing in His life, His love, His forgiveness, and His salvation you will have life and have life in abundance (John 10:10). And no one can truly ever do without that. Stay strong and be safe, my friends.

Amen.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday 2020

April 5, 2020

Mark 11:1-10

“Witness Something Truly Majestic”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today on Palm Sunday is from Mark chapter 11.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Okay, given our current situation with COVID-19 and the whole global pandemic thing going on, this might not be the best way to start a sermon today. That being said, what would you do if you knew when you were going to die either by the Coronavirus or another way? Would you even want to know? Jesus knew that His death was less than one week away on that Palm Sunday, and I am sure that the cross loomed in the shadows of the waving branches. What about you? Would you want to know the day of your death? Many people don’t. But let’s say that you did test positive for COVID-19 and nothing could be done? No, getting the Coronavirus doesn’t mean automatic death, and 7000+ people in the US have died from this virus. But what if – for you – it would be? What would you do if time allowed?

That was the premise of the 2008 film “The Bucket List.” “The Bucket List” is about an auto mechanic and billionaire who meet for the first time in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with cancer. Each man has less than 1 year to live. As he wrestles with his new sense of mortality, the mechanic begins writing a “bucket list,” or things to do before “he kicks the bucket.” The billionaire discovers the list and promises to pay for everything the two want to do. The pair then begins an around-the-world vacation, embarking on everything from race car driving to sky diving to an African safari. In the end neither men survive, but the Bucket List gets completed when both men’s cremated remains are buried overlooking Mount Everest so that they can “witness something truly majestic” – the first item on the list. Even in death, these men were able to witness something truly majestic in a figurative sense.

The same can be said of those who literally witnessed that very first Palm Sunday celebration: that day they witnessed something truly majestic. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is one of the most significant events in Jesus’ public ministry. That fact becomes more and more apparent when a person knows the significance behind the key aspects, that is, the importance of the donkey and the reaction of the crowd.

First, you recognize the truly majestic when you note Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is on a donkey. The donkey was the traditional mount for kings and rulers in the ancient Near East. By riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus was making an implicit claim to be the king of His people as He fulfills OT prophecy of Zechariah. In addition, Jesus is also making a statement about what kind of King He is. Most kings are associated with war horses and tanks, but Jesus’ statement as He enters Jerusalem majestically that day was one of peaceful humility. That is the kind of King Jesus is – a king of peace and love, not clubs and swords. The people that day truly witnessed something majestic.

Secondly, we know this is a truly majestic event because of the palm branches and the reaction by the crowd. Palms were a long-standing sign of victory in the Greek world; think of it as a 1st century version of “ticker tape.” But more than that, the waving of palm branches has been associated with Psalm 118 for centuries, in particular verse 25: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” In Hebrew, the word for “save us” is “Hosanna!” which is what the crowd shouted that day and is indicative of what the crowd wanted from Jesus – salvation and deliverance…from Roman occupation and oppression. Little did they know what kind of form that salvation and deliverance would take by the end of the week. They really misunderstood the situation

But are there not times, especially lately, when we also display misunderstanding? Hailing King Jesus one minute and then turned your back on His goodness and mercy the next? Sure, we want to be like the crowd shouting Hosanna! – “save us, Lord” – but now we’re pinning our hopes on stimulus checks instead. A government check isn’t going to fix this; God in Christ will. Are there times this week when you have been like Peter denying your Lord and His provision in these uncertain times? Have there been times this week you, like Thomas, doubted your God and His ability to get you and your loved ones through this pandemic?

Despite our failures and shortcoming and denials and betrayals, in the events started at Palm Sunday we see the length that our Lord was willing to go for sinners like us. He was willing to be brutally manhandled and cursed at and betrayed and abandoned and shunned and mocked…for us and for our salvation. Every kick, every punch, every lash of the whip, every pound of the nail. Those are your sins doing that….those are my sins doing that to our King. But this is God’s majestic will and His plan for the deliverance of His people. Only the pure and holy Lamb of God was able to bear the load of this world’s sin and pay the price that none of us could ever pay. But He did it. He did it through the blood and agony and anguish and torture. Talk about witnessing something truly majestic; in the events of Holy Week we see something eternally majestic.

So, what does Palm Sunday mean for Christians in 2020? This is certainly not what anyone expected. We all expected to be here – in church – waving our palm branches and majestically singing those great Palm Sunday hymns like “Ride on, Ride On in Majesty,” “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” and “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” But that’s not happening now, is it? It’s hard to think of these times and this situation as “majestic” – empty churches during Holy Week. But this is still every bit majestic. Easter is more than eggs and bunnies and new dresses and filled church pews. Coronavirus didn’t defeat Easter. Easter defeats EVERY virus, especially the virus of sin.

I truly believe we WILL see something majestic as a result. When we are able to be back in worship, I don’t think people will take that for granted anymore. We will appreciate all of God’s blessings and however they’re manifested to us. No, things will never be “the same” again, but is that all bad? Remember what it was like before COVID-19? Maybe we don’t want to go back to that! Maybe our new normal will better reflect God’s majestic presence and purpose in our lives once again.

Today we again witness something truly majestic as Christ comes to us in His Word; NEVER take that for granted! This is how God helps and supports us in this life and in this time of crisis. He comes in His Word to encourage, to give life, to support, to forgive sins, and give hope in a currently increasingly hopeless world. And with that hope…eternal hope…we are prepared for whenever death overtakes us that we may witness something truly majestic – the glory of heaven – which was opened to us because of Jesus’ majestic entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.

Welcome to Holy Week in the year of our Lord 2020.

Amen.

5th Sunday in Lent

5th Sunday in Lent

March 29, 2020

John 11:17-27, 38-53

“Resurrection Rewind”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the assigned Gospel lesson from John 11.

My dear friends,

Now that we’ve been “sheltering in place” for a week or so, many of us are becoming more familiar with our TV remotes. I have 2. One remote controls my TV. It has 44 buttons; I use about 3 of them. My other remote controls my Comcast/Xfinity service and I use that one much more. My favorite remote buttons have to be pause and rewind/fast-forward. These buttons on the remote control allow me to pause or replay my favorite moments in sports or movies or even pause a live broadcast and then resume when I come back into the room. Too cool. But what if we could use them on the Bible?

You know today’s Gospel narrative, right? Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus is sick (11:1). He waits a couple of days, then heads for Bethany. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has died. Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters, both hope Jesus will still help. And Jesus does, though not without first weeping. He raises Lazarus back to life, leading Caiaphas and the Jewish religious leadership to begin their plot to kill Jesus.

What’s your favorite part? Pause. Mine would be…Rewind…Jesus words to Martha: (ἐγώ εἰμι)“I am the resurrection and the life” (v 25). Jesus has come to save the day, and not even death can stop him. And what about Martha’s words in reply? Fast forward to verse 27: “Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Who would have thought that poor, “preoccupied with housework” Martha could say something so profound?

Then…Fast Forward…there’s that scene at the tomb. Amazing, right? They were all worried about the smell, and understandably so. When a person breathed the last breath and the heart stopped beating, the eyes of the deceased were reverentially closed, the entire body was washed and anointed with oil, and the hands and feet were then wrapped in linen bands. The body, clothed in a favorite garment, was then wrapped with sheets. Spices of myrrh and aloes were placed in the folds of the garment to perfume the body for as long as possible. The reality is…decaying flesh stinks, so family members did what they could to maintain some air quality by minimizing the lingering odors coming from tombs.

Lazarus was dead. Dead in every way. Body prepared for permanent burial. He had been in the tomb 4 days, 1 more than required for absolute death in people’s eyes and by Jewish legal definition. And to a totally dead man, Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out” (v 43). And he does! Now that’s rewind worthy!

Wait a minute (v 35). Why are there tears on Jesus’ face? Back that up! Rewind. Something’s wrong here. The hero isn’t supposed to be crying (John 11:35). Why is he crying? All along Jesus has been Mister Calm, Cool, and Collected, except for maybe with the money changers in the Temple. And now tears? When did you ever see John Wayne cry? Perhaps they’re for Mary and Martha. He is a compassionate guy, and you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved by their heartache, right? But still, he knows what’s about to happen. All of that sadness is about to be replaced with joy! He is the resurrection, planning all along to give life to the newly-dead Lazarus, and yet he cries? Something here still doesn’t add up.

Hit the Pause right there. Use “pause” and advance the scene frame by frame. Check out his eyes! Watch him as if on TV in your mind and see Jesus as he looks at Mary and then over at the crowd. Wow! It’s like he sees them and yet sees past them. It’s almost as though . . .

Did Jesus hit His own fast-forward? Does he cry because maybe he sees another Mary, his mother, weeping, in the company of mourners? Does he hear the accusations: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Mat 27:42 ESV)” (Mt 27:42)? Does he feel the pain of a rescue that doesn’t come? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Does he see another tomb, but this time it’s his body that’s laid inside? Perhaps. On this side of heaven, we’ll never know for certain.

Let’s Fast-Forward too. The tears of Jesus, though very real, are momentary. They pass, and Jesus calls forth Lazarus in a resurrection that not only foreshadows his, but ours also. Jesus raises Lazarus, knowing full well that it will finally mobilize his enemies to get him killed. That, however, has been his plan all along—a plan that, ironically, is left to Jesus’ chief human adversary, Caiaphas, to explain (vv 49–50). Jesus has come to die for his people and, by so doing, gather all God’s children together (vv 51–52) for life that will not die.

It’s pretty obvious maybe this past week I’ve watched a bit too much TV. Maybe we all have. Put down the remote. This is the best weather we have in Florida all year. Go outside; go for a walk. And who knows? Maybe this COVID-19 is just what we needed. This is the first time that many generations have truly been tested by difficulty and doing without. Maybe if we spend some “alone” time, we will have a greater appreciation for what we have and not complain about what we don’t have. Maybe we as a nation will stop being so selfish and self-centered.

Maybe, when we get through this, we’ll have new priorities in life, new perspectives, a new outlook on life. It would seem there’s much more of this story left to tell. And there is…just wait until next week. Whether we gather in church yet remains to be seen, but maybe when we “rewind” this time in our lives, we will realize that the hope we have in Christ is something very real, especially in the face of disease and death knowing that God in Christ overcomes both, and I’d watch that over and over any time.

Amen.

The 4th Sunday in Lent

4th Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2020

John 9:1-41

“All I Need is a Miracle”

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours today in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The sermon today is based on the Gospel lesson from John chapter 9.

My dear friends,

Back in 1985, while I was still studying Mass Communications and working in radio, a hit song came out from the group “Mike and the Mechanics” that was called “All I Need is a Miracle.” It has a very catchy “hook:” “All I need is a miracle. All I neeeeeeeed is you.” The song also has this lyric: “but it’s always the same old story. You never know what you’ve got `til it’s gone.” Boy…this last week has sure proved that right – You never know what you’ve got `til it’s gone.

That truth has been hammered home more than ever this past week. I spent the great majority of the week in Nebraska with my mom and brother Mike. I was there because Mike lost his left foot a little below the left knee. Then he came down with pneumonia and an infection somewhere in his compromised body. Then, just as I arrived, the Coronavirus gripped our nation in fear and dread. People got infected and died. Stores shut down. Bars and restaurants closed. They shut down the beach! Our unique American lifestyle has been significantly interrupted. You never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

The issues we are dealing with now are more than a lost foot or pneumonia. This is bigger than anything we as Americans have ever faced. Our way of life is on hold for…who knows? You never know what you’ve got `til it’s gone. These are unprecedented and unparalleled times. We’ve faced WWII, the aftermath of 9-11, Y2K, Ebola, and SARS, but the impact of this dreadful Coronavirus is almost unreal. It feels like all we need is a miracle to ever get back to normal.

And how appropriate we have this Gospel lesson from John 9. The lesson is the whole chapter, the healing of a man born blind. Jesus healing the blind is a hallmark of His ministry. Blindness was a major problem in ancient times because of unsanitary conditions, especially water. In the 1″ century there were no cures for eye disease and so blindness was quite common. Along comes a man born blind who was also a well-known beggar. All this man needed was a miracle.

For the man, Jesus makes a mud plaster of saliva and soil and applies it to the man’s eyes. In antiquity, spit was thought to have medicinal power. Jesus then tells the man to go wash in the pool at the southern end of Jerusalem, the Pool of Siloam (which means Sent). The blind man went and washed and came back seeing. And all you-know-what breaks loose in response to this unparalleled event.

The neighbors are concerned about this man. Was he really the same guy who had begged in their midst? Was he really blind after all? The Pharisees are concerned because all of this happened on the Sabbath. The blind man’s parents are concerned that they’ll be expelled from the synagogue if they answer the Pharisees wrong. The blind man is concerned that Jesus is wrongly accused as a sinner. Everyone has their own concerns and their own needs during an unprecedented event. Sound familiar? All they needed was a miracle

Through it all, the darkness lifts and sight is restored. Because of that sight, Jesus is identified very powerfully throughout chapter 9: “Son of Man,” “Lord,” “Prophet,” “Christ,” “from God,” “Rabbi,” and “Light of the World.” The blind man now becomes a model of and for every believer. When we are in need of a miracle — as we are right now in these uncertain times — we also embrace Jesus as

Lord and Christ. We confidently live in His light even in unparalleled and unprecedented times. Light always triumphs over darkness. Always. Every time. My dear friends, in light of these unprecedented times, all we need is a miracle. And guess what? We’ve got one. Two to be precise.

The blind man’s situation was bleak. His day-to-day life enjoyed none of the protection or charitable assistance often given to the blind or impaired today. Forget images of guide dogs and Braille books and resources. This is a man that sat on the roadside and begged. He had no employment, no prospects for marriage, no social honor. This was a guy at the bottom of the barrel physically, socially, financially. He was at the end of the social rope; his future was bleak and he knew it. He needed a miracle in every sense of the word.

Jesus did not just miraculously give the man sight. Jesus gave him life. And Christ Jesus has given you light and life as well. All we need is a miracle, and those miracles have already happened. Jesus going to the cross to forgive our sins and become our sacrificial lamb? That’s a miracle. Jesus shedding His blood to cleanse us of our sin and the punishment for sin that we deserved? That’s a miracle. Jesus rising again from the dead to be the light of the world forever and ever…an ever-living, ever-shining light even in the darkness of these days; giving us hope amid the darkness of death? That’s a miracle. The miracle of Good Friday and Easter morning happened for you and no virus will EVER change that.

It’s true. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. We’ve lost many of our American amenities. We’ve lost a few of our freedoms and conveniences that normally we enjoy. We’ve lost a DOW Jones average over 25,000. We’ve lost the ability to gather in groups of more than 10 people. We’ve lost these things… for now. The miracle is that these things WILL come back. We will persevere. God is still in charge. This is not God’s punishment. That happened at the cross. God’s miraculous, powerful love will not leave us or forsake us. These are uncharted, unprecedented and unparalleled times. You know what? It’s a truth that not just Mike and the Mechanics knew: “it’s always the same old story. You never know what you’ve got ‘tit it’s gone.” True…but it is only temporary.

In John 9 many people were concerned. I know that we’re all concerned and I know you have needs, but this too shall pass. In the meantime, we will pray. We will not panic. We will prepare for God’s miracles which will manifest themselves in our lives at just the right time. We will follow what our nation’s leaders ask us to do trusting that God’s will is being done through them. We will help and love our neighbors. And we will give thanks like the blind man. Even amid the unprecedented times brought by the Coronavirus, we also will boldly and confidently proclaim “Lord, we believe” (9:38). Then we will wait for the miracle that is sure to come.     

Amen.