Sunday, May 20, 2018

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.
The Feast of Pentecost is the restoration of the right and proper order of things: God gives. Man receives and returns thanks and praise to God.
After the flood, Noah’s descendants did not disperse and fill the world as God had commanded, but they settled together in one area, they all spoke one language, and they were unified as one people. It was not long until they conspired to build a tower rising into the heavens that they might make a name for themselves, as gods unto themselves, a transgression akin to the pride and envy of Lucifer’s primordial power-grab and the sin of our First Parents Adam and Eve. Theirs was a transgression of the First and Greatest Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,”and “You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things”– even, and especially, above yourself.
Men are indeed capable of doing great and mighty things, from harnessing the energy of the atom to the construction of stations in space, from the mapping of the human genome, to the cloning of animal and human cells. Men build great cities having towering skyscrapers and sinuous, multi-tiered underground labyrinths of subways and service tunnels and sewers. And yet, what is man’s greatness compared with the greatness of man’s Creator? How much greater would man’s works be if they were conceived, consummated, and accomplished in accord with God’s holy will and to His glory?
Do not think that your God and Creator is opposed to man’s achieving greatness, for He is not. Indeed, He, Himself, crowned man King and Queen of all that He had made. But man’s dominion is an authority given and vested by God; man is not great by his own accord, but He has been made to be great like his Creator – great in mercy, great in compassion, great in love for all that God has made, as His stewards and managers, that all the world might know its God and Maker. Thus, God is not opposed to or against man’s achievements in science and technology, his attempts to make the world better, however, when these are ends in themselves, or when they serve the elevation of man apart from God’s will, Law, wisdom, and guidance, they cannot achieve the good they were intended to achieve, for they are a good pursued in the wrong way.
Thus the LORD confused the language of man and dispersed them over the face of the earth so that they left off building their great city and tower. This was much less an act of judgment than it was an act of mercy and love akin to God’s banishing of our First Parents from the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. If man were left to pursue his own wicked ends, it would result in his destruction and eternal separation from the source of his life and the reason for his being, communion with his Creator and God.
But God does indeed love the good works of men when they flow from His Holy Spirit. And thus, He would not leave His children in this confused state, but He would gather them together again as one people, one body, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing. In many types and figures, in prophets and judges and kings, God called His people to repentance, and He gave them one spiritual language. But, still, His children regularly strayed and sought power and glory, strength and might in ways and in things contrary to God’s Holy Law and will and Spirit. Until, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His only-begotten Son into our human flesh, that He would be obedient to God’s holy will and Law, and walk in perfect communion with Him all the days of His earthly life. Then, in one final act of obedience, Jesus submitted to the misdirected “good” deeds of men as they tried and convicted Him, mocked and scourged Him, and crucified Him on the cursed tree of the cross, and He died for the wickedness, guilt, and sin of the creatures who, as God, He had Himself created. As the prophet Isaiah has prophesied, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
In His timeless apologetic for the Christian faith, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote of man’s wickedness saying, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.”Indeed, man, created in the image of God, has the desire and the capacity to do good. Men desire to love and to be loved. Men desire both to control and to be controlled. Men desire to create life and to nurture and grow living things, be they plants, animals, or children. And men desire to build houses and cities, roads and bridges, telescopes and rocket ships. And these are all good desires and pursuits in and of themselves. There is nothing wicked about them. Indeed, God Himself does good, loves, controls, builds, and gives life. But, for men, these good desires and pursuits become wicked when they are divorced from God’s holy Law and will and Spirit.
Before His death, Jesus comforted His disciples saying to them, “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. […] …the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”Jesus kept this promise when the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon His disciples on the Day of Pentecost. We rightly celebrate this day as the birthday of the Church. For, on that day, the confusion of Babel was undone once and for all, as the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and gave them the ability to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all the languages of the world so that men, dispersed to the four corners of the earth, could hear the Good News of God’s salvation in their own language and tongue. For, the Gospel is a message and a language that transcends all languages. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken in German or English (in the KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV, NLT, ASV, NAS, or whatever!), Chinese, or Swahili. For, there is one Gospel, just as there is one LORD, one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. And there is one holy catholic and apostolic Church, one Baptism, one Communion, one body having one head, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. Only, this time, it is the LORD who has called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in faithHis people by His Holy Spirit. And, though there are still many languages, there is one Gospel which transcends them all and is spoken in all by the guidance and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Though the Church does not celebrate Pentecost anew, or receive the Holy Spirit anew, She prays, nonetheless for the continual sending of the Spirit of Christ, that Her works and deeds may be conceived, consummated, and accomplished in accord with God’s holy will and to His glory. For, like every other human desire and endeavor, apart from the guidance, counsel, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even the Church’s works and deeds can lead to wickedness, destruction, and eternal separation from the source of Her life and the reason for Her being, Her own communion with, and Her bringing others into communion with, Her one Creator and God.
For, in the end, the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of numerical growth, although He can cause that. Nor is He a spirit of worldly glory, although He sometimes blesses the Church with glory in the eyes of men that they may see God’s blessing in ways they recognize. Nor is He a spirit of monetary wealth, although He invites you to test how He will measure back to you so much more if you will but give to others in faith. But, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which is to say that He is the Spirit of compassion and mercy and love; and He is the Spirit of bold confession and unwavering faith. For, the chief work of the Holy Spirit is to draw men to Jesus that they may receive what He has accomplished.
In your lives you are tempted to fret and to strive to build your own towers into the heavens that you might control all the seemingly out of control things in your life and world. You think that by electing the right candidate, by passing the right law, by spending money the right way, and by defending the right ideology you will make the world a better place, a safer place, a place that values what you value and condemns what you condemn. But, whatever you desire and love, if it is not in accord with God’s holy Law, will, and Spirit, and is not conceived, consummated, and accomplished by the Holy Spirit, it is wickedness and mindless babel. And so, let us pray today, and every day, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.”And, the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ will give you His peace – peace, not as the world gives, that your hearts need not be troubled or afraid.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter 7)

John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Was the cross of Jesus a good thing, or a bad thing? Careful, now, I know that you want to say it was a bad thing. After all, how can you gaze upon the tortured, pierced, torn, and bloodied body of Jesus on the cross and not see the evil, the wickedness, and the hatred that nailed Him there? How could anyone call the cross a good thing? Well, God calls it good. Thus, perhaps you need to consider the possibility that you are not seeing things correctly. You see, you often mistake a good thing for a bad thing, and a bad thing for a good thing. In contrast to yourself, however, God simply calls a thing what it is. God calls Jesus’ crucified body on the cross a good thing, for it was the means through which you, His prodigal son, His prodigal daughter, were restored to Him, and by which Satan, your enemy and the cause of your sin-wrecked relationship with God, was defeated and lost all claim upon you. Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death upon the cross were a good thing – they were good for you. Therefore, do not dare to gaze upon the cross, the crucifix, and call it bad.
God calls a thing what it is, and so should you. God calls your deviant, rebellious thoughts, words, and deeds sin, and so should you. God calls your separation from Him death, and so should you. And, God calls His Son Jesus, dead upon the cross, satisfaction and redemption, paid in full for all your sins so that, through faith and trust in Him alone, He now calls you what you are in Him – holy, pure, and innocent – and, so should you.
However, you must understand that it was not for your sake that your LORD gave all for you, but it was for the sake of the His holy Name, which you had profaned, and which you continue to profane when you sin. Does this sound odd to you, that “it is not for your sake” that God acted, but “for the sake of [His] holy Name?” It is understandable if it does, for popular Christian thought is much more you-centered than it is God-centered or Christ-centered. Further, I am not at all convinced that most Christians have a clue what God’s Nameis or means. Because of that, I really appreciate this comment in the Lutheran Study Bible: “God’s Name is a capsule-word for everything He is and has revealed about Himself. Its essential characteristic is ‘holiness,’ i.e., transcendence above all limited human concepts, definitions, and comprehension.”
This is why I preached to you last week about Jesus’ Name, and what it means to ask anything of the Father in Jesus’ Name, in the assurance that He will give it to you. The Name of Jesus, the Name of God, is so very much more than a proper noun, a title, or a designation. God’s Name is holy. It is everything that holiness is and must be, and the only holy thing through which other persons and things may be made to be holy. And so, no, it is not for your sake that the LORD acted, but it was for the sake of His holy Name. However, you were once a part of the LORD’s holy Name, and it is His will and love for you that you be restored to His holy Name once again. This, Jesus has done for you in the good thing of His suffering, crucifixion, and death. And, the LORD raised Him up again on the third day, that in Jesus, His Name, He might raise you up and restore you to a right relationship with Him once again.
Despite what your eyes see, this is a good thing. You must learn to see with your ears. Indeed, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Jesus Christ isthe Name and the Word of God made flesh. No one could know this simply by gazing upon Jesus with his eyes. To the eyes of men, Jesus looked to be the son of a carpenter from backwater Nazareth, a young rabbi with a somewhat radical interpretation of scripture, a zealot seeking to gather a following presumably to begin an overthrow of their Roman occupiers, etc. Yet, there were a few who could see the Truth with their ears and, thus, with the eyes of faith, most notably John the Baptist who pointed to Jesus proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John judged not by what his eyes saw, but by what his ears saw. He called Jesus what He was, the Paschal Lamb of God for the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter had a similar experience when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And, also the centurion stationed at the cross as Jesus died who confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” And also, St. Thomas on the Sunday following Easter who confessed of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
It is a good thing that Jesus died for you, even as it is a good thing that He was raised for you, and it is also a good thing that Jesus has ascended back to His Father for you. Do not overlook or neglect the importance of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ ascension back into the holy presence of God is also your ascension, reconciliation, and restoration to God. It was your flesh and blood that Jesus took up when He was conceived of the Virgin Mary, was obedient under the Law of God, suffered and died for your sins, guilt, and transgressions, was raised from death on the third day, and, lastly, ascended back to His Father in heaven, guaranteeing a place for you there through baptism and faith in Him. A human Man now sits in the presence and glory of God, and that Man is Jesus, and through your baptism into Him and faith, that Man is you. You must see with your ears by hearkening to this Word of the LORD, and you must call a thing, not as it appears, but what it truly is. In Christ, you have an audience with the King of Creation, the LORD and Holy Triune God. You have the same audience as His eternal Son, Jesus – full access, the King’s ear, and His promise to bless you and keep you in and through all things.
Jesus has said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. You must not be deceived by mere appearances. The mighty works of the LORD are often accomplished through the humblest and most unassuming means. Moses was but a stuttering shepherd. David was young, inexperienced, and mild. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, a tax collector, and women, among the least in their community. Your pastor is but a sinful man like you vacillating between pride and humility, anger and gentleness, condemnation and forgiveness, hardness and compassion. And the most powerful works of the LORD are accomplished through the Word spoken, water applied, bread and wine given. Through these means sins are forgiven, faith is created, nourished, and strengthened, and disciples are equipped for service to the neighbor and for battle against Satan and his demonic forces. Though you are nothing to look at, you are God’s children and Jesus’ body, the Church, militant in warfare against Satan for the life of the world. Do not be deceived by the humble, weak, and even sinful appearance, but call a thing what it is, what God in His Word says it is: You are the Church, the called and chosen of the LORD in Jesus Christ, holy, pure, and righteous as Jesus Himself before God and man.
But, the world doesn’t see you for what you are. Men do not consider you holy, pure, and righteous, but evil, hypocrites, bigots, and worse. You must not be surprised at this. The world and men do not keep the Word of the LORD or have any care for it. Therefore, they call evil good, and good evil. But, you must simply call a thing what it is. Let your yes by yes, and let your no be no. And, because you are God’s yes, you must be yes to your brother and sister in Christ, you must be yes to your neighbor, and you must be yes to the world. That is to say, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” This does not mean that you bless what God has condemned, but that you bear with and show love to all, even to those who hate God and who hate you and consider you to be evil. You must discern between right and wrong, good and evil, yes and no according to the light of God’s Word and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, but it is not your place to judge and condemn. You must be merciful, as your LORD and God has been merciful to you. You must love with His love, bear with one another with His patience and longsuffering, and forgive with His forgiveness, “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Did I just in happenstance describe mothers? Yes, surely mothers are an example of this kind of love and patience and longsuffering. Even when motherhood is wrought in pain and tribulation, even when their children disobey and disrespect them, even when husbands withdraw and seem unsupportive or disconnected, mothers see and feel and believe and cherish an unseen truth – Motherhood is a sacred and holy vocation. Children are a gift and blessing of God. The love of a mother may be the most like the love of God. May the Holy Spirit give us all eyes to see what mothers see and new hearts and new spirits to love selflessly in humility and longsuffering all of God’s children as well as those He would have yet to be His children.
Do not be deceived. Things are not as they appear. Open your ears to the Word of the LORD and see in the way that He sees. Do not be surprised at the fiery trial you often encounter in your lives these days in this world that is not your home, but rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. The Helper has come and is with you. The Holy Spirit bears witness in Word and Sacrament and in your own hearts to Jesus Christ to keep you from falling away. Next, we will celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Through the Spirit of God poured out in Christ Jesus you are His people and you will dwell with Him forever as His people, with the LORD as your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Christian Funeral for Raymond Klassen Mehmen

John 6:27-40; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I pray that you will bear with me to use an illustration from a personal interest in order to make a point. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Bilbo, reflecting upon his one-hundred-eleventieth birthday, has a terrific line. Bilbo says, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I have to admit that I was reminded of that vivid image several times over the last few months of Ray’s life. As I sat and listened to Ray, prayed with him, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with him, I observed that Ray, too, was “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Ray was tired and weary and worn, simply from long life, hard work, and from living and being lived. It is the nature of things, this side of heaven, to slow down. It is the nature of human life, since our First Parent’s fall in the Garden, to slow down and to, eventually, die. That was, essentially, the doctors’ final diagnosis in a nutshell, “Ray, you’re just old.” How many times did Ray sigh in frustration saying, “They tell me I’m just old.”
Psalm 90, our Processional Psalm today, which is attributed to Moses, expresses this sentiment well: “For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” Is that not the way Ray’s life ended, with a sigh? Ray was frustrated. He couldn’t do the things that brought him joy. And, he couldn’t help Jo, which made him sad and angry, but most of all he felt helpless. In the same Psalm, Moses referenced Genesis 6:3, where our LORD, grieved by man’s wickedness and sinful nature, proclaimed, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh; his days shall be 120 years.” Interestingly, Moses himself died at age one hundred twenty. And, as it is, the oldest person alive on the planet, until just a few weeks ago, was a Japanese woman by the name of Nabi Tajima, who died at the age of one hundred seventeen. Now, in my pastoral ministry I have had the opportunity to minister to a few centenarians, that is, people a hundred years old or older. Every one of them sighed and wondered why the LORD hadn’t called them home. Their spouses, their siblings, their friends, and often their children were all gone and they were utterly alone on the earth. Moreover, though their minds were sharp, their bodies would not permit them to do anything they enjoyed or wanted to do. This is why I truly believe that it was an act of mercy that our LORD limited our lifespan to roughly 120 years, in reality, more like seventy, eighty, or ninety. For, if we lived much longer than that, could any of us persevere in faith to the end?
Now, while I know that we would have liked to have had more, ninety-three years is a long life by any reckoning. And, by the grace of God, the overwhelming majority of those years were good and blessed years for Ray and Jo. However, Ray and Jo faced and overcame many challenges and obstacles together, and they suffered tremendous loss and pain together. The most poignant, painful, and life altering of those was without question the death of their beloved son Alan. Even that horrific tragedy Ray and Jo faced together, and the LORD preserved them and strengthened their faith. The LORD blessed Ray and Jo with seventy-two years of marriage. Any marriage that lasts does so through ups and downs, through good times and bad times, through sickness and health, through patience, perseverance, and forgiveness. Some of Ray’s last words to his bride were, “Jo, I love you so much. I’m sorry if I ever got mad at you.” I know for a fact that Ray’s greatest concern was not for his own health and life, but that Jo would be taken care of. Thankfully, the LORD has also provided Ray and Jo with so many wonderful friends that are as close to them and who care for them as family. The LORD blessed Ray and Jo richly, even as He made them a rich blessing to others, who in turn are a blessing to them once again.
A life well lived – That describes both Ray and Jo extremely well. Though he farmed with his family and owned a hardware store in Shell Rock for a while, Ray was a plumber and he was known and respected as a good and honest plumber. In fact, after hanging up his plumber’s wrench at the age of 90 (!), he continued to get calls for jobs even within the last several months! Ray was a hard worker, talented, and good with his hands. He loved to work in his woodshop making birdhouses and a multitude of beautiful and useful things. And, Ray was every present at Waverly – Shell Rock basketball and baseball games, sitting at the top of the bleachers for the best view. And, Ray was always in church on Sunday morning, a lesson he learned in his youth when, even if he got in at four in the morning, he had to get up and be ready for church in the morning, or else! Ray and Jo’s love for one another was self-evident. Even when they bickered it was kind and reflected the wisdom and patience that are born from love and a commitment to stick together through both good times and bad. For, life is full of challenges and blessings, and in the LORD’s gracious providence, even the challenges He makes to be blessings.
Isn’t that what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans? “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” But, how can we have such an attitude as that? How can we experience that confidence and optimism when we are faced with trial and tribulation, suffering, and death? Well, what does St. Paul say? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ray and Jo believed this, and so must you. All their lives they trusted in the LORD, through thick and thin, through good times and bad. Their hope was not in food that perishes, but in “the food that endures to eternal life.” Jesus is that food. Jesus is that holy manna, that Bread of Life of which a man may eat and truly live. He, who laid down His life for Ray, for Jo, for you, and for all the world, loves you with a boundless and everlasting love. He will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love – not even life or death. The Father has given Him all things, and whoever comes to Him He will never cast out. Indeed, it is the Father’s will that “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and [He] will raise them up on the last day.” So many wonder what they must do to do the works of God, what they must do to be saved. Jesus answers them saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Ray believed in God, and Ray trusted in Jesus, God’s Son. Therefore, we take comfort that Ray is with Jesus right now, in peace and comfort, just like Moses and Elijah before him, like the poor man Lazarus, and like the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus, to whom Jesus said, “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” Thank you Jesus!
However, don’t stop there. Don’t sell yourself short on the hope, comfort, peace, and joy Jesus offers you. But, what did Jesus say? “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” This truth did righteous Job confess nearly 2000 years before the birth of Jesus saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. 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, and not another.” Too often we place our comfort and hope only in the truth that those we love who have died in faith are with Jesus. Yes, that is indeed true and extremely comforting. However, Jesus has something even greater and more comforting and never ending in store for His faithful people, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in glorified flesh and blood bodies that cannot age, weaken, suffer, and die. That is why, though we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. For our hope is in Jesus’ promise that He will raise us up from death and that with our own flesh and blood eyes we will see Him face to face, and also that with our own flesh and blood eyes, ears, hands, and arms we will see, hear, touch, and embrace our loved ones who have died in the Lord. Jo, you will see Ray again. Dear people of God, you will see Ray again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!
But, for now, there is rest for God’s holy children. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden,” Jesus says, and I will give you rest.” Come to Me, all you who are “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Come to Me, Jesus says, and you will find rest for your souls. The LORD has called Ray to rest in Jesus. Ray has labored hard, and now He rests in Jesus. When you miss him, remember that you know precisely where Ray is; Ray is with Jesus. Go to the cemetery, lay some flowers, and say your prayers – that is good and right to do. But, if you really want to be near to Ray, to be with him, come to where Jesus is, and to where Ray is, “with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” Come to the Lord’s Supper, where heaven comes down to earth, where Jesus is present with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and where the Communion of Saints in heaven and on earth are together as one body, in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Church. Here is manna to sustain you as you make your pilgrimage to the Promised Land, for here is Jesus, the Bread of Life, of which a man may eat and live and never die.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)

John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“In that day you will ask nothing of Me,” says Jesus. Now, what on earth could He possibly mean? What Jesus means is that, because of His death and resurrection in your place and for your sake, He has, literally, given Himself to you. You are He, and He is you, flesh of His flesh, bone of His bones. He is your holy Bridegroom, and you, the Church, are His holy Bride. Therefore, all that belongs to Jesus belongs also to you, for you are His body, and He is your head. Remember Jesus’ words that you heard in last Sunday’s Gospel? “All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that [the Holy Spirit] will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” There is nothing that you could possibly ask the Father to give you that is not already yours in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus says, “You will ask nothing of Me,” but “Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.”
“In My Name” is key, however. The Name of Jesus includes everything that is godly and good, everything that is in accordance with God’s Word, His Will, and His Commands, everything that your God and Father would want you to have and readily gives you whether you pray to Him or not. Are new cars, expensive college educations, and winning lottery tickets in the Name of Jesus? Perhaps, but not likely. Are healings, recoveries, and protections from evil in the Name of Jesus? Most definitely, but they are not promised to be granted at all times, or in any particular time frame. What “In My Name” most certainly is not is a magical incantation that you simply tack on to the end of your prayers to make God answer them in the affirmative and as you desire. That would be to make God like unto some divine vending machine: Insert coin, pull lever, dispense gift. Thank you Jesus! No, but the Name of Jesus is Jesus Himself, indeed, the entire Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we heard from St. James last week, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Jesus Himself is, first and foremost, that good and perfect gift of the Father, and whatever you ask of the Father that is in Jesus’ Name, that is, that is in Jesus, He will surely give you – in His time, in His way, according to His will and knowledge of what is best and good.
Therefore, we must examine what true prayer is and what it is not, for there is surely much confusion among Christians today concerning prayer. First, prayer is not an option, but you are commanded to pray. Thus, to pray is to obey. This is truly nothing more or less than obedience to the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” for, when you pray, you pray to God, you acknowledge Him to be God and consequently confess that you are not god. This, in itself, is good for you, for it is the proper order of things, realignment between Creator and creature. Prayer is a return to God, your Father, much as the prodigal son returned to His gracious, loving, and forgiving father. God is there for you always, watching, waiting, and calling for your return, no matter how long and how far you have strayed, no matter how hatefully and wickedly you have treated Him, rebelled against Him, and considered Him an enemy. Pray to Him because He is good, and He is God, regardless of any expectation of whether He will grant you what you ask. That simply is not the point. Pray. That is the point. Just pray. It’s good for you, it glorifies God, and He has promised to hear and answer your prayers in Jesus’ Name.
But, what should you pray for? Truly, there is no better instruction and guidance in this matter than the very prayer our Lord Jesus taught us to pray. We should pray that God’s Name would be hallowed, that it would be received, confessed, and called upon as holy among us, His children, in our lives, words, and deeds. We should pray that His kingdom would come among us, that we would desire its coming and recognize and confess its presence among us in how we worship Him and live our lives to His glory in our God-given vocations in the world, but not of the world. We should pray that His will be done, not our own will, and that we would “think those things that are right” and “by [His] merciful guiding accomplish them,” as we prayed in today’s Collect. We should pray for Him to provide us daily bread, that is, everything that we need and require for our bodies and our lives in this world, and for our immortal souls. We should pray that He would enable and inspire us to forgive others with His forgivenesspoured out upon us in Jesus Christ, that others would know the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God and glorify His Name with us. We should pray that He would lead us not unto temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; that is to say, that He would protect us from the temptations and assaults of the devil, the world, and our own fallen flesh and reason. Do you not see how all of these petitions are necessarily and absolutely in Jesus’ Name?
In the Catechism’s explanation of the Second Commandment concerning the proper use of the Name of the LORD, Luther says that we should “call upon [God’s Name] in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” As is typical for Luther, particularly in the Catechism, in a few well-chosen words he communicates all that needs to be said: Pray for what you need and to glorify the LORD. There is no confusing and distracting talk of when to pray, or how to pray, what words to say when you pray, what posture you should adopt when you pray, where you should pray, etc. Luther simply says to pray. Likewise, St. Paul says that you are to pray without ceasing. Oh, the ink that has been spilt and the spiritual damage that has been wrought in misunderstanding and misinterpretation of these words! Why must every command be defined with a limit? “How many times must I forgive my brother who has sinned against me?” “When is it appropriate to not love?” “When is it appropriate to not give or help or pray?” Our sin-corrupted reason and flesh hates and despises and fears the LORD’s open-ended commands to pray, to love, to forgive, and to give. “When?” We want ask. “Always!” The Lord replies, “There is no limit!” “But, I can’t do that!” you protest. “Yes you can, and you must!” the preacher answers. After all, you manage to breathe without ceasing, isn’t that right? If you’re not breathing, you’re dead. For Christians, prayer should be like breathing. You do not have to think to breathe because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and essentially forces you to breathe. That is why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe. Similarly, when we are born into the family of God, we enter into a spiritual atmosphere where God's presence and grace exert pressure, or influence, on our lives. Prayer is the normal response to that pressure. As believers, we have all entered the divine atmosphere to breathe the air of prayer.Unfortunately, many believers hold their “spiritual breath” for long periods, thinking brief moments with God are sufficient to allow them to survive. But such restricting of their spiritual intake is caused by sinful desires. The fact is that every believer must be continually in the presence of God, constantly breathing in His truths, to be fully functional. Thus, St. Paul exhorts you to pray without ceasing. Breathe, pray, and live.
For, your life is a prayer to God. Thus, St. James exhorts you to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” As the air you breathe nourishes your body, enabling you to live, so does prayer nourish, enliven, and enable you to live both spiritually and physically. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” so you are what you breathe, you are what you pray, what you take into yourself, and what you give out in your lives, words, and deeds. Therefore, bridle your tongue and keep yourself unstained from the world and undefiled before God the Father. In this way you may have peace, the Peace of God which passes all human understanding, in Jesus Christ our Lord. “I have said these things to you,” says Jesus, “that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Jesus is the good and perfect gift the Father gives to you. And, in Jesus you have everything you could possibly ask for that is in His Name: Righteousness and holiness, Sonship with the Father, a share in Jesus’ reign over the kingdom of heaven and earth, victory over sin, death, and the devil, everlasting life that can never die or fade. You do not have to ask of Jesus, but whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name His Father will give to you that your joy may be full, for the Father Himself loves you, because you love Jesus and are bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. If your flesh and reason, the world, and the devil tempt you to doubt this, then know that this is a chief reason that your Lord Jesus left you this Sacrament, that you may, in a physical, visible, touchable, tasteable way, be reminded that you are in communion with Him, that you are His body and He is your head. He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, to equip you and send you forth bearing His fruits, and to keep and to protect you from the assaults of the evil one. You are in Jesus, and Jesus is in you. Therefore, your prayers in Jesus’ Name are heard by the Father as Jesus’ own prayer. Rogate – ask, pray, in Jesus’ Name, that you may have peace, and that your joy may be full.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

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.
Sorrow, loss, grief, and pain are natural, normal, and human. Your Lord Jesus experienced all of these just as you do. However, your enemy Satan attempts to use these to keep you in your place, stuck, as it were, in a rut, unable to see beyond your present pain, robbing you of hope, peace, contentment, and joy, attacking and destroying your faith. So he did with Jesus’ disciples. Their sorrow, loss, grief, and pain would not permit them to see beyond their present grief at Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be leaving them. Seemingly, they could not hear the good news of His destination, that He was returning to His Father’s right hand in heaven, and that this would be a good thing for them. And so, they were afraid, they were hopeless, and they were despondent, and Satan used their sorrow, their loss, their grief, and their pain to tempt them to unbelief. And, he was successful, to varying degrees, with all of them. But with one of them, it literally cost him his life and, potentially, his salvation.
You see, Satan uses your sorrow, your loss, your grief, and your pain to sidetrack you from your pilgrimage journey back to Eden, to paradise, to heaven with God. When Jesus first prophesied that He must suffer and die and be raised again on the third day, way back then, early in His ministry, His disciples, communally, did not understand, and they said “No! Never!” Jesus’ leaving them was a stumbling block for them. His suffering and death scandalized them. After hearing the first part of His prophecy, that He must suffer and die, their sorrow, their loss, their grief, and their pain prevented them from hearing the good news that He would rise again on the third day. Even on the night in which He was betrayed, even when Jesus told Peter directly that he would deny Him three times that very night, Peter did not believe that Jesus would rise, none of them did, and he was so overcome with grief and sorrow, hopelessness, and despair that he went and unwittingly fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy and denied his Lord, his Master, and his dearest friend three times before the cock crowed at dawn. Even after His resurrection on the third day, Thomas refused to believe until he could see and touch Jesus with his own eyes and hands. Thomas’ sorrow and grief, along with his reason and intellect, which Satan also uses against you, blinded him to the Truth of Jesus’ Word.
Dear Christian, you are on a journey through a barren and desolate wilderness. Like the children of Israel before you, you are an exile journeying to a promised land. Just as Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, so this world is not your home. Your First Parents dwelt in paradise with God. Their sin and rebellion necessitated their, and your, exile. But Jesus, the Second Adam, has atoned for your sin and has justified you before God, and has returned to paradise with God as your Redeemer, your Lord, your Brother, and your Bridegroom, that where He is, you may also be.
Israel was redeemed from Pharaoh’s hell and was sent into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. They were exiled and were taken captive by the Babylonians and the Assyrians before being restored to their own county. Likewise, today, the Church of Jesus Christ lives in exile as a stranger in a strange land, having a different language and a different culture, different values, and different priorities which this world neither values nor shares nor tolerates. Yet, each of these exiles, each of these uncomfortable displacements, each of these wilderness pilgrimages are, and have been, fulfilled in Jesus’ own self-exile from His Father in heaven to make His way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that is this earth and world and your own human life and experience, that He might redeem you and lead you forth out of exile in death and hell and into the Promised Land of life everlasting life with your Holy Triune God.
How to get back to Eden and to God? That is the question. God answered that question and promised to provide that way almost immediately after our First Parent’s rebellion and fall. In truth, according to the inscrutable wisdom of God, He had it all planned all along. He would send His Son into the world of His own creation as a man to fulfill what He created man to do and to be from the beginning and to then offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for man’s sin and guilt, to die the death man had earned and merited, and to be raised up and to return to His Father, blazing a trail for your own resurrection and return to God and heaven, to Eden, and to paradise restored. 
Satan knew that God had a plan, but he didn’t know the details, the who, the why, the where, the when, or the how. How did Satan know? The same way that you and I know anything about God and His will and His ways – from His Word. Satan knew that a “seed from the woman” would strike his head. But, who? When? How? The answers to those questions Satan would have to learn, for he is no more privy to the mind and the thoughts of God than are you or I. Satan learned something about Jesus when he tempted Him in the wilderness. And, Satan learned something more about Jesus when He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons from the possessed, and forgave sins. Still, Satan never could have guessed what would happen when he struck Jesus’ heel and sunk his venomous fangs into His flesh upon the cross. He thought he had won at last. But, he was wrong – dead wrong. For, what Satan didn’t know and couldn’t see was that Jesus was not merely the Son of God, which Peter had confessed before Jesus’ crucifixion, but Jesus was God Himself, which Thomas confessed after Jesus’ resurrection, who willingly laid down His own innocent life and satisfied the justice of God’s righteousness that had been transgressed by the sin of humanity. Righteousness had been restored, and Satan was the tool God used to make it happen. Now Eden and the paradise of heaven stands open to all who trust in the blood of Jesus and enter therein. That is the truth! All Satan can do is tell you lies, hoping that you will believe them and get sidetracked in your journey, and miss out paradise regained and restored.
Sorrow, loss, grief, and pain are natural, normal, and human. Your Lord Jesus experienced all of these just as you do. However, Satan attempts to use these gifts of the Lord against you to take your focus off of your goal, to attack and to destroy your faith. But, do not fear! Take comfort in this good news: You are not alone. Though you do not see Him, your Lord Jesus is with you, always, just as He promised. Moreover, He knows the way of your pilgrimage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for He has walked it before you, and He unlocked the gate of death and the grave that would keep you in so that they have become for you an open portal through which you may freely pass into His Father’s house, into Eden, into paradise, and the Promised Land forevermore.
You are not alone. Your Lord Jesus is with you. He walks with you on your way, He talks with you through His Word and through prayer, He washes, cleanses, and restores you through Holy Baptism and Absolution, and He communes with you and comforts you through His Body and Blood in the Holy Supper. And, He has sent you His Holy Spirit to comfort and to counsel, to help and to guide you, and to protect and keep you in faith. Indeed, it was necessary that Jesus ascend to His Father and leave you physically and visually that He might send to you His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps you, comforts you, and keeps you by convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin because He exposes the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness because “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment because “the ruler of this world is judged.” Satan is defeated. He has no claim on you. His only weapons are lies and deceptions through which he seeks to deceive you and make train wreck of your faith.
Thus St. James exhorts you this day, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Jesus and His Holy Spirit are the good and perfect gift of God the Father that will never change. Satan will try to deceive you into believing that this is not true. He will use your sorrow, your loss, your grief, and your pain to cause you to doubt God’s faithfulness, to doubt His love for you, to doubt that He is able to help you, and to doubt whether He exists at all. But the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter will guide you and protect you. Open yourself to Him by making use of the means through which He works: The Word of God and the Blessed Sacraments. As you gather regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ around these Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit comforts, counsels, guards, protects, and keeps you in faith, safe from Satan’s attacks and deceptions, and He preserves you in your pilgrimage back to Eden, the Promised Land, the Paradise of Heaven with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. Come, now, and draw water from the wells of salvation, both now and forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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.
There are many who believe that, if you are a Christian, well, things should generally go well for you – you shouldn’t experience any serious or prolonged pain, suffering, or sorrow in your life. The inevitable outcome of such thinking, of course, is that if you do experience some significant tribulation, then that is cause either to question the strength of your faith or the object of your faith, God. Where do people get such an idea as that? They certainly don’t get it from the teachings of Jesus or from the Word of God, for they clearly teach that pain, suffering, and sorrow are the result of sin (original, actual, or otherwise), and that both the believer and the unbeliever will be afflicted by them throughout their lives.
In fact, Jesus was straightforward with His disciples, assuring them that becauseof their faith in Him, they would experience more intense pain, suffering, and sorrow than unbelievers. He told them that the world would hate them because the world hates Him. He told them that people would want to kill them because of Him. He taught them that the way of the disciple was the same as the way of the Teacher, and that is the way of the cross. He taught them that they must die to themselves and lose their lives in this world to save them in eternity.
And, dearly beloved, Jesus is no less straightforward with you today. “Truly, truly,” He says to you, “you willweep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will besorrowful.” You willendure pain, suffering, and sorrow, says your Lord, but it will come to an end, and then your sorrow will be turned into joy.
Jesus calls this time of your pain, suffering, and sorrow that is your life – that is the lives of your parents and grandparents, that is the lives of your children and your children’s children, that is the lives of all people from our First Parents to our last children – “a little while.” “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” “A little while?” Now, that causes us to ask, along with the disciples, “What does Jesus mean by ‘a little while’.”
The phrase “a little while” likely causes you some anxiety and frustration because it is indeterminate, indefinite.  We’d so much rather have a definite answer so that we can prepare and manage for ourselves the pain, suffering, and sorrow during their designated time. We want to be in control. But that is precisely what your Lord would release you from: having to be in control, anxiety, frustration, and pain. For His words, “a little while”, remind you that He is in control: That is, He is in control of your life. He is in control of your pain, suffering, and sorrow. And He is in control of the fact that it will end and that your suffering will be turned into joy. Now, knowing this, do not His words “a little while,” then, give you something other than frustration, anxiety, and fear? Do not His words give you hope?
Your Lord Jesus, who has loved you by laying down His own life in death for you to set you free from your sin, and the frustration, anxiety, and fear that are its fruits, has also set you free from living in the bondage of frustration, anxiety, and fear and to pain, suffering, and sorrow in your life. You need not live as a slave to these things because Jesus has conquered them for you and has set you free from them. He has placed limits on both the extent and the time in which they may afflict you, and He has guaranteed you, not only that they will end, but that you will endure, and that you will have joy. But the most wonderful and marvelous gift is that, because of Jesus, you can have that joy even now, even in the “little while” of your pain, suffering, anxiety, frustration, and fear, knowing that your tribulations are conquered and that the Lord is their Master, and that He is in control, and that He uses these trials to discipline His children, to strengthen your faith, and to produce in you hope.
Now, no one looks forward to pain, suffering, and sorrow, but you can endure them and even find joy in them when you know that they are for but a little while, that they will end, and that the end joy surpasses the tribulation to the extent that it is but a faint memory. Thus, Jesus provides you the example of a woman in labor, who experiences pain, suffering, and sorrow, but who faces these trials with confident joy for the gift of her child that is the fruit of her labor. How many mothers, in the midst of their labor cry out “Never again!” but after the delivery, for the joy of the child would gladly do it again.  “So you have sorrow now,” says your Lord, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Today we are gathered together, just like the disciples of our Lord before us gathered each and every Lord’s day, having basked four weeks in the Paschal joy of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And today, hearken to Your Lord’s call that you live resurrected lives, even now, as you walk through the wilderness of this world, the valley of the shadow of death, where pain, and sorrow, and suffering afflict you and the Enemy would have you be filled with frustration, anxiety, and fear so that you lose hope.  For, Jesus has conquered your Enemy and He has released you from slavery to His devices. Your Enemy has no power over you, that is, unless you give it to him, for Jesus has set you free; only you can put yourself back in the devil’s chains. Your Enemy the devil would fill you with frustration, anxiety, and fear as you face your pain, suffering, and sorrow, so that you forget that Jesus is Lord of these things, that Jesus is the Lord of your life, so that you lose hope and give way to anger and hatred, depression and despair. He is a liar, and he is the father of lies! The devil would have you, for fear of the labor, abort the pregnancy, and miss out on the new life.
Do not be afraid! Live as people who are free. Fear God. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. You have been baptized together into Jesus’ death and you have been raised in Jesus’ resurrection. You have been born again of water and the Holy Spirit and nourished with the life and faith of Jesus through His body and blood. He is not dead, He is risen; He lives, He reigns and, in a little while, He returns for you. Now is the time of labor – and labor means pain, suffering, and sorrow – but in a little while, your sorrow will be turned into joy. And that assurance grants you Peace beyond human understanding, peace born from faith that confesses “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who is my strength.” “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” God the Father bestow upon you His Peace in Christ Jesus and keep you in the True Faith by the gracious workings of the Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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.
If you are a sheep, you are meant either for the sacrificial altar, or for the dinner table. That’s what it means to be a sheep. To be sure, while you are alive, your wool is valuable and will be shorn from your body to make clothing and blankets, and your milk is valuable for men to drink and to make cheese, but still, you are a sheep, and you are meant to die. And, when you have been killed, you will become food for men, or for animals, or you may become a sacrificial victim on the altar of God, or gods.
Throughout your sheepy life, your trust is in your shepherd. You trust in your shepherd to lead you to food and to water. You trust in your shepherd to protect you from thieves and from wild animals. You know your shepherd’s voice and his call, and you listen to and follow your shepherd wherever he leads you. However, even the best of shepherds – those who feed you well and who give you clean, clear water to drink, even those who fend off the wolves and seek you when you go astray – even the best of shepherds are still shepherding you to your death – either to sacrificial death at the altar or to the dinner table.
A shepherd knows this. A shepherd knows this ironic truth that he will, ultimately, lead the sheep he has so devotedly cared for, nourished, and protected, to slaughter, to death. A hireling shepherd will gladly do this – it’s his job, it’s what he’s paid for, it’s what puts bread on his table, clothing on his back, and a roof over his head. It’s not that he hates the sheep, or that he despises the sheep, but the sheep are a means to an end, and he cares nothing for their welfare beyond that end. Thus, he will not sacrifice his own welfare for the sheep. Certainly, he will defend them, if he can, but, not because he cares for them, but because he cares for himself – it is not in his own best interest to let the sheep die before their time. Therefore, when the wolf comes, he will not put himself in the beast’s jaws in order that a few sheep might live, but he runs and flees.
That’s the way it goes with hireling shepherds. They may not be bad people, bad shepherds, but they’re working for a wage and they’re not going to risk more than they expect to reap in reward. They’re not fools, and they’re not shepherding for charity. However, there are bad shepherds. Such scoundrels not only care nothing for the sheep, but they care nothing for their master for whom they work. A bad shepherd will exploit and fleece the sheep for his own benefit. He will take a sheep and shear it for himself and then slaughter it to feed his belly. He will abuse the weaker sheep and pit sheep against sheep for his pleasure. A bad shepherd will not lead the sheep to pure water and good pasture but will allow them to eat and drink what is not good for them. He will not seek them when they go astray, and he will not defend them from the wolves and thieves.
Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd actually lays down His life for His sheep – for one or two sheep, and for all of the sheep. He places Himself between you and the wolf. He lays Himself, willingly, into the beast’s jaws for you. The Good Shepherd does this because you are His Father’s sheep, you are Hissheep. You belong to Him, and He loves you, and He loves His Father who has given you to Him.
The bad shepherds are the ruthless King’s of Israel described in Ezekiel’s prophecies, they are the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and they are the pastor’s, religious leaders, and false teachers today who fleece the sheep, the people they are called to shepherd and to care for, by promising them blessings for money, by embezzling their charitable gifts, and by squandering their donations on wicked, fleshly indulgence and depravity. They are those shepherds who keep the sheep in bondage and abuse them by teaching righteousness by works according to the Law, while ever raising the bar of what they must do. They are those shepherds who will not defend the sheep from false teaching predators who would lead them into apostasy or complacency, so that they no longer repent of their sins and, therefore, do not receive absolution. They are those shepherds who kill and devour the sheep themselves by teaching them lies and deceptions and by withholding the Gospel grace and mercy of God revealed in the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. They are those shepherds who care nothing for the sheep and do not serve the sheep but desire only to be served by, and make a feast of, the sheep. And, often they are not shepherds at all, but they are wolves who infiltrate the flock by coming in the guise of sheep’s clothing, deceiving the sheep in order to lead them astray or to devour them.
Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, Himself, seeks out the sheep that the wolf has scattered and He rescues them. The Good Shepherd brings them together into the fold from all the places they have been scattered and have wandered, and He feeds them and gives them drink in good pasture, in their own land, in their own country. The Good Shepherd leads them to rest from their laboring to provide for themselves righteousness by works according to the Law, and He binds up the injured and He strengthens the weak. The Good Shepherd is not a hireling motivated by self-interest, but He is the Father’s seeking love incarnate. He is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but He is the Good Shepherd in sheep’s clothing. He is God in human flesh, become what you are that you may become what He is.
The Good Shepherd seeks you and lays down His life for you precisely because He is the Good Shepherd and you are His sheep. He does it because He is good. And, He is not good because men judge Him to be so, but He is good, and He is the measure and judge of all goodness. Through the mouth of His prophet Ezekiel He says, “It is not for your sake, O Israel, that I am about to do this, but for the sake of my holy Name" (Ezek 34:36).You belong to Him, and so, He takes back what is His. This He does for the sake of His Name and because of the kind of God and Shepherd He is.
The Enemy, the predatory wolf, Satan, has sought to scatter and devour God’s people since their creation. He was successful with our First Parents in the Garden. He was successful as the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. He was successful as the kings of Israel served as wolves in sheep’s clothing to lead the people into apostasy, idolatry, and unbelief. He was successful as the Babylonians and the Assyrians scattered the people in exile. And he was successful as the scribes and the Pharisees, the shepherds of Israel, lead the people astray into complacency or despair by withholding from them the Good News of God’s salvation in His Shepherd Messiah who was coming into the world.
On a day of clouds and thick darkness, on a Friday that we now call Good, it appeared to us that the Enemy had finally won once and for all. The Good Shepherd gave Himself into the jaws of the wolf and died. But, in His death, Jesus broke Satan’s jaw and crushed his teeth, and on the third day He rose again having defeated death and having removed the stone of sin and guilt that kept you in your graves. The Good Shepherd takes back what is His for the sake of His Name. To God, you are His precious sheep. You are worth sacrificing for. You are worth dying for. To lose you or to give you up to an usurper is to be something other than who God is; it is to not be God at all. God is love, and the greatest possible expression of love is self-sacrifice, laying down one’s life for another.
And, “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. 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. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
On a day of clouds and thick darkness, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, was raised up in death that He might draw all men to Himself and to life. He has sent forth His Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten all His sheep whom the false shepherds have scattered all over the face of the earth so that there is one flock and one Shepherd.
But, still you are a sheep, and death is part of what it means to be a sheep. Therefore, your Good Shepherd Jesus came as a sheep that He might lure and be attacked by the satanic wolf and so defeat him by His sinless and guiltless substitutionary death. Now you follow your Shepherd through death into His eternal life in His Father’s House. Death has lost its sting. It can no longer hold you. But, it has become an open door into life that cannot die. Because He has blazed the trail before you and has been raised the firstfruits of those who die in faith in the Lord, He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
Even now, as you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd leads you and guides you, cares for you, and protects you. He has prepared a meal for you in this life and world, in the presence of your enemies, that you might persevere. And, He leads you through death and the grave into His Father’s pastures where sheep may safely graze.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

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.
The Second Sunday of Easter is a very fleshy Sunday. It’s all about the body of flesh – sinews and muscles, bone and skin; touching, handling, seeing, and believing; breath and spirit – life. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And so, we have Ezekiel prophesying to a valley of dry bones. And, by the Word of the Lord and His Spirit-breath they are enlivened, a remembrance of the creation of man on the sixth day and a foretaste of the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day – “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. […] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of those who fall asleep. He was raised in His flesh and blood body – the same flesh and blood with which He enclosed Himself in the incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the creative Word and Spirit of God, now glorified, passing through walls and doors, appearing and disappearing at will, yet still His body, recognizable by the wounds of His sacrifice, now appearing as glorious scars.
This was the body He presented the evening of that first Easter Sunday to His disciples huddled in fear behind closed doors. He “came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.”And then He showed them His wounds, His hands and His side. “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”First, He proclaimed to them His Word, “Peace be with you.”Then he showed them the sign of that peace, His wounds. The sign strengthened and reinforced their faith so that they were glad when they saw their Lord. He spoke His peace to them again and He ordained them by breathing His Spirit upon them with His Word, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
But, Thomas wasn’t there. So the disciples went and found him. And, filled with Christ’s Holy Spirit, now set apart for the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, they told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But, Thomas wouldn’t believe them. He insisted, “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.”
Thomas should have believed the Word of the Apostles, of whom Christ promised, “He who hears you hears me.”But He didn’t. He needed more. We all do, and God knows this. Therefore He graciously provides us seeable, touchable, tasteable signs to strengthen and reinforce the faith of His people. Though His Word of grace is sufficient, He graciously gives you even more that you may believe and have life in His Name. Still He sends His Apostles, His pastors and undershepherds to proclaim His Word of grace and to show you His holy wounds, His blessed sacraments, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper, that you may believe and have life in His Name.
Eight days later, on the next Sunday, again Jesus appeared to His disciples, this time Thomas being with them. He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”Theologians have disagreed whether Thomas touched the Lord or not. Some have maintained that the text does not expressly say that Thomas touched and that it was likely sufficient that he saw – “Seeing is believing.”However, I am inclined to believe that Thomas in fact did touch Jesus’ wounds. After all, this was the invitation and command of His Lord who, by His Word alone spoke the stars into existence and commanded Lazarus to rise up from death and leave the tomb. Moreover, the Lord would not have you merely see and adore His body and His blood, but invites and commands you to take and eat, to touch and to handle, for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, life, and eternal salvation.
Thomas’ response to this enfleshed Word of grace from Jesus was a confession even more profound that that of Peter, “My Lord and my God!”There was no doubt for Thomas any longer. He had the Word and He had the flesh – He had Jesus, His Lord and His God. And so do you! Jesus asked Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”That is you! You are those who have not seen, not in the way that Thomas and the other Apostles saw, and yet you believe. And to strengthen and reinforce your faith in His Word, Jesus gives you His body and blood that you may touch and handle, taste, and believe, and have life in His Name. In truth, you have something greater than the disciples who ate and drank with their Lord, for you eat and drink your Lord’s body and blood and share communion in and with Him. You couldn’t be any closer to Him than you will be when He raises your body from the dead to commune with Him in heaven.
The resurrection of our Lord has changed everything! The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, never to hold you in death again. He is not there! Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus is not in the tomb. His body does not lie in the grave. He is not there, but He is here – in living Word, living water, living flesh, and living blood – for you. He is here, now, for you, that you, blessed of the Father, may hear and believe and have life in His Name. He is here, for you, now, that you, O Thomas, may touch, handle, taste, see, and believe, “My Lord, and my God!”
In the + Name of the Jesus. Amen.