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.

The Third Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2020

Romans 5:1-8

“Back to the Basics”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Epistle Lesson from Romans 5.

My dear friends,

Sometimes it’s good, maybe especially during unprecedented, uncertain times, to just go back to the basics. No PowerPoint, no moving or over-sized graphics. Back to the basics: pulpit, paper, preaching. That’s what Paul is doing in Romans 5. The Apostle Paul, writing to persecuted Christians – not by virus but by sword – in uncertain times, is assuring them – and us – of a basic hope we have when he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). That’s as basic as it gets.

This sermon is not about what God wants us to do this week. It is not about our understanding some deep and mysterious doctrine. It is not even about how we feel today and how you can feel better. No, this sermon is about being who and what we are…right in the sight of God; we are justified by faith. Basic.

We begin by realizing that although much has changed in 1 week, some things have not. We are in the same situation that we were this time last week: broken, unworthy and undeserving sinners. We begin by admitting that God needs to save us because we cannot justify ourselves before Him. Of course, guilty, sinful, and unworthy is not how we want to see ourselves; many American churches have abandoned confession and absolution for that very reason. If anything, we want to see ourselves as just the opposite. We haven’t done anything wrong; we’ve done everything right. Sure we have.

I read about a school system in Nevada, although I could not verify where it was, that wants to change the grading system so that no one can fail. Instead of A’s or B’s you are described as “extending.” If you are more of a C student, then you are “developing.” And those who should get an F are “emerging.” In this school system, you can only succeed. There is no failure, only varying degrees of success. That’s the way we think of ourselves…everything right, and not guilty of anything.

Everything right, and not guilty of anything. Right. Could you imagine sitting in God’s courtroom and He is the judge? That is scary! The Ten Commandments are printed in huge block letters on the wall behind Him. He reads the second commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” No carelessly using the name of God. At all. Ever. Just the commandment staring you in the face, and God asking “How do you plead?” Guilty as charged.

“Or,” God says, “how about this?” “You shall not commit adultery”? No cheating on your spouse. No lustful thoughts about anyone else. No lingering glances to admire someone else’s looks or body. Just the Commandment staring you in the face saying, and God asking, “How do you plead?” Not good…guilty as charged.

Should I pick another commandment, say, “You shall not steal”? No greed. No anxiety over money. No cheating on taxes or some other financial form. No buying so much stuff that you cannot be generous in giving to those in need. Just the Commandment staring you in the face saying, and God asking, “How do you plead?” Guilty as charged. Still think you haven’t done anything wrong?

No, we do not want to be in God’s courtroom with the Ten Commandments on the wall behind Him. His justice would declare us to be – deserving of God’s punishment. You break one commandment, you’ve broken them ALL eternally. That’s basic. That’s why we confess: I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you and justly deserve your temporal and eternal punishment. And the punishment for sin? Death!

But we are not in His courtroom. We are in His house, His church. We are in the one place where we remember that the greatest injustice of all time has saved us from God’s punishment. Here in the church we do not just stare at God’s Law and wilt under our guilt knowing all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. No, we also see Jesus’ cross and rejoice in our justification – we are right in the sight of God. That’s as basic as it gets.

Remember that dark Thursday night. Jesus has gone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It is quiet and His disciples fall asleep. Then a small group of soldiers and religious leaders surround Jesus. One of His disciples, Judas, steps out and betrays Jesus—with a kiss of all things. Peter wakes up and tries to stop the arrest, but Jesus wants no violence here, no rescue. He is going to trial and nothing will stop Him from being condemned as guilty.

The court is hastily convened. People come forward to make charges, but their testimonies do not agree. Jesus is innocent. Here is the only person in the room truly innocent. No charge can stick against Him except for one that is trumped up. So an injustice is perpetuated – charged with blaspheme (?) and Jesus is sentenced to die.

Yet justice is served when Jesus is nailed to that cross—God’s justice. Our sin could not go unpunished. Our weakness could not be ignored. Our breaking of the Ten Commandments could not be simply excused. No, someone had to die. Someone had to take the eternal punishment, and that someone was Jesus. Because of Christ, on Judgment Day, we will hear “not guilty.” No legal loopholes, no lawyer tricks. Just the blood of Christ. It’s as basic as it gets.

Remember when I said this sermon is not about what we do? When it comes to being justified, saved, at peace with God, we can do nothing. I read about a man named Bill who donated 100 pints of blood (12 ½ gallons). No doubt that was a good thing Bill had done, and many people owe their lives to his kindness. But this is what Bill said, “When that final whistle blows and St. Peter asks, “What did you do?” I’ll just say, “Well, I gave 100 pints of blood.” Bill says with a laugh, “That ought to get me in.” Bill was probably joking. But if he was serious, if Bill is counting on the giving of 100 pints of blood to get him to heaven, he is trusting in the wrong blood.” Our faith is in Jesus, because His blood shed on the cross justifies us. That’s basic to what we believe.

I’ve never seen events of this past week in my lifetime, although there have been similar times: Y2K, SARS, Asian flu, Swine flu, etc. I went to the Farmer’s Market this morning. Shut down. Had tickets for a spring training game yesterday. Cancelled. No NHL, NBA, March Madness. No school. I had never heard the terms “social distancing” and “self quarantine” before this week. People are running out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes. They are also running short of normalcy and hope. David wrote in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Yes…we do. Even during pandemics. Didn’t know that word before last week either. Yes, in these complex, difficult, hand-wringing, hand-washing and uncertain times, it is good to go back to the basics and that brings a peace that no mask or hand sanitizer could ever provide. It may get worse before it gets better, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God, and that brings a hope that never disappoints. Ever. Be safe out there.

Amen.

 

The Second Sunday in Lent

2nd Sunday in Lent

March 8, 2020

John 3:1-17

“Do You Not Understand These Things?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson which contained perhaps the most well-known Bible passage in the history of mankind: John 3:1-17

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I know what you ‘re thinking! You want me to rush right to John 3:16 and preach a sermon on those well-known words: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The temptation is certainly there to do that. They are comfortable words…reassuring words…words we know by heart and treasure. But I must admit that I do not want to preach on John 3:16 because there is so much more for us to discuss and consider from the lesson taken from John 3:1-17.

In this lesson, a man named Nicodemus came at night to speak to Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee (fanatic Jewish law experts) who also happened to be one of the ruling members on the Sanhedrin (the ruling, religious, and judicial council in NT Israel). Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, which seems odd but it could have been that way because (1) Nicodemus didn’t want other Jews to see him confess his belief in Jesus since he was a member of not one but two groups of people who dislike Jesus, and (2) it simply may have been too hard for Nicodemus to get near Jesus during the day because of the crowds. Whatever the case, Nicodemus gets his wish. He is granted a private audience with Jesus who uses this opportunity to teach one of Israel’s teachers.

It is an interesting dialogue these two have. Jesus is trying to speak and teach regarding spiritual truths, and poor Nicodemus remains kind of clueless throughout. Yet their discussion must have had some kind of impact. We will see Nicodemus again in John chapter 7 and again after Jesus has died. Nicodemus is with Joseph of Arimathea as they prepare Jesus’ body for burial according to Jewish custom (John 19:39). But here, in their encounter in the dark, Jesus repeats the same phrase three times: “I tell you the truth” and in verse 10 Jesus asks, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” While none of us are Pharisees and none of us are members of the Sanhedrin, I think that same question applies to us, too. Do you not understand these things?

First of all, do you understand what it means to be born again? Actually, in the Greek, the phrase also means “born from above.” Doesn’t matter if it was English or Greek; Nicodemus didn’t get it because he was thinking strictly in human terms. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4). Seriously? Of course not. Well, okay then, what does that really mean?

This new birth that Jesus is talking about – “water and Spirit,” – is not of the water and of the Spirit as two separate experiences. Water and Spirit work together in the new birth. Jesus was clearly speaking of Baptism. In Baptism, the Spirit works saving faith. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit connects us with God’s love and grace. He works a new birth, a birth that makes us children of the heavenly Father and a member of God’s kingdom. The apostle Paul said the same thing when he wrote, “(God) saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Sadly, Baptism gets a bad rap in this modern world. It’s seen as a traditional thing you do to make grandma happy; just go through the motions and she’ll stop bringing it up. Baptism is a low-tech Sacrament in a high tech world. However, the modern misconception does not change what Baptism IS and what it DOES. Water and Spirit, water and Word, working faith, forgiving sins, opening the Kingdom of Heaven to us. Baptism. That’s what Jesus meant by being “born again.”

Secondly, do you understand what it means for God to really love the world as Jesus taught in the so-familiar words of verse 16? Valentine’s Day, which is all about love, came and went last month with an estimated 145 million cards being sent in the US. What did you send or get? Do you still have the card or the candy? The trappings of Valentine’s Day – cards, candy, and flowers – are very much like human love. They come, they go, they’re fun at first but lose luster (and life) over time. But God’s love is totally different.

Such love we do not easily understand because no human can love like God. But we need to know about it. Many Christians like to refer to it by its Greek word, agape. This kind of love is more than a feeling; it’s a resolve. It doesn’t base its actions on how likable or worthy the object of love is; it acts first and foremost in the best interest of its recipient. Verse 16 says God loved the world, a world trapped in sin, and so God had to deal with sin.

God’s love brought results. He offered the ultimate sacrifice for the world he loved. He gave his one and only Son as the necessary sacrifice for the world’s sins. God gave his one and only Son for the butchery of the cross. Jesus repeated what God’s gift meant: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Faith saves. But not just any faith – faith in the Son of God, who was given as our sacrifice. Those who believe in him “shall not perish.” We enjoy life with Jesus now already, but even after our eventual death, we will still know life in full glory because of our Baptismal faith and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Did Nicodemus understand all of this? The Bible doesn’t say. Does the world understand all of this? It sure doesn’t look like it. Yet we know, we believe, we teach, and we proclaim this truth to a world that badly needs to hear that we DO have a loving God who calls us to repent, receive the birth from above that comes through Baptism, and to trust in him every day of our lives. We can do that because we know what Nicodemus knew: “…God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Amen.