Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost

John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is a Feast of the Word – the Word of God. Of course, Pentecost is also a Feast of the Holy Spirit – you’ve already heard, and sung, and prayed about, and to, and for the sending of the Holy Spirit more this morning than all of this year to date! However, the Holy Spirit is all about the Word of God, and about the revelation of the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love Him, and We will come to Him and make Our home with Him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My Words.”
It all began with words: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The problem then was that those words were man’s words and not the Word of the LORD. After the flood, the LORD had commanded His people to “multiply and fill the earth” once again. Instead, the people gathered together in one place. And, there they sought to establish themselves independent of God, to build a city and a dwelling in which to reside permanently that they might make a name for themselves. They conspired to build a tower reaching into the heavens that they might be as gods unto themselves. Therefore, the LORD looked upon His rebellious creation and saw, once again, that every inclination of their hearts was but evil all the time, just as before the flood, and, in an act of mercy, not judgment, the LORD confused the language of the people and dispersed them over the face of the whole earth. This was an act of mercy on behalf of the LORD just as His banishment of our First Parents from the Garden and from the Tree of Life. The LORD did not will that His people should be hardened and be cut off from His presence eternally. Therefore, the LORD in His providence had already a plan to reunite and to unify His people and to restore them to paradise, to the Tree of Life, and to communion with Him once again in His holy presence through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the LORD made known His plan in many and various ways through His prophets of old – men like Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and the Prophet Joel whom St. Peter quoted in his Pentecost sermon: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” It’s all about the Word. The promised Spirit will drive people into the LORD’s Word. The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance what the LORD has promised in His Word made flesh, Jesus. The Spirit does not, and will not, bring a new word, a new revelation of the word, for the Word has gone out from the Father’s mouth, and it has not returned to Him void, but it has accomplished the purpose for which He was sent. In Jesus’ incarnation, virgin birth, obedient life, innocent suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, it is finished. And, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, ten days after His ascension, the Father and His Son together sent forth His Spirit in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and many others that He might unify His people once again and give them one voice, one language, one Word, and one God.
On the day of His ascension, Jesus had commanded them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘You heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’.” The disciples obeyed the Word of their Lord and they remained in Jerusalem. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place,” much as the people were gathered together in one place in the plains of Shinar when they conspired against the Word of the LORD to remain there and to build a tower and to make a name for themselves. However, this time the disciples were hearkening to the Word of the LORD. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them the gift of the Word. Though there were many people present from many different lands and tongues, they were all able to hear the Apostles proclaiming the Word of the LORD in their own languages. Although they spoke many different languages, the Holy Spirit united them with one spiritual language, the Word of the LORD, that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved.
By His Holy Spirit, through His Word, the LORD “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” In this way, the LORD undoes the curse of Babel. The Holy Spirit joins all who love Jesus and keep His Word into a new family in communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This new family, the body of Christ, the Church shares “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Indeed, the purpose of the tongues, which were the natural languages of men, was that all could hear and understand the same message, the Word of the LORD, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The tongues were meant to draw together and to unify, not to isolate and divide. Those who claim a special gift of spiritual revelation seek, not the unity of Christ’s body the Church, but, like those rebels on the plains of Shinar, to make a name for themselves. It is the LORD who joins together; it is man who divides and separates.
Still, men like to go their own way, to chart their own course, to determine truth for themselves, and to hearken to their own word and wisdom and will. We see this today in the so-called worship wars where there is a desire to throw off the liturgical rites and ceremonies that have been handed down to us by generations of believers before us. Men refuse to submit themselves and to be constrained by a Word that is not of their own making. However, the liturgy consists of the LORD’s Word – check it for yourself and see that each portion of the liturgy has a scriptural reference from whence it was quoted or paraphrased. The LORD would unify us together in speaking with one voice with the Church of Jesus Christ of all times and of all places, with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” But, today there is a desire to speak a different word each and every Sunday, often in words that are so loosely connected to the Word of the LORD that one is not confident that they are receiving the LORD’s gifts or praising and thanking Him at all, but merely babbling self-gratifying words into the ether. In the liturgy of the Church we all sacrifice our selfish wants and desires to that which serves to unite all as one – the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD, which calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps the body of Christ.
And so, Pentecost is rightly considered the birthday of the Church, for on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out to unite all together as one in the body of Christ. The LORD had promised that day in the first Gospel He proclaimed after our First Parents fell into sin and death: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your offspring and Her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” The Woman is the Church, of which the Blessed Virgin Mary was a type, born of the Holy Spirit, and Her Seed is Jesus who, in His death upon the cross has crushed Satan’s head. The day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, Good Friday, was the day of which Joel prophesied saying, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.”
Yes, the day of signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth has already come, but for that “great and magnificent day” of the Lord the Church still awaits in constant vigil and faith. Today begins the Pentecost Season, known also as The Time of the Church, Ordinary Time, and the Last Days. They began with the incarnation of Jesus, and they will end at His Parousia, the “great and magnificent day” of His return when the dead will be raised and Christ’s Bride, the Church will be ushered into the glorious presence of the LORD forevermore. Through the time of our pilgrimage and vigil, the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” “In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” To this, the Church says “Amen! This is most certainly true!” And so the Spirit and the Bride together cry out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter 7)

John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-11; Ezekiel 36:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is a most unfortunate fact that The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord has become neglected and all but forgotten among most Christians today. Undoubtedly, that the Feast never falls on a Sunday, but always on a Thursday in the middle of the week, is a significant contributing factor to its neglect. And yet, The Ascension of Our Lord is one of the three most important Feasts and celebrations in the Church’s Year of Grace, just as important as are Christmas and Easter. Indeed, our Lord’s Ascension is the ultimate goal of His Incarnation, which the Church celebrates at Christmas, and is the completion of our Lord’s work begun in His Incarnation. Likewise, the Ascension is Jesus’ coronation as King over heaven and earth, which the events of Holy Week and Easter prepared the way for. When Christ ascended in glory to the right hand of God the Father in heaven, He began His reign over heaven and earth, and now He fills all things, thus fulfilling His Great Commission promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If Jesus had not ascended, then the fruit of His death and resurrection would not be fully realized for us. For, not only was Jesus raised up from death in His true, fully human, flesh and blood body, but He ascended back to His Father in heaven in that very same true, fully human, flesh and blood body. This is as significant as it is astounding, for, up until Jesus’ Ascension, no man could see God and live. Sinful man could not stand in the fullness of God’s glorious presence, but he would be destroyed in God’s holiness and righteousness. Indeed, that is why Isaiah despaired of his life when he beheld the glorious vision of God on His throne in heaven saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” That is why every man or woman who had an encounter with one of God’s holy angels was stricken in fear and had to be reassured by the angelic messenger, “Do not be afraid! You have found favor with God.” Truly, as the preacher to the Hebrews confesses, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” However, now, in Jesus, a true, fully human, flesh and blood man stands in the fullness of the glorious presence of God and is not destroyed, but shares in God’s glory, holiness, and righteousness. And, you and I, the Church of Jesus Christ, His body and Bride, also stand in God’s glorious presence in and through Jesus. Because of Jesus’ Incarnation, His flesh is our flesh, His life and death are our life and death, His Resurrection is our resurrection, and His Ascension into the glorious presence of God the Father is our ascension into the glorious presence of God our Father. As Jesus is God’s Son, so in Jesus are we God’s adopted sons and daughters. Jesus is there, with God the Father in heaven, now, and we, not yet, but when He returns in His Parousia on the Last Day, where He is now, there we shall also be: Where the head is, there the body must also be.
Too many Christians think of Jesus’ Ascension only in terms that He has gone away from us physically and is now with us spiritually through Word and Sacrament. While that is most certainly true, that is not even the half of what is true concerning our ascended Lord. In truth, Jesus is closer to us now than He was with His disciples in the flesh. That is why Jesus repeatedly taught them that it was to their benefit that He go away, for if He did not go, He could not send to them the Holy Spirit, but if He went away, He would send His Spirit to guide them into the Truth. Jesus did not leave us physically in His Ascension, but He ascended that He might fill all things and truly fulfill His promise to be with us always – spiritually, and physically, fully divine and fully human in one person. Thus, once again, the Ascension of our Lord is the fulfillment and the ultimate goal of His Incarnation, that He may truly be with us always.
In His Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the eternally begotten Son of God assumed a true and full human nature, “perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh,” as the Church confesses in The Athanasian Creed. The two natures of Christ, His divine and human natures, are so personally united, yet distinct and not confused, that He is truly and fully one person from the moment of His Incarnation, through His life, suffering, and death, and in His Resurrection, Ascension, and coming again in glory on the Last Day. Jesus Christ, our Lord, is God and Man in one person, perfectly, permanently, and forever united as one person. Thus, when Jesus ascended to His Father, our human nature ascended also, and a real and true human man now reigns and rules over heaven and earth in the glory of God the Father and fills all things, at all times, and in all places. For us, Christ’s Church, right now, and until He comes again, this is the greatest source of hope and comfort and peace, for Jesus, who fills all things as both God and Man, surely fills His Church through His Word and His Blessed Sacraments: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Word, and Holy Supper. Thus, both Calvin and Zwingli were wrong when they reasoned that Jesus could not be bodily present in the Supper because He is bodily present at the right hand of His Father in heaven, and that even if He could be bodily present in multiple locations at the same time, the finite elements of bread and wine and water and word cannot possibly contain He who is infinite. Here we must not cast aside our reason, but we must utilize it and submit it to the Word of the LORD who blessed us with the wonderful and precious gift of reason and believe and trust the Word of our LORD God who gave and preserves in us this First Article gift. For, ultimately, the Incarnation, Ascension, Resurrection, and Parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ are great and glorious mysteries and sacraments. What reason cannot, alone, comprehend, faith and trust apprehend and count as knowledge, certainty, and truth.
However, there is another reason why The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord is neglected and forgotten in our day, and it is nothing other than the handiwork of the devil: Popular Christianity follows in the footsteps of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time in turning the Law of God into moralism and the Gospel of Jesus Christ into law. For many Christians, the import of Scripture ends with the death of Jesus on the cross. After all, there He said,  “It is finished,” and that must have been His final word, right? No, wrong! If Jesus’ death were the end of His Word and Promise to us then we Christians, as St. Paul has concluded, are the most to be pitied of all men, for we are still in our sins and are bound to fulfill God’s Law with no hope of justification. As a result, too many Christians view the Scriptures as a rulebook on how to please God and merit His favor. That is certainly the way the Pharisees understood it, believing that they were righteous by their works according to the Law. They did not trust in God’s mercy and grace, nor in Jesus the Messiah, but they trusted in their own works, prayers, rituals, and piety. Satan encourages such thinking today as then, and he delights in distracting your minds and hearts away from Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension and, consequently, from the full meaning of His Incarnation.
In His parting words to His disciples, Jesus reassured them saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ promised sending of His Holy Spirit upon His Church. The Holy Spirit has sealed us in Christ through our Holy Baptisms and has created and daily sustains our faith and trust in Him and His Word and Commands. On the Day of Jesus’ Ascension, His disciples stood gazing up into the heavens, their hearts aching that Jesus had left them alone, but on the Day of Pentecost, their fear was cast away and they were empowered to proclaim the Good News of Jesus before kings and emperors and all the world without fear, even unto persecution, suffering, and death. They had the promised Comforter and Guide, and they had Jesus with them always, and especially and particularly when they gathered together in His Name to receive His Word, His Baptism, His Absolution, and His Supper. In Christ’s Church, through these means, the signs of Jesus’ real and true presence are as active and vital today as they were two thousand years ago: Demons are cast out in the Name of Jesus in Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution; the Gospel is proclaimed in all the world in all the tongues of men; the attacks and blasphemies of the Satanic serpent cannot harm us; and those afflicted by the poisonous venom of the devil and sin are healed in Holy Absolution and the laying on of holy hands in Jesus’ stead and by His command.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our King Jesus has ascended back to His Father in heaven. He has not left us as orphans, but He has raised us with Him, not only in victory over sin, death, and hell, but to Sonship and Kingship with Him in His kingdom. He has not left us alone, therefore do not stand idle gazing up into the heavens, or gazing downward into yourselves, but outward towards His kingdom in which we reign and rule with Him. Go and tell all who inhabit His kingdom the Good News and bring them to their King by bringing His kingdom to them – making disciples by baptizing and teaching them all He has commanded. Therefore, how you live and act, what you say and do, matters, for when they hear you, they must hear Him. Do not live as though you are alone, left to your own devices, but live as people who have been set free in Christ, for that is what you are. And, gather here in His sanctuary with all the members of His body, the Church, where He is present, filling the font and the pulpit, your ears and your mouths with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. For, in Him dwells all the fullness of God bodily, and He dwells bodily with you for the life of the world to the glory of His Father and in His most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)

John 16:16-23; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In our lessons today, we begin to see more clearly why God the Father sent His only-begotten Son to be incarnated in human flesh as a man, and we begin to see more clearly why Jesus had to suffer, die and be buried, and then rise again on the third day. It was necessaryIt was necessary to remove the barrier of sin that separated you from God. It was necessary to open heaven to you and to give you access to the Father.
And that is what you now have, access to God the Father through Jesus Christ. That means that you can go directly to God with your requests and concerns just as a child goes to her loving father. You have access to God the Father; you can enter His presence in boldness, without fear of punishment or reprisal, through Jesus. What was prohibited from you now is permissible; what was closed is now open to you through Jesus.
But, notice how I keep emphasizing through Jesus. You have this access to the Father that you now enjoy only in and through Jesus the Christ because of His incarnation, suffering, death and burial, and His resurrection on the third day. However, because of all that, you do have access. More than that, Jesus says that you are not a slave, but a son, and if a son then you are an heir of everything that belongs to God the Father through Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus says to you “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” He will give it to you because He loves you as His own son or daughter. He will give it to you because He has loved you in His Son. And, because He has given everything that belongs to Him to His Son, He will surely give you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name.
Now, to be sure, people ask for all sorts of things from God their Father, whether in Jesus’ Name or not, and the Father does not give them to them. Perhaps you have asked of God and have not received. But, for what have you asked? Is what you have asked for something that truly abides in Jesus’ Name? Is what you have asked for something that truly belongs to God the Father, that is, of God the Father? Have you asked for new Cadillacs or winning lottery tickets and not received them? Were you surprised? Did you begin to doubt God’s love? Or, did you begin to doubt the strength of your faith or the sincerity of your prayer? Foolishness! Pagan, idolatrous foolishness is what that is! New Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets are not of God but they are of the world; they are not in Jesus’ Name. The things of that are of God, the things that are the substance of Jesus’ Name are described by James in the Epistle Lesson, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world, that is, the Father’s selflessness and sacrifice, humility and mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness revealed in the life, words, and deeds of His Son, His Name, Jesus. Therefore, Jesus promises you that whatever you ask in His Name, the Father will give to you. Whatever you ask in accordance with who the Father is as revealed in His Son, His Name, Jesus, He will give to you.
So, what’s in a Name? Names are, or were, important, meaningful, and even powerful things. Adam was given the authority to name all the creatures God had made. By naming them, Adam exorcized authority over them and was given stewardship over them and over all creation. Abram and Sarai, Jacob, Cephas and Saul, and many others were given new names when they were called into a new relationship with God. Likewise, a name was given to a child at the time of his circumcision even as a name is given to a child still at Baptism because the child has entered into a new covenant relationship to God. And so, asking the Father in Jesus’ Name encompasses all of these Biblical understandings of name; it means to ask in faith and trust and in communion with Jesus who is the revelation of God’s Name and all that God wills, and is, and does.
The Latin name for this Sunday in the Church Year is Rogate, a name which means ask. As you might expect, it comes from the Latin translation of Jesus’ words in the Gospel Lesson, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Of course, the way you ask God for anything is by prayer, so Rogate Sunday is very much about prayer. It’s not so much about how to pray, but it is about what to pray for. You are to ask, you are to pray for, anything that is in Jesus’ Name with the promise that your heavenly Father will give it to you.
To ask for things that are not in accord with God’s Name is to take the LORD’s Name in vain. Jesus has taught you to pray “Hallowed be Thy Name.” We confess in the Small Catechism that “God’s Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.” “In our prayers we should ask for everything that tends to the glory of God and to our own and our neighbor’s welfare, both spiritual and bodily blessings. We should also praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done.”
God the Father has promised both to hear and to answer the prayers of His children through His Son Jesus Christ. This truth was demonstrated in our Old Testament Lesson when Moses prayed to God on behalf of the people bitten by poisonous serpents. God heard and answered Moses’ prayer and commanded Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” But, this was only a type, a shadow, of how God truly intended to answer Moses’ prayer. In the fullness of time God would send forth His Son and raise Him up on the tree of the cross in death that everyone who is bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan, when he sees it, shall live.
When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, heaven was opened to Him and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. The Father was well pleased with His Son and would give to Him whatever He asked. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, on the Day of Pentecost, from the heavens opened by Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon His Church. Now God’s children, baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, have access to the Father so that whatever they ask in Jesus’ Name, the Father will graciously give to them.
Baptism into God’s Name, the Name of the Holy Triune God revealed in the incarnation, life, words, and deeds, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of God’s Son Jesus the Christ, His Name, has given you access to your God and Father so that whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name He will surely give to you. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray as one who has been baptized. For it is in the water that He put His Name upon you, claiming you as His own, making you a son of God with access to the Father. By His incarnation and crucifixion, our Lord Jesus broke through the barrier of sin which separated us from God, opening a portal to the Father. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray with faith in Him as the one Mediator between God and men, who gave Himself a ransom for all. Like Moses in the wilderness, Jesus is our go-between and intercessor before the throne of heaven. He was lifted up for us on the cross that we might be saved and restored to fellowship with the Father. Looking into this perfect teaching of liberty we pray with boldness and confidence as dear children of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)

John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“This is for your own good.” Many of you likely heard those words some time ago when you were children. You likely heard those words as you were bent over your father’s knee just moments before his outstretched palm, or maybe his belt, found contact with your rear end. You likely heard those words because you had done something wrong and you were being disciplined, not punished. And, while I do not intend to make a judgment before you as to the appropriateness, the effectiveness, or the potential good or harm of spanking, I do intend to remind you that the discipline meted out was for your own good; for, true discipline is always an act of love, and it is always for your own good as you are turned away from behaviors that cause yourselves and others harm.
Discipline is teaching and correction according to a rule. The one who receives discipline is a disciple. And, it is good for the disciple to receive teaching and correction, to receive discipline, for that is how the disciple learns and grows and becomes conformed to the rule, conformed even to the teacher. However, teaching and correction can sometimes be an unpleasant and even painful process. For, behaviors, attitudes, and habits must be changed, and some must be discontinued altogether. All the while, new behaviors, attitudes, and habits must be learned, often requiring great diligence, hard work, and patience. Thus, the disciple is not so unlike a raw block of marble awaiting the sculptor’s hammer and chisel. While each blow of discipline causes the disciple discomfort and even suffering, gradually the image becomes clearer and after many blows and the shedding of much dross, the sculpture is finished, and the image born from the mind and heart and hands of its creator is complete. For, a disciple is the image of his teacher and he is a public witness to his master’s teaching. Thus, discipline continues even after the image has been realized; indeed, discipline is a new life and a new way of living. And, when the Master is Jesus the Christ, and you, dear Christians, are His disciples, your lives must be the image of His humility and selflessness, of His love, mercy, grace, charity, and forgiveness.
After eating the Passover meal with His disciples that Holy Thursday evening before His betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus taught His disciples at length about the mocking, suffering, and persecution at the hands of the world that they would experience because of Him as His disciples. Then Jesus taught them about His going away, first in death, and then in His ascension to the Father, and of His sending of the Holy Spirit. But, the disciples stopped listening at the part about their mocking, suffering, and persecution at the hands of the world. Even at that late hour, just hours before the fulfillment of the prophets’ and Jesus’ own teaching about His betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection on the third day, the disciples were still clinging to worldly, fleshly, and material possessions and the concerns, the passions, and the desires of the flesh. Thus, in a final teaching before His going away, Jesus taught His disciples saying that it was for their own good that He was going away. For, “If I do not go away,” Jesus taught them, “the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”
The disciples needed the Helper, it was for their own good, and you and I need the Helper too, it is for our own good. However, the thing about a Helper is that you must be willing to admit that you need help and that you cannot help yourself. Fortunately, one of the things that the Helper does is convict the world concerning sin; that is, the Holy Spirit causes you to realize that you are a sinner and that you fall short of God’s glory, that you need help. This we confess about the Holy Spirit in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This also we confess with the Psalmist David singing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Apart from this work of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, you could never be turned in repentance and would remain in your sin, separated from your God.
But, the Helper does more than that. The Helper also convicts the world concerning Righteousness. The world and your flesh count righteousness according to works. The world’s righteousness is one of vengeance, and revenge, and of putting one’s self over another by hook or by crook. But the righteousness of God is revealed in Christ’s death for the sins of the world. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
And, lastly, the Helper convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God declared the world righteous through Him. Therefore Satan is judged and condemned. The prince of this world has been cast out as a pretender by the coming of the true King. But, still, that great liar Satan continues to make and to keep his own disciples, teaching them to despair of forgiveness and righteousness, or to find righteousness in themselves and in their works. Thus, the Holy Spirit continues to convince the world of Satan’s judgment and condemnation that men might be turned from their works and their ways to faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus the Christ.
It is for your good that Jesus has ascended to the Father and is no longer bodily with you, for now He has sent to you the Helper, the Holy Spirit. It is for your good, for, though your sins have been atoned for and Jesus has conquered death and Satan for you in His victorious death and resurrection, these become yours only through faith. You must be turned from your sin in repentance. You must be turned from discipleship to the passions of your flesh, the world, and Satan. And, for this, you need help; more than that, you need the Helper, the Holy Spirit. For, it is only by the Holy Spirit through the Holy Word and the Holy Sacraments that your being turned in repentance is possible. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and the Truth is Jesus the Christ. The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to you; and all that belongs to the Father is given to Christ – all this is declared to you by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.
“Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.” Sin is covered because of Jesus. Righteousness is ours because of Jesus. Judgment is not against us because of Jesus. He becomes sin. He gives us His righteousness. Our heavenly Father judges us worthy of everlasting life because of Jesus. The Helper, the Holy Spirit is a gift of your Father in heaven from whence every good and perfect gift comes. As James writes in the Epistle, Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” You are the LORD’s disciples, His children, called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept by the Helper, the Holy Spirit. As disciples you are disciplined, it is for your own good, that you may be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, ever being conformed in the image of your Master and Teacher Jesus the Christ.
And, “In the same way [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active in Christ’s Church, calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping, forgiving, creating, strengthening, and sustaining faith when and where He pleases in those who do not refuse Him.
It is for your good that Christ has gone away to the Father. But, as the way of Christ to the Father was through the cross, so also is the way of Jesus’ disciples through the crosses that He chooses for you. You will have sorrow and grief, says your Lord Jesus, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. Let us, then, have sorrow and grief for the proper things, the needful things. God the Father of lights has given you the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift of joy that no one will take from you. And, He has made you the firstfruits of His creatures, new creations. Let us, then, even in our little while of sorrow, sing to the lord a new song; let our souls praise the King of heaven, let us live boldly in the mystery of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let us join with the Holy Spirit as he glorifies our risen Lord Jesus Christ, both now and unto eternity!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4)

John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fear is a powerful motivator. That is why your enemy, Satan, uses fear to motivate you to do his will. He wants to make you uncomfortable, uneasy, and uncertain about your safety, about your finances, about your children, about your future. For, when he’s got you on edge, then you are open to him, his lies and deceptions, his subtle manipulations. First, he gets his foot in the door of your soul, and then it’s all too easy for him to bust right in and take control.
When a megalomaniac foreign leader aims his nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles at American cities; When a sociopathic young man enters a first grade schoolroom and systematically slaughters six-year old children and their teachers; When bombs explode and innocent by-standers are killed and maimed; when an invisible and undetectable deadly virus spreads through our hospitals, schools, homes, cities, and nation – even the most grounded of Christians may begin to consider God’s providence in permitting such evil, suffering, and death. And, that’s not to mention economic and financial uncertainty, dysfunction and strife within the family, and the sensation that the world and culture is changing faster and more than you are able or willing to adjust and cope with. When these types of forces bear upon a soul, all sorts of emotions begin to well up within you like a slippery slope: doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, hate, and despair. Any one of these is an opening for the devil who will turn them into something far worse – unbelief.
They had been so optimistic, Jesus’ disciples. Everything seemed new, exhilarating, relevant, and fresh when it all began. Jesus taught with an authority they had never heard from the rabbis. His preaching was comforting and liberating, pointing to God’s mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness instead of to what they must do to satisfy a wrathful and demanding god. But then, when He was betrayed by one of their own, arrested and tried before the Jewish counsel and Pilate, then stripped, scourged and beaten, and crucified until He was dead upon the cross – they were filled with doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, hate, and despair. Like sheep, they were all scattered, each going his own way as frightened and confused prey for the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Jesus knew this about them, and Jesus knows this about you – O you of little faith. Therefore, He prepared them for His going away saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me. […] Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” Jesus knew that His disciples would be shaken by the horrific events of His Passion and that the devil would seek to sift them like wheat, therefore He comforted them and He prayed for them to His Father saying, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” And, this is key – Jesus does not pray that you should be raptured out of this world and life with all its brokenness, evil, suffering, and death, but He prays to His Father that you would be protected from the devil’s assaults as you make your pilgrimage way through this wilderness valley of the shadow of death.
When you are afflicted with doubt and uncertainty and are tempted to fear, anger, hate, and despair, you will be tempted to think that it is a good thing to just drop out – that is, to isolate yourself from those persons and things you believe can harm you, to anesthetize yourself in drug or drink so that you do not feel the fear, pain, and suffering, or even to end your own life, believing it better to be dead than to continue to suffer, bear, and endure. And, this is precisely what Satan wants; he wants you to seek an escape, a way out other than the Way that God has ordained for you – Jesus. For, Jesus is the only Way, the only Life, and the only Truth. And, Satan wants you to forget that, to doubt that, to disbelieve that, to despise and to hate that – for, it doesn’t really matter to him, because anything, anything at all, that takes your focus off of Jesus and puts it on to something or to someone else is a victory for him.
St. Paul experienced these very same feelings, emotions, and temptations. In his Epistle to the Church in Philippi, Paul confessed his inner conflict saying, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. […] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”Paul wrote this Epistle while he was in prison for confessing Christ and proclaiming the Gospel of His death and resurrection. He was well in touch with suffering and the temptation to anxiety and doubt, fear, anger, hatred, and despair. Still, he did not pity himself and, in faith, he submitted himself to God’s alien will to permit him to suffer, confessing that his own suffering was bound up with and sanctified in Christ’s own suffering. Therefore, Paul exhorted and comforted the Philippians, and all Christians saying, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Suffering has been granted to you – chew on that for a moment. I know that it’s difficult to comprehend, but it’s absolutely the truth. Suffering is something that your gracious, merciful, loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God grants you, allows you, and permits you to experience – for the sake of Christ, and because it is good for you. Your Father and Your Lord Jesus know the willingness of your spirit as well as the weakness of your flesh. There is a sinful law in your body that is at war with the desire of your heart to serve God. And, Paul writes, “So long as we are at home in the body we are apart from the Lord.” Thus, it is natural for a Christian to long to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. However, that is not your call. That is not a choice you get to make. Your heavenly Father has a purpose for you in this world and life, for you are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [you] should walk in them.”
Here the significance of the Incarnation is made manifest – “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.” That is to say that, in Christ, God took upon Himself your humanity and humbled and submitted Himself to His own holy and perfect Law which you transgressed, fulfilling it for you, in your place, perfectly, without sin, so that He might present Himself as a holy, pure, perfect and undefiled sacrifice for the sins of humanity, of all the world. Therefore, His death was a full and atoning sacrifice, and His resurrection is the proof that it is finished, that all that was necessary to make you right with God again was accomplished. Now, though your must pass through suffering and death, death cannot hold you; it has become but a doorway to new and everlasting life in and with your Holy Triune God.
Still, there is more! Not only will you enjoy full, perfect, and satisfying life forever with God after you pass out from this veil of tears, but that life is already yours now, though veiled and hidden, because Christ has taken up your flesh and blood and redeemed it. Because He lives, you live, now and forever! Christ is risen, and you are risen in Him, so that the life you live is Christ’s life, lived in and with you. This is why St. Paul exclaims, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Therefore, you can live that resurrected life now, without anxiety and doubt, fear, anger, hatred, and despair. Though the way may be uncertain and the path unclear, faith in the Word of God become flesh, Jesus Christ who has faced death, defeated it, and passed through its hell to life, will lighten your path and provide you a sure footing upon which to stand against all temptation, suffering, evil, and even death – His holy and true Word of life and power.
Though the desire to depart and be at home with Christ is a pious and a holy desire, the Christian, following Christ’s example, and living Christ’s life, submits to God’s holy will in love and trust, saying with the Mother of Our Lord, “May it be to me according to Your Word.” A Christian remains faithfully at the place where he is needed as God has determined, and he goes thankfully through the gates of life when the portals open to the joy of the Lord. We live as “sojourners and exiles” in this world, subjecting ourselves for the Lord’s sake to the vocations and authorities He has established.
All your life is but a little while from the perspective of eternity with Christ. You can bear with most anything in the knowledge that it will soon pass. How much more then can you bear with sin, trial, and tribulation, even suffering and death, knowing that Christ has suffered and borne and overcome these things and even now bears them with you that you may overcome and pass through the valley with Him into the Father’s pasture, where His sheep may safely graze? Our example and trailblazer is Christ Himself who, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” He is risen, and He is ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven so that He now fills all things – so that He is present with you now and always, just as He promised, with His Words and His Wounds to comfort you, to strengthen your faith, to forgive your sins, and to seal and keep you in Him for eternal life. Though you have sorrow now, you will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Misericordias Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Whenever I hear a Christian say, “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” I admit that I have a physical reaction. My flesh crawls, my neck hairs bristle, I get angry, or I get depressed. I react this way because, bound up in this seemingly pious, faithful, and biblical statement, is our First Parent’s fall in the Garden of Eden, and every lie and deception of Satan from that point forward, even now. For, just as Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe and to desire something that the LORD had not promised, instead of what He clearly had promised – The LORD promised that they were made “in His image and likeness” – so, in the statement, “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” Satan tempts you to believe and to desire something that the LORD has not promised, instead of what He clearly has promised – For, you already have a personal relationship with Jesus. In the Incarnation, the Word of God, the Word of Creation, God’s only-begotten Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, took up your human flesh and became a man, became one of us, became your brother. There’s nothing more personal than that! Moreover, the LORD did all of this wholly despite you and your will, and your intellect, and your decision, and your choice. That is part of the significance of the Virgin Conception and Birth. That is part of the significance that Jesus was conceived without the participation of a human father. Your personal relationship with Jesus is a relationship that the LORD chose to have with you when you did not know Him, when you denied Him, when you were serving Satan, while you were still sinners, while you were dead in sin and didn’t even know it. “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus?” You HAVE a personal relationship with Jesus, thanks be to God alone! Recognize this truth! Receive this truth! Believe this truth! That is to say, repent! But, don’t ever, never ever, rob God and try to take credit for it. For, that is a sure way to wreck it and to lose it.
The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” by the way, appears nowhere in the Scriptures. Indeed, this is the way the Scriptures speak of the relationship your God desires to have with you in today’s Gospel: “I am the Good Shepherd. Iknow my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Likewise, from today’s Old Testament lesson: “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, II myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” And, as the LORD continues, continue to pay attention to the subject of the verbs, listening for who is doing the doing: “And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. […] I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. […] I will feed them in justice.” Who’s doing the doing? Who’s doing the seeking and the calling and the feeding? Who, I ask you? That’s right. It is all the LORD’s doing. You do not come to Him, but He comes to you. You do not find Him, but He finds you. You do not choose Him, but He chooses you. You are the lost, but the lost can be found. You are the transgressors, but transgressors can be forgiven. You are the dead, but the dead can be raised.
Of all the images our LORD provides us that we may know His nature and His intention toward us, the image of the Shepherd is, perhaps, my favorite. The Shepherd is strong, but He is also vulnerable. The Shepherd loves His sheep with a fierce and selfless love, but He is not their friend. The Shepherd will do what is necessary to protect His sheep, even to the point of sacrificing Himself for them, and He will seek and find the sheep that has strayed and will restore him to the one flock. In Jesus, the LORD says, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” There are many other shepherds. There are even many other good shepherds. But, there is only one Good Shepherd – the Shepherd that is the norm and ideal of what a shepherd should be – and that is the LORD, and your Lord Jesus Christ.
In contrast to all other shepherds, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the sheep of His flock are His sheep. The Father has given you to Him, and Jesus has purchased and won you in His holy, innocent shed blood, and in His bitter suffering and death upon the cross on your behalf and in your place. When confronted by the wolf, Satan, seeking to devour you, your Good Shepherd threw Himself into the wolf’s jaws and permitted him to tear His flesh and to take His life that yours would be spared. That is why He is the Good Shepherd; “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” In contrast, other shepherds are but hired hands. The sheep are not theirs, but another’s. They care nothing for the sheep, but only for the honor and prestige the flock may bring them, or for the paycheck they may receive for tending them. Therefore, when the wolf comes, they flee. They will not sacrifice themselves for sheep that are not their own. They will not lay down their lives for someone else’s flock. They care nothing for the sheep, or for the One who owns them, but they care only for themselves and their egos and their bellies.
The hireling shepherds Jesus had in mind were the Pharisees, and they knew it. It was their job, their divine calling, to shepherd the LORD’s sheep, the children of Israel. But, they would not. Though they were given the key to open the Scriptures for the people, the key to unlock the Gospel and set the people free from their sins through faith in the sacrificial Lamb of God’s self-offering, Jesus, not only did they refuse to proclaim the Gospel to the LORD’s flock, but they refused to make use of the Gospel for themselves as well! They had no love for the Father, the owner of the sheep, or for the sheep of His flock. But, their love was for themselves and for power and prestige and wealth. Therefore they played nice with the wolf, the Romans and the Judaizers and, yes, with Satan, in order to secure for themselves a comfortable living. And, when the Lamb of God, Jesus, came, they knew who He was, and they handed Him over to the wolves. It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation not perish.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus laid down His life for you. It doesn’t get more personal than that. Your Good Shepherd went like a lamb, silent, to the slaughter, for you. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” In His death, the wolf thought that he’d made the ultimate kill. But, in His resurrection, your Good Shepherd broke the wolf’s jaws and knocked out his teeth. His greatest weapon, death, was defeated. Therefore, if even death cannot hold you, then what have you to fear? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! The Good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch the out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Yes, you have a personal relationship with Jesus, but not because of anything you felt or experienced, decided upon or chose, or even believed, but you have a personal relationship because of the Incarnation of God’s Word of Creation, His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Your Good Shepherd assumed your flesh and became a sheep, even the sacrificial Lamb of God, that He might lay down His life for you and die the death you earned, merited, and deserved for your sins. And, being innocent, Jesus took up His life again, destroying the power of death, that your life might be raised up out death too and that you might live with Him forever in a life that cannot die as sheep in His Father’s fold in heaven forevermore. Truly, there is nothing more personal than that. Even now your Good Shepherd is present with His flesh and His blood that He has raised up anew to share with you His victory over death and the grave, His eternal life, sonship with the Father, and a reign with Him over heaven and earth and all things. Here are the mountain pastures of Israel. And, here is the Good Shepherd to feed and shelter His sheep. It doesn’t get anymore personal than this.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Quasimodo Geniti - The Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)

John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Ezekiel 37:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Who were the people of great faith in the Bible? Truly, there are only a very few that are so designated. There was Abraham who “believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Him as righteousness.” There was Jacob, who wrestled with the LORD and would not let go. Even though the LORD wounded him, Jacob would not let go without the LORD’s blessing. There was Mary who, at the angelic announcement that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, faithfully replied, “LORD, may it be to me according to your Word.” And, there was the Canaanite woman, whom Jesus first ignored, and then rejected, and then insulted, but who refused to let go and give up so that, finally, Jesus exclaimed of her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Yes, there are a few others, but precious few. Indeed, most of the people of faith in the Bible are not people of great faith, but they are people of little faith, of weak faith, and of struggling faith, faith tempered by lukewarmness, hypocrisy, and not a small amount of doubt. And, that’s a good thing! That’s a good thing for you! For, are not you such a person of faith?
“Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Those were the words of a father who brought his demon-possessed son before Jesus to be healed. However, the man was lukewarm in his faith. He said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus mildly rebuked the man saying, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Now, of course, this is true. Your Lord Jesus said so! But, does that make you feel any better? It doesn’t make me feel any better, at least, not if I understand Jesus’ words in the way they are commonly misunderstood.
You see, these words of Jesus are commonly misunderstood to mean that you simply have to believe more, or to believe better, and then, then the miracles will really begin to happen for you! This is the misunderstanding that drives televangelists like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Oral Roberts, T. D. Jakes, and Joel Osteen. They preach and teach a “Name It, and Claim It” doctrine in which the onus is on you to really, really believe and makethe miracle happen. Faith becomes a force – “Use the Force Luke! – whereby you can get what you want, rather than an abiding trust in God even during times of trials and suffering. But on the other hand if you think positive thoughts or just have “enough faith,” then you can have health, wealth, and happiness now, when you want it, on your terms. But, this doctrine is unbiblical in at least two ways: First, it makes faith a work that you do instead of the gift of God the Holy Spirit worked in you. Second, and worse, it places man above God, in that man manipulates and controls God by his work of faith.
So, what does Jesus mean when He says “All things are possible for one who believes?” Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory when you jettison the nonsensical and unbiblical misunderstanding that faith and belief is a work that you perform. It most definitely is not. Belief is something that you come to, or are lead to, based upon evidence and your personal experiences. That is why some things that you used to believe as a child, you no longer believe, and, likewise, you may come to believe new things, and other things, throughout your life. However, Christian belief, commonly called faith, has its origin in the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Jesus Himself teaches, “No one can come to me unless the Father calls him.” Thus, we confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Thus, “all things are possible for one who believes,” not because belief is a work that you do, but because of the object of your belief, Jesus.
“All things are possible for one who believes” in Jesus, for whom all things are possible. It is not your believing that “makes all things possible,” but it is what you believe in that “makes all things possible.” That is why the LORD credited Abraham with righteousness. Abraham wasn’t righteous, but he believed and trusted in the Word and promise of the LORD, which is righteous. Thus, Abraham received an imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that came from outside of Him, received through faith, which itself came from outside of Him and was created within Him by the Holy Spirit of God through the Word of God. Likewise, Jacob had great faith in the LORD who wrestled with him, who even seemed to be against him at the time. I know, someone will want to say, “See, Jacob had to hold on. That was a work!” No, you are wrong! It was the LORD’s Word and promise to which Jacob clung and would not let go. That Word and promise was given to Abraham and Isaac before Jacob’s birth. It was the source, the origin, and the substance of Jacob’s faith, and entirely the work and gift of the Holy Spirit of God. Likewise, Mary believed, received, and conceived by the Spirit-bestowing Word of God, and the Canaanite woman, like Jacob, refused to let Jesus go, even when He seemed to be against her.
But, then there’s Thomas. Doubting Thomas, as he has come to be known. I like Thomas. Thomas is a saint I can believe in. I am Thomas. Thomas is me. Is Thomas you too? If you’re honest with yourself, I suspect he is. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas infamously exclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” You see, I don’t think that Thomas’ faith was all that weak or lukewarm. Rather, Thomas knew his faith and its limitations. He didn’t have faith in his faith, but he had faith in Jesus, and only Jesus. He knew that it would require Jesus, and only Jesus, for him to truly believe. He needed to hear, and to see, and to touch His Jesus. He was only being honest. Truly, Thomas’ faith was very much like the faith of the father with the demon-possessed son who pleaded with Jesus saying, “Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Thomas had faith, but he didn’t have faith in his faith; and neither should you. Faith doesn’t save. Faith in Christ saves. But, again, it is not faith that saves you – only Christ does that – but you receive Christ’s salvation through faith, as through a channel or a means, by grace, that is, as a free gift, wholly apart from your works, and your worth, and your merit.
Thomas knew what he needed. I know what I need. Do you know what you need? You need Jesus. You need His Word, which you receive by hearing, which creates faith in you, which clings to and trusts in His Word. But, you also need Jesus’ wounds; that is, you need to see, and touch, and taste Jesus’ glorified and holy wounds that your faith and belief may be strengthened and preserved through good times and bad times, though death unto the resurrection to eternal life. Yes, it is true what Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” still, Jesus lovingly and mercifully and graciously invited Thomas to come and touch and handle His wounds. Still, Jesus lovingly and mercifully and graciously invites you to come and touch and handle His wounds. And, maybe Thomas did. Probably he did. But, not before he confessed, “My Lord and my God!” a confession even greater than St. Peter’s! In tribute to this, do you know what I say silently to myself each and every Divine Service as I kneel before the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus in this Holy Eucharist? I say, “My Lord and my God!” just like Thomas.
I am Thomas. Thomas is me. Is Thomas you too? I pray that he is. Weak faith? Maybe. Struggling faith? Likely. Faith that receives Jesus and all His benefits and clings to Him only? Definitely. Yet, all of these are faith – faith that receives Jesus and clings to Him and benefits from all of His blessings: the forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, sonship with the Father, and a reign with Jesus in His kingdom that has no end. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus invites you saying, “Come here. Put out your hand. Touch My wounds. Handle them. Eat My resurrected and glorified body. Drink My holy blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)

Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. Jesus is risen. You are no longer in your sins. That, dear Christian, and only that, is the “new normal,” inaugurated nearly 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. But, it’s all too easy to forget that. It’s easy to doubt that when the economy is crashing, when the fear of disease is palpable, when unemployment is through the roof, and when there seems to be no end in sight. It’s easy to forget the “new normal” of the empty tomb and fear another “new normal,” one in which we are no longer able to celebrate holidays with our extended family, travel across state lines, gather in worship, or even to hug each other or to shake each other’s hands; one in which your retirement income is gone, where education is before a screen with no office hours, study halls, or friends; where sports are played in empty stadiums, if they are played at all. That’s the “new normal” of fear and unbelief, but that is not the “new normal” for you, O Christian.
That was also the “new normal” that enslaved the minds and hearts of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb early this morning. The “new normal” for them was that Jesus was dead. Their teacher, their King, their Messiah, their hope was dead, and surely those who killed Him would come for them next. The women visited Jesus’ tomb to anoint His dead body, to prepare Him for burial. Their greatest concern was not that they wouldn’t find Him there, but rather the large and heavy stone that sealed His tomb. That was normal even before Jesus’ death, but His death brought a newness and a finality to it, making it for them a dark and hopeless “new normal.”
When they arrived at the tomb, they were surprised, they were terrified, to see that the stone had already been rolled away. Still they did not believe, however. The “new normal” for them, introduced by Jesus’ death, was simply too much for them. It stopped their ears to what they had heard, it blinded their eyes to what they had seen, how everything foretold by the Law and the Prophets, how everything taught by Jesus, had been fulfilled. Fearfully they entered the tomb to approach Jesus’ body, if it was even there and not stolen away by His enemies, when they were greeted by a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe. That was certainly not normal. “Do not be alarmed,” the angel said, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.”
The women approached the tomb in fear and, sadly, despite the angel’s announcement, they fled the tomb in fear as well, because they could not comprehend, and they did not believe the “new normal.” “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you,” said the angel, but “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s what fear does, it paralyzes you and prevents you from doing what you have been given and called to do. Fear imprisons you and every aspect of your life so that you cut off communication with others, even with those closest to you. This is the enemy’s strategy, as the prophet had declared, “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’.”
The historic Gospel for Easter Sunday ends, not with joy, but with fear, not with shouts of “Alleluia!” but with silence. The women are seized and silenced by trauma and fear so that they were robbed of hope and couldn’t remember the words of Jesus that had comforted them when He was with them. They were overcome with what their eyes saw now and with what their ears heard now, and without the sound mooring of God’s word, they were confused and frightened and they didn’t know how to interpret what they were experiencing. We are at risk of the very same at this moment in time. Apart from God’s word and promises we have no mooring and must succumb to despair.
The Old Testament patriarch Job had good reason to despair, had he not the sound mooring of God’s word and promise. Though he had lost his wealth, his health, and his family, and though he suspected, no, he knew, that the LORD had permitted it, Job confessed, “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” And, though his flesh had been reduced to ashes, Job was strengthened to persevere by the LORD’s promise of a Redeemer and the resurrection of his body so that he confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives…, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.” Job confessed this truth nearly 2000 years before the birth of Christ, because of the word and promise of the LORD. That this comfort and confidence might be extended to others, to you, Job deeply desired that these words were written that they would be inscribed in a book, that with an iron pen and lead they would be engraved in rock forever.
In these uncertain times, there is great temptation to give yourself over to fear, to take matters into your own hands, to make rash and hasty decisions that may prove harmful as time goes on. Thus, this Easter Day be reminded that everything the women and the disciples thought about Good Friday, based upon what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard, unmoored from the Lord’s word and promise, was simply, plainly, and tragically wrong. What they fearfully believed was the “new normal,” that Jesus was dead and their hope was ended, couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jesus’ crucified body on the cross was not the “new normal.” Jesus dead body lying in the tomb was not the “new normal.” But, the stone rolled away and the empty tomb, that was, and is, and ever shall be the “new normal,” no matter what may befall you in this world and life. The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. Jesus is risen. You are no longer in your sins. That, dear Christian, and only that, is the “new normal.”
Is the “new normal” a change in the way you live your lives? Good! The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changedeverything indeed! Jesus’ empty tomb is the “new normal” for you and for all who believe. As St. Paul teaches, the old leaven of sin and guilt has been cleansed from you in Jesus’ blood. You really are unleavened. You are a new lump. “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not let fear paralyze you and keep you silent. Do not let our forced separation keep us from reaching out to each other in the ways that we can, and praying for each other more than ever before. Do not love your life in this world so much that you fearfully forget the words and promises of our Lord, fulfilled in Jesus’ own resurrection and the empty tomb, and so sacrifice the comfort and peace of God’s word and promise which proclaim and offer life that cannot die in Jesus Christ who is risen! The tomb is empty. That is the “new normal” in Jesus Christ. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! We go forth in peace in the Name of the Lord. Amen!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.