Sunday, April 21, 2024

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter


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.

It’s a common sentiment that you have to experience the bitter in life in order to enjoy the sweet. This proverb expresses the reality that life is not without its trials and tribulations, pain and suffering, sorrows, and griefs, but that, nevertheless, life is also not without its joys and pleasures, which are augmented and made considerably sweeter by our experience of the bitter. Throughout the ages, poets and writers, philosophers, artists, and musicians have pondered the sublime, tempered joy and peace that comes from embracing these opposing realities of life, the bitter and the sweet. Yet, embracing the pain and the joy of life alone does not gain you a moment more in life, but the bitterest reality still remains – death. Again, the poets and the philosophers, even a good number of spiritualists and religious con-men, have attempted to make this mortal coil that we call life an end in itself, a good in itself, and they have attempted to make death appear good as well. But they deceive themselves, and they would deceive you, denying that you are more than dust and ashes, skin and bone. For the truth is that the sweetest of your life’s sweet moments are but a faint and distant cry compared to the joy that will be, and already is, yours in Jesus Christ who promises that, while “you have sorrow now, […] I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Certainly, of all men, your Lord Jesus was, as Isaiah prophesied, a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Though He had no sin or guilt of His own, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. Jesus knows what it means to be a man, to experience the bitterness of pain and sorrow, grief, and suffering. He wept bitterly at the death of his friend Lazarus and He had great compassion upon a little girl who had died and tenderly raised her to life saying, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” He knew the anguished isolation of those cut off from their families and friends, even from worship in the temple, such as those with illnesses like leprosy and others declared to be unclean because they were sinners, like tax collectors and prostitutes. He knew the vulnerability and the suffering of the poor and the widowed, and He knew the hopelessness, despair, and dreadful loneliness of the imprisoned. Jesus knows man’s fear and dread of death and his fervent desire and futile attempts to avoid it, to deny it, to euphemize it, and to explain it away. And, as a man, He suffered the torment and the torture that men suffer when facing death, and He did not seek a way around it, but He commended Himself into His Father’s hands that His will be done.

Apart from faith in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, grief and sorrow, pain and suffering, and death have no meaning or purpose at all, but they are a reality that must be tolerated and endured, whose cause and purpose is unknown and therefore is dreaded and feared, rationalized, euphemized, and explained away. But, because of Jesus, you do not have to dread and fear suffering and death, for they have been defeated. Indeed, your Good Shepherd Jesus has given Himself into death and has passed, alive, through it. Now He leads you, His precious sheep, purchased in His holy blood through suffering and death as well. For, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is not some distant foreign place you have yet to arrive, but it is here, and it is now. The Valley of Death is this world in which you live and breathe, go to school and work, raise your families, and experience pain and sorrow, bitter suffering, and death along with a multitude of sweet joys. What the poets and philosophers and the false teachers tell you, however, is that this is all there is – birth, life, death – and that you should embrace suffering and death as good friends, that it’s all part of the great circle of life. But that is a lie! You were not created for death, but for life with your Creator. You were not meant to suffer loss and pain as your loved ones are snatched from you in death and as your own body succumbs to decay and withers away, but you were born into an eternal family, in the beginning, and now. Do not listen to the spirits of this world but listen to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has sent into the world to counsel and console you and to guide you on the path to truth and life.

In preparing His disciples for His own suffering and death which He was about to accomplish, Jesus taught them, likely on the Thursday night before His death as they were finishing the Passover meal, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection, but His words have meaning for us beyond that immediate context. Though He had taught them repeatedly that He must suffer and die and on the third day rise again, the disciples did not understand or believe Jesus’ words. When He was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed on Friday, they were all terrified and they fled – they all believed Him dead and gone. Even when Jesus rose on the third day, just as he said, and appeared to them, they did not believe Him until He showed them His hands and His side – then they were filled with joy in the presence of their resurrected Lord. But, forty days later, Jesus was taken from them again as He ascended in glory to the right hand of His Father in heaven. Then, ten days after that, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them. The ministry of the Church of Christ had begun. From Pentecost on, the Gospel proclamation of the Church of Christ has remained: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

But, the disciples asked, “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” It is a bit ambiguous, isn’t it? When your child asks, “When can I watch TV?” sometimes you answer, “In a little while”, then you go off and forget all about it altogether, right? And what may be a little while to you can seem like an eternity to someone else. Indeed, the little while between Jesus’ death and resurrection was approximately thirty-six hours (three days by Jewish reckoning). But the little while between Jesus’ ascension and His return? Well, it’s been almost 2,000 years, and we’re still waiting for a little while.

Or are we? Before His ascension, Jesus commissioned His disciples, then apostles, to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them. And, He promised them, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Jesus has kept His promise to be with them, and He is keeping His promise to be with you, now. Jesus is present with you and for you with the rod and staff of His Word of Law and Gospel. Jesus is present with you in the cool, cleansing waters of Holy Baptism. And Jesus is with you at the table of His body and blood which He has prepared for you in this Valley, in the presence of enemies who want you stay in the Valley of the Shadow of Death forever, and not enter into the Father’s House, where sheep may safely graze.

Your Good Shepherd Jesus is with you in this little while, faithfully shepherding you through life, with all its griefs and sorrows, with all its bitterness and sweetness. Your Good Shepherd Jesus is with you in this little while, faithfully shepherding you through death into joy that no one will take from you. Your enemy wants you to not believe this. Your enemy wants you to believe that this life is all there is so that you live for the now, seeking to avoid, deny, euphemize, or explain away suffering and death and so miss out on the joy of eternal life. Your enemy seeks to keep you in bondage to desires and passions of the flesh so that you seek and clamor to store up treasure on earth, to feed your pride and every selfish indulgence, to view your brothers and sisters and neighbors as competitors to keep you from attaining your insatiable goals.

Thus St. Peter exhorts you to live as sojourners and exiles, pilgrims passing through this life and world. Receive, enjoy, and share the worldly things you have as rich blessings from your gracious Lord and God, but do not live for them and thus make them your masters and gods. Treat all persons with respect and love that they may see Christ in you and glorify God. And, when you are persecuted because of your faith, remember that they so persecuted your Lord, and that the student is not greater than the teacher. And know this: that you will sorrow, and the world will rejoice, but only for a little while. Then you will see Jesus and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Jesus sets joy before you as an objective reality. The joy of which Jesus speaks is not a subjective emotion, but it is communion with God, it is life as it was meant to be, life of which the sweetest moments now are but the dimmest shadows of, a life and joy that no one will ever be able to take from you. This joy is as sure and certain and real now as is the child that will be born at the end of a woman’s labor. The joy that a mother experiences at the birth of her child far eclipses the sorrow and suffering of her labor so that it is no longer remembered. In a similar way, this life of yours is but the travails of labor. When you are born into new life in the resurrection, you will no longer remember the sorrow and suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.

This Jesus, who is your Good Shepherd, is also your God who made you and loves you and who will faithfully see you home. He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength. They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. He will preserve you during this little while. And what is a little while of bitterness and sweetness from the perspective of an eternity of the sweetest joy? It is true that you have to experience the bitter to enjoy the sweet, but even grief, sorrow, suffering, and death have become less bitter because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, in a little while, the bitterness will be no more.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Misericordias Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter


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.

“Know thine enemy.” That’s a teaching of Sun Tzu from “The Art of War.” There’s a certain comfort in knowing your enemy. Better the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t know, right? When you know your enemy, you feel that you know yourself – that is, your enemy is “them” while you belong to some group of people called “us.” “Us,” and “them.” It’s comforting to be “us”, isn’t it? Being “us” means that you know what you believe, you know what you value, you know that you are right. But most of all, being “us” means that you know that you’re not “them.”

I learned from a wise professor several years ago that no man is my enemy. Let me repeat that for you – No human being is your enemy. I had to learn that, and still it’s hard for me to remember, and it’s even harder to believe! I suspect it will be hard for you too, and that you will have to learn this. But it’s true, no man is your enemy. And yet, you do have an enemy, an enemy that is common to all men, and you may be surprised to hear that your enemy is not Satan, the devil, though he is most assuredly against you, but the common enemy of all men is not Satan, but fear.

Satan is not your enemy, because Satan has been defeated in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. Likewise, for the same reasons, death is not your enemy, because death has been defeated. But, fear is your enemy because fear is the fruit of unbelief. Neither Satan nor death can keep you from life in Jesus Christ, but fear can do that because fear keeps you from fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. If you truly believe that Satan is defeated, then why do you fear him? And, if you truly believe that death is defeated, then why do you fear death? And, if you truly believe Jesus when He promises you that, even though you die, you will live forever, then why do you put your fear, love, and trust in worldly and material things and in the health of your body and in the labor of your hands? And, why do you fear losing these things?

Do you not see how your fear of losing things keeps you in slavery? You fear losing your job. You fear losing your home. You fear losing your health. You fear losing your independence. You fear losing the love of your spouse and your children. As a nation, we fear losing our possessions and our way of life. We say that we fear losing our freedom, but I wonder about that when we are so enslaved by fear of losing all the things we’re so afraid of losing! The time, energy, money, and resources that we spend on keeping and defending our possessions is immense and all consuming. It is like mighty shackles and chains that keep us from living in freedom and without fear.

But, why are you so afraid? What are you truly afraid of? Jesus Christ has conquered God’s enemy, Satan, so that in Him you have no enemy either in spirit or in flesh. Christ died to set you free, and He rose again from the dead as living proof that death and Satan have been defeated and you are free. But, Satan and men alike will use fear to cast you back in chains, to enslave you once again. They will lie to you and deceive you so that you begin to doubt that you are free in Christ, so that, setting your sights only upon this earthly life, you begin to fear once again losing earthly and material things. Indeed, fear is a powerful enemy that can motivate you to become selfish and unloving, angry, hateful, violent, and murderous. Fear can become for you an idol, a god, and fear is not a god that loves, or gives, or sets free, but fear is a god that takes, and binds, enslaves, and kills you and those you would and should love.

Jesus died to set you free from fear that you may worship the living God who is love, who gives of Himself, and who has set you free from sin, Satan, and death that you may live forever in Him. He has said to you repeatedly, “Do not fear”, and He has given you His Peace in His Son raised victorious from the grave. He lovingly and graciously gives you all that you need to support your body and life and more, for when you give to others of what He gives to you, He continues to give you even more. He doesn’t force you to give, He doesn’t force you to do anything – fear does that – but He invites you to give of what He has given you and He promises that in your giving you will also receive.

On the contrary, fear keeps you self-centered and curved in on yourself. Fear never gives but always takes. Fear separates you from others and it compels you to name them enemy. Fear compels you to name your brother your enemy, to judge him and condemn him, then to cut him off and to kill him. But, God is love, and love never does harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Love always gives, even to those who would harm you. Love always gives, therefore love is always free, not coerced or compelled. And, with the measure you give it will be measured back to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be poured into your lap.

Today is Misericordias Domini, which means the mercies of the Lord. But this Sunday is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The image of our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ serves a perfect example of the sacrificial love and mercy that you are called to in Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He does not flee in fear when the wolf comes, as do the hired hands, but instead He throws Himself into the jaws of the beast to protect His sheep. The Good Shepherd does not fear the wolf because He knows the Father and the Father knows Him, that is, because He fears, loves, and trust in God above all things. Though the wolf can hurt Him, and even kill Him, He does not fear, because neither wolf nor death is His enemy and the love of God is stronger than both wolf and death. The hired hands, on the other hand, forsake their callings and run from the wolf, leaving the sheep under their care to be killed. Because of fear, the hired hands are turned in on themselves and care nothing for the sheep. Such a powerful enemy is fear.

Fear is the absolute opposite of love, and that is why fear is your greatest enemy. As your Pastor, I know that you are afraid, and your God knows that you are afraid. All around you, in the news media and in the images you see and in the words that you hear, these tell you that you should be afraid. There are people who want to take your money. There are people who want to harm your children. There are people that want to kill you. You are afraid of losing your jobs, your homes, your comfort, your health, your independence, your security in retirement. There are endless wars on countless fronts. There are tornados and earthquakes and tsunamis and the threat of nuclear disaster. There are cancers of all sorts and tainted food and drink and air. Our youth are in danger of drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, and depression. There are cyber-predators, cyber-bullies, and cyber-identity theft. And our church membership is aging and dying and, by and large, younger generations seem uninterested, what will we do? We are so afraid!

In his first inaugural speech, after a time arguably much worse than now, speaking of the Great Depression and the prospect of turning the U.S. economy around, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This is most certainly true, that is, if your fear is in, or the result of, anything other than your God. For your God does indeed expect that you fear Him – that is, that you revere Him and trust in Him and love Him above everything else, above all that you have, above all that you need or want, above even your life and your death. But your God who expects this fear of you also says to you, “Do not be afraid”, for He alone is the giver of life and of all things needful, and not a solitary soul comes into this life or leaves it apart from His will and power. And, He has revealed Himself as the God who loves, even the God who is love, who has loved you so that He laid down His own life unto death that you would live with and in Him. So, apart from your God, there is absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth that you should fear or fear losing – absolutely nothing. And to live without fear, dear children in Christ, is to be truly free.

Blessed be the Father who has set us free from fear through the death and resurrection of His Son in the love of His Holy Spirit. And, to this Most Holy Trinity be true fear, love, and trust, and glory and praise both now and forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Quasimodo Geniti - The Second Sunday of Easter


John 20:19-31; 1 Peter 2:2; 1 John 5:4-10


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

What do you crave? What do you desire? What do you long for? Maybe you crave chocolate, or ice cream, or peanut butter. Maybe you desire fame, or power, or money. Maybe you long for love, or companionship, or completion. Cravings, desires, and longings are innately selfish, that is, they are primarily concerned about what the self wants, what the self needs, and what the self requires. Human beings are quivering masses of wants, needs, and desires – we all have them, all the time. In our day to day lives, however, we have to control our appetites, our cravings and desires, that’s what it means for us to mature and to become civilized. If we do not learn to discipline ourselves, to control our appetites, then we become sociopaths and criminals and addicts; our appetites and our desires to have and to consume end up consuming ourselves and, consequently, those around us.

Of course, what you crave, what you desire, and what you long for does matter – some things are good for you, other things are not. Those who satisfy their craving for broccoli will likely be better off than those who satisfy their craving for chocolate covered bacon. But then again, cravings, desires, and longings for anythingworldly or creaturely will not satisfy unto everlasting life and will always leave you wanting and needing more.

Your Lord says “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it,” and you will be satisfied. But you are not satisfied. Jesus died for your sins, He is raised for your justification, His hands and side pour forth Holy Gifts from Holy Wounds – water, blood, and Spirit – but you crave, desire, and long to be filled from other fountains. “All this ceremony and sacrament, this is all fine and good, but it doesn’t move me the way I think it should; I want something different.” “Pastor’s a really smart guy. He quotes the Bible and talks a lot about Jesus, but he always talks about sin and how bad I am and his sermons don’t help me in my day to day life. I want something different.” “Why do we have to do the same liturgy every Sunday? Why do we have to have communion every Sunday? I’m bored with our worship service. I want something different.” This is not the food I desire. This is not the drink I crave. I, I, I, me, me, me! Repent. The gifts of God in Jesus Christ are not aboutyou, but they are for you. Repent. Repent of expecting God to conform to your standards. Repent of craving after constant “proof” that God is on your side. Confess your own blindness, your self-interest, your self-infatuation, your “woe-is-me” attitude. Repent and beseech God for the gift of true sight, the gift of faith, which sees that which is unseen, which sees the love of God in Jesus Christ poured out on the cross and raised from the tomb for you.

This is why St. Peter exhorts you, like newborn infants, to crave, desire, and long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God. A newborn infant is the epitome of selfishness, he is concerned only and completely with his own hunger, his own thirst, his own want, his own needs, and desires, so St. Peter is not exhorting you to something unfamiliar or to something that you are incapable of. In fact, the newborn infant is all need; he cannot provide food, drink, shelter, and clothing for himself, and, if left to himself, he will certainly die. The newborn infant must receive from another or he will die. And, mother’s milk is the purest, most wholesome nourishment that the newborn infant can receive, thus St. Peter exhorts you, like newborn infants, to crave, desire, and long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God. It is only good to be selfish for the Lord’s gifts, His Holy Word and His Holy Wounds; there is enough and more for every newborn infant ever born.

That first Easter evening in the upper room was all about the Holy Wounds of Christ, which is to say that it was all about Jesus, crucified, died, risen, and present in His flesh and blood bearing the wounds of His death. Jesus showed His disciples his nail-pierced hands and His sword-pierced side, then He proclaimed to them “Peace be with you.” This was not some friendly greeting, this was a proclamation of the truth – The Peace of God was literally with the disciples, standing in their midst. It is Christ’s wounds that have secured our peace, and it is from those wounds that His peace flows.

It was that Peace that Jesus ordained His apostles to bring to His people, the Peace that is the forgiveness of sins, as He breathed upon them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” And, it is that Peace that I, a called and ordained servant of the Word, am commanded and set apart to bring to you this day – the Peace of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This Peace is testified to by the Holy Spirit who is sent forth from the mouth of God with His Holy Word. This Peace is testified to by the water of Holy Baptism, which washes away your sin and joins you into Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, this Peace is testified to by the blood of Holy Communion, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins; “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

These are the gifts that Christ freely gives, and like newborn infants, you are to long for this pure spiritual milk. That is, you are to depend completely upon the gifts that flow from the Words and the Wounds of Jesus. Your sustenance, your safety, your very existence depends upon Him. What you feel that you want or need is blessedly irrelevant. Your Lord knows what you need and He gives to you all that you need to sustain your bodies and lives. You are called to die to your self and live to God, for in His Holy Word and Holy Wounds is plenteous forgiveness, life, and salvation, for today, and for all eternity.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

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.

“Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?” the women were asked. And so are you asked. What are the daily pursuits and goals that you strive for and toil to achieve, that you worry and fret over with anxious hearts that you will not achieve, or that you will lose? Do you not seek the living amongst the dead, too? That is to say, do you not seek life, and comfort, and security in fleshly and worldly things – in a career, a marriage, a home, a family; in your children’s careers, marriages, homes, and families; in your health, in your health insurance, and in a well endowed and diversified IRA? Do you not think, at times, that these constitute life and make life worth living? Do you not seek the praise, admiration, and envy of men, and appraise your worth and value by the estimation and admiration of others? These things do not give life. They cannot extend or preserve life. In fact, they are lifeless, dead, or dying. Careers are ruined by old age, or by skills becoming obsolete. Marriages are temporary and transient, dying for loss of love and life. Homes need continual repair and lose their initial appeal and value. Families drift apart and hurt each other and separate. Money can’t buy happiness, and it cannot extend life. All things decay, die, and are dying. The decline of your own body and life is living, and dying, proof of that. Truly, you can’t take it with you. There are no U-Haul’s behind the hearse. Why do you seek life and living amongst such dead things as these?

The women weren’t looking for life either. They weren’t looking for the resurrection. The thought never crossed their minds. They came to the tomb looking for the dead. That’s what you expect to find in tombs, after all, isn’t it? The living, they’re at work, at table, or at play. No, they came seeking the dead. They came seeking the dead body of Jesus, to do for it what they failed to finish doing Friday night, to prepare His body for burial. If there was a glimmer of hope when He was alive, after the events of Friday, it was extinguished. For them, Sunday was just another day, the beginning of a new week of hunger and thirst, struggle and toil to put food on the table, clothing on the back, and a roof over the head; a new week of hopes diminished, dreams shattered, and laughter and smiles mixed with grief and sorrow, suffering and pain; a new week of aging and illness and death – that’s what the women woke up expecting on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. They weren’t looking for life. They weren’t looking for the resurrection. And, too often, neither are you.

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Truly, each Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, each Easter Sunday, is an opportunity for you to cleanse out the old leaven of malice and evil; of cynicism, resentment, and unbelief; of indifference and self-righteousness and self-security; of pride and contempt, and more. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Those things are of your sinful past. They are dead and buried. They died with Christ and were buried with Him. They can no longer bind you. They do not define you. Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?

Job had it all. He had great wealth, a large family, a devoted wife and children. He was respected in his community and had many friends. Moreover, he was righteous in the sight of the LORD. Job was righteous, not because he was perfect, sinless, and holy, but because, like Abraham, he believed and trusted in the LORD, and the LORD credited his faith to him as righteousness. Still, the LORD permitted Satan to afflict Job and to take everything from him – his wealth, his family, his respect in the community, his friends, and, finally, even his personal health and well-being. And, let’s face it, sometimes the LORD permits Satan to afflict you and those you love, and to take from you wealth and family, respect and friends, health and well-being. Therefore, receive Job as an example. For, in the midst of all his suffering and affliction, Job refused to curse God and die. Job refused to seek the living amongst the dead. Rather, in faith, Job confessed, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” Job did not look for nor find life and the living amongst the dead, but he looked for the resurrection, confessing, the bodily resurrection of his Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ, and his own bodily resurrection in and through Him, over 1,500 years before Jesus’ birth 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.”

Yes, truly, Job shows you what it means to look for life and the living amongst the living. Job looked for life, then, and now, in the Word and promise of the LORD, not in his wealth and family, his reputation and friends, or in his personal health and well-being. He knew that these were but transient, ephemeral, and temporary things – here today, and gone tomorrow. Those things were passing away, even as his own life was passing away. But Job looked for life, then, and now, that does not pass away, in the LORD of heaven and earth, who created all things and provides all things necessary for your body and your life, just as He has promised, and who will preserve and keep you through life, and through death, unto the resurrection to life that never ends.

“This is the day that the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For, we are not merely remembering that Jesus was raised from the dead on this day, but we are remembering, and we are celebrating, and we are renewing, and we are reconfirming that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, then, now, and always. Jesus was the resurrection and the life promised by God the Father to our First Parents in the Garden just after they rebelled and sinned, plunging themselves, us, and all of creation into sin and death. And Jesus was the resurrection and the life confessed by Job even in the midst of his suffering and affliction. And Jesus was the resurrection and the life for the Apostles, and Stephen, and Ignatius, and Polycarp, and all the Christian Martyrs who would die, and are still dying today, for their confession of Christ. And Jesus is the resurrection and the life for you, today, and tomorrow, and for as many tomorrows as the LORD may grant you.

So, why do you seek the living amongst the dead? Why do you look for life in things that are dead, or dying, and that are passing away? Seek the living, yes! But seek the living with intention and expectation. That is, do not be like the women who came to the tomb early that first Easter morning. They were not seeking the living, but they were seeking the dead. But Jesus is not dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And that has changed everything! In His resurrection, Jesus has cleansed you of the old leaven of malice and evil, selfishness, and self-righteousness. You are a new lump. Jesus has removed the leaven of sin from you and from all who trust in Him.

You are a people called to seek the living with the intent searching and firm expectation of the woman who lost her coins, or the parents who found their boy in the temple. You are called to look for resurrection. Acknowledging the death in all created things, you are to seek, and even to expect, the restoration of relationships, the rebuilding of ruins, provision in sickness, blessing from burdens, and life after the grave. For, after the resurrection, there is life in the world to come, and a promise that seeds, dying now in the ground of the earth, will spring up to new life in the fields of Eternity.

“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Now go, not in fear and trembling, saying nothing to no one, but go and live and tell. Go and seek the living, go and seek the resurrection, not in the things that are dead or dying, but amongst the Living One, Jesus. He lives. He is not dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And you live in Him. Your life is hidden with Him. Therefore, the life you live, you live to Christ. Your life is a new life, a life that will never die.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday


John 18:1 – 19:42; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani. These words our Lord Jesus uttered in His dying breath upon the cross: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? But you must understand that, though these words are words of great distress and anguish, they are not words of hopelessness or despair. Upon the cross we see the full meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus is a human man; He is not a Superman. He eats and He drinks, He sleeps, He laughs, and He weeps, He feels anger, compassion, and love. He knows temptation. He knows pain and anguish. And, upon the cross, He knows what it means to be completely cut off and forsaken by God the Father, as a man. 

It was according to His human nature that Jesus experienced the distress and anguish of separation from the Father, a separation that was the result of sin, your sin, and my sin. You should take notice that nowhere in the narratives of Jesus’ Passion is there a suggestion that Jesus cried out in agony at His scourging, at His beating, or at His crucifixion, though He surely did. The scourging would have left the flesh of Jesus’ back, arms, and legs in bloody ribbons as leather straps with biting shards of bone and stone would have cut, ripped, and torn His flesh with vicious furrows. The repeated vesting and then removal of His robes and clothing, combined with the savage beatings and slappings with hands, fists, sticks, and clubs would have opened His wounds all the more, even as bits of His flesh were torn away. Additionally, the blows to His head would have driven the long, cruel thorns of His crown into His brow, His temples, and His skull. Then, as spikes were driven, not through the thin flesh of His hands, but through His wrists and feet, and the whole weight of his torn and wounded body hung from them upon the cross, He surely writhed and cried out in excruciating pain and anguish. And yet, this is not recorded in the accounts of His Passion. And so, this fact serves to draw our attention to the one cry of Jesus’ anguish that is recorded for us – My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

For Jesus, being forsaken by His Father was the greater anguish by far. As the Divine Only-Begotten Son of God the Father from eternity, there has never been a time that Jesus, according to His Divine Nature, did not know and experience His Father’s gracious presence. And, on the cross, that remained true; the forsakenness that Jesus experienced on the cross was not experienced according to His Divine Nature, but by His divinely assumed human nature. Thus, again, it was as a human man, as human as you and I, that Jesus experienced the distress and the anguish of being truly forsaken by His Father.

This is important for you to know and to remember, for, what Jesus suffered was not for His own guilt and sin, but it was for yours and for mine. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.Further, what Jesus experienced was much less the wrath of God the Father against sin than it was the separation from God that is the result of sin. For, forsakenness is being cut off from the Father’s gracious presence; it is to experience what is the necessary wage of our sin, death, for, apart from God’s gracious presence, left on our own, we are truly dead.

But this is why the Son of God became incarnate, and this is why Jesus was forsaken by His Father and died, that Godforsaken men, that Godforsaken you and Godforsaken me, would be restored to the Father’s gracious presence. All that Jesus experienced in His life, in His temptation, in His suffering, and in His last hours and death upon the cross He experienced and suffered as a human man, as your brother, as your substitute, for you. Now you need never experience the forsakenness of God, for Jesus, as a man, has removed the guilt of your sin forever. God the Father always looks upon you in grace, love, and mercy in and through and for the sake of His Son who submitted to death, even death upon the cross, that you might live.

And, as He suffered the distress and anguish of separation from His Father, Jesus continued to place His fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus did not despair, He was not without hope, but He prayed. He prayed the Psalms, the prayer book of the people of God. He prayed the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” and Psalm 31, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Popular Christian piety holds that Jesus silently recited all the lines of the Psalter that lie between these two verses as He hung upon the cross. Jesus always turned to the Word of God in time of need. According to the writer to the Hebrews, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His [fear of the LORD].”

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Jesus was alone with evil and darkness, yet His words were a prayer, not a cry of despair. He wasn’t accusing God. He wasn’t screaming out in disappointment because the help He had hoped for failed to appear. This isn’t a cry from someone who has lost faith. It is a prayer that pours out from faith like a spring. But, at the same time, Jesus lets us know that He was truly forsaken by God and that He tasted the utmost extreme consequences of our fall from God. He shows us that He is still doing this in obedience to God’s will and that He still has perfect faith in God. So this verse fits very well with the other words of Jesus from the cross. When He says, “It is finished,” He means precisely the work that His Father gave Him to do. He did this when He kept the Law that we beak on every point and when He tasted the consequences of all our neglect and wrongdoing down to the last drop. And when He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” He was also displaying the same obedience and faith. He was obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday)

John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As we began this Holy Week on Palm Sunday, you heard again how your Lord comes to you, in humility, in lowliness, and in service. On this Holy Thursday, you will remember and commemorate and hear once again why He came. He came to you because you could not, and would not, come to Him. He came to you to wash you clean of your sins in His holy and precious blood. He came to restore you to His Father, and more than that, He came to have fellowship with you as a brother, to commune with you as His Bride, to become what you are, man, that you might become what He is, God, partakers of His Divine Nature.

He came as your Passover Lamb that you may eat of His flesh and live, that you may be marked by His blood and the wrath of God pass over you. And so, He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you.” He had always been the Bread of Life, for He is the Word of God incarnate, of which a man may eat and truly live. He sustained Israel in the desert. He satisfied the multitude in the wilderness. Now, He gives His incarnate Word-body-bread for you to eat that you may be sustained and satisfied and more, that He may dwell in you and you in Him, as one flesh, and truly live. You truly live because He is True Life.

In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The covenant is new because Jesus is the fulfillment of the old. Everything that God had promised to Adam (and to the devil!), to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to you, has been fulfilled in the incarnation of His only-begotten Son, His baptism, His passion, death, and resurrection. And so, the holy and precious blood of our Passover Lamb is given to you now to drink. Previously you were forbidden to drink blood, for the life of living things is in the blood. But now, that you may know whence True Life comes, you are given His blood to drink that you may have His Life and truly live. That His blood is given you to drink means that it is much more for you than a sign, it is a seal, it is your life itself. The wrath of God does not only pass over you, but He has no claim on you whatsoever. Jesus freely gave His life unto death in your place so that His blood not only marks you as His own but it seals you in Him, in His death, in His resurrection, and in His life. The sign of this sealing for you is the water and the Word of Holy Baptism.

And so, He rose from supper and laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. Peter was offended by his Master’s servant posture, His lowliness and humility. We share this typical human sentiment. We are scandalized and offended by the seeming weak and lowly ways in which our LORD’s kingdom comes amongst us. How can water, word, bread, and wine do such great things? How can a man forgive sins? And, because we do not understand, we justify ourselves, believing that we do not need such common and foolish things. We rebuke our Lord with Peter saying, “You shall never wash my feet.”

But Jesus answered Peter, with no hint of rebuke, but He simply spoke the Truth, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” It is with humility and lowliness that our Lord comes to us. If we refuse to receive Him in the ways in which He comes then we cannot receive Him at all. Then we will miss out sharing with Him, communing with Him, and we will miss out on all His blessings and benefits including the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

“Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” zealous Peter replied. This side of Peter, too, we can relate to. Dissatisfied with the humble and lowly means in which our Lord comes to us we want to supersize them and make them more glorious. And so, we add to them our own ideas and inventions, feigning piety, and, like the Pharisees, we make the LORD’s free gifts into requirements of the law.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean,” Jesus replied. You have been washed, and you are clean, and that is the Truth. You did not wash yourself; you had nothing that could remove the stain and the guilt of sin. The LORD has washed you in the blood of His Son, the True Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. This washing is yours by baptism and faith. In Christ, you are clean, and one who is clean need only wash his feet in repentance and be cleansed, renewed, forgiven, and restored.

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” Jesus asked. No, they did not. They could not, not until Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; and only then did they fully understand when they received the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In the washing of His disciples’ feet, Jesus had given them an example of how they should live. They were to be extensions of Him, members of His own body. They were to serve others as He had served them. They were to forgive others as He forgave them. And the service and the forgiveness that they would give to others would not be their own, but it would be Christ’s service and forgiveness working through them. Thus, by their humble and merciful service and forgiveness, people would see in them Jesus Christ, for they would see Love.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” It is a new commandment because the old one has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is a not a commandment of the Law, but it is a promise of the Gospel. Jesus gives the new commandment with the promise that His disciples will do as He has done to them. They will serve with His service. They will forgive with His forgiveness. They will love with His love. And the LORD will be glorified as men see in the words and the deeds of His disciples the love of God for all men in Jesus Christ.

And so, we gather this night in remembrance of Him that we might be washed and cleansed anew, forgiven and restored partakers of His Divine Nature, that we might be love as He is love. We do this in remembrance of Him, but this is not a mere memorial, but this is heaven on earth. The Lord said that He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until He would drink it anew with you in His Father’s kingdom. Our Lord, who is raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven is present for you now in this Holy Sacrament with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Our remembrance this evening, and every Lord’s Day, is where True forgiveness, life, and salvation are found that these may continually be manifest in us to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Palmarum (Palm Sunday) - The Second Sunday in Passiontide


Matthew 21:1-9; Matthew 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The last time you heard read the text of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem it was the First Sunday in Advent, last year. Then the text served to prepare you for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. Indeed, today’s hearing stands in stark contrast to that of December past. And yet, it is the same story, describing the same event, and even for the same purpose – to prepare you for the Parousia of Our Lord, His coming and real and abiding presence amongst us.

Following the rebellion of our First Parents, the Parousia, the real presence of the LORD, was a fearful thing: Adam and Eve hid themselves in fear from the presence of the LORD. Moses and Isaiah were afraid to look upon the presence of the LORD. Even in the New Testament, whenever an angel of the LORD appeared before men, they were sore afraid. Such fear, even genuine terror, before the presence of the LORD, was a right and proper response from sinful men prior to the Parousia of the LORD in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, when Isaiah beheld the glory of the LORD in a vision, he was right to confess, “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!”

Yet, it was always the LORD’s will that He would dwell with His people in communion and peace, not in a relationship of fear and distrust. So, the LORD visited His people through various means which served to veil His presence that men might enter into His presence and live. Indeed, the entire sacrificial program of the Tabernacle and the Temple served in this capacity as the LORD covered over men’s sin for a time that they might abide in His presence. Yet, though rivers flowed with the blood of sacrificed bulls, goats, and lambs, the true communion of presence that the LORD willed for His people was only hinted at. But then, when time was full, the LORD sent forth His Son to enter into human flesh, to become a man, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The LORD came in His presence, His Parousia, not in might and power, that men would cower in terror and run away from His presence, but in lowliness and humility, even weakness, as a helpless and poor child, that men might be drawn to Him and receive Him as a gift. In Jesus, the Son and Word of God became flesh and made His Parousia, His real and abiding presence and dwelling, amongst men. He came to His own as one of His own, but His own people did not receive Him. But, to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Isaiah described the humility of the LORD’s Messiah in this way, “He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

It was in this way, humble and lowly, that Jesus entered the Holy City Jerusalem. He did not come in might and power on a war horse with soldiers to subdue and domineer over men, but He came in meekness and humility as a Servant King riding upon a donkey, a beast of burden, with His ragtag band of disciples. Though the people received Him at first, laying down their cloaks and palms, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” how quickly their shouts of joy and praise turned to shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” when it became apparent that He was not the kind of king they were looking for.

What corrupted and sin-twisted minds and hearts men have! We run and hide in terror from the holy presence of the LORD and we reject and crucify His Son when He visited us in His gracious Parousia. Ironically, the very power and might that men so fear, they also crave and desire for themselves. The people wanted a king and a savior that would fight for them against the Romans, a king that would come in warfare and terror against Israel’s enemies and would restore the glory and power and wealth and throne of King David. Men want a tyrant for a god and king, someone who will lay down the law for them to obey and who will enforce it with strength, even brutality. For then we can self-righteously claim that we do it, that we keep the law ourselves, or, if we fail, we can feel justified in disparaging such an unjust ruler.

But your God knows this about you. He knows the double-mindedness of your hearts. He knows your lust for control and power and the admiration of others. He knows the murder in your hearts and how you view others as obstacles to your own success and pleasure. He knows your greed, your lust, and all your insatiable desires and passions. He knows how you care only for yourself and for your selfish wants and desires. He knows all this, yet He loves you; still, He loves you. And so, He comes to you, He brings His real and abiding presence to you, His Parousia, in lowliness and humility, and He lets you have your way with Him that, ultimately, He will have His way with you.

And so, Jesus rides into that mob-like crowd with their sin-warped hopes, desires, and expectations, humble and mounted on a donkey, in lowliness, to be crowned their King. He entered the Holy City Jerusalem, not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life for the world. His throne was not bedecked with gold and jewels, but of wood and nails. His royal crown was made of twisted, savage thorns, His robe a torn, muddied, and bloodied shroud. He was the Son of David, but He was also David’s Lord. He was sinless, but He was condemned and executed as a sinner. He was the Son of God the Father, but He died that we Barabbases, the sons and daughters of sinful human fathers, might live and be free. The LORD’s passion is for you; it has only and ever been for youBehold, your King comes to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted upon donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

His is a real and abiding presence – His Parousia – then, now, and always. He is the LORD who is presentpresent for you, always for you, present to serve. Receive Him now as He comes to you, riding in lowliness and humility in bread and wine, that you may be forgiven, refreshed, strengthened, and restored. The LORD who has created you has also redeemed you, and He wills, not to be worshipped by you as an object, but to commune with you in a relationship of intimacy and unity such that His relationship with our First Parents was but a shadow.

As we together reflect upon His Passion this Holy Week, may we remember that it was in divine and holy love that the LORD has visited His people. He came to His own, who could not and would not come to Him, to restore them to Himself. Even though they rejected Him, mocked Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him, He came to them to lay down His life for them, to die for them, that they might live through Him, in Him, and with Him. In His dying Words He plead the Father’s forgiveness, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and through Jesus, they, and we, are forgiven. All this He gladly suffered.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Judica (Lent 5)


John 15:18 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Job 1:6-22; Psalm 119:65-72


As Christ Suffered, So Shall We

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Humankind has struggled to understand the meaning of suffering since the Fall in the Garden. After the Fall women were cursed to bear children through pain and sorrow, man would eat bread by the sweat of his brow, the earth would bring forth thorns and thistles, and man and woman would struggle against each other for power and the upper hand. And then we die. This was not the LORD’s will or doing, but this was man’s fatal choice. Adam and Eve are the only humans to know what life was like before suffering, but still they freely chose to reject it and throw it all away. We can take small comfort that they were lied to and deceived, for now lies and deceptions are the air we breathe so that we struggle to even know the truth, and many deny that there is truth at all. For, the truth is, men hate the truth, for truth exposes our lies and deceits with which we have grown all too comfortable and at peace. We are slaves dining off the fleshpots of Egypt.

Nearly universally, humankind considers suffering bad, evil, and something to castigate, avoid, transcend, or escape. The Buddha taught that suffering is the result of desire and our insistence that we are permanent and distinct from other things that exist. The path of enlightenment is to transcend the physical, fleshly, material, and worldly, which are all deceptions of desire, and to discover that everything is nothing and nothing is everything. According to such a philosophy there is no good or evil, right or wrong, black or white, male or female, plant, animal, spirt, god, etc. But, of course, suffering continues because, try as you might to be content with nothing, the flesh covets and desires what others have, gets bored and discontent with what it has, and we are plunged back into even greater suffering. So, they invented reincarnation, an ancient precursor to purgatory, because we all need a second, third, fortieth, hundredth, etc. chance. After the Enlightenment, things were no better. The German philosophers Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and others continued to teach that suffering is the human condition and that the only answer is transcendent denial and escapism or to accept it and use it to one’s advantage in the exercise of will to power over weaker human sufferers.

Suffering is the result of sin, but that doesn’t make suffering bad or evil. Suffering is a consequence of rebellion against the good, God’s will, word, and law. Lucifer was the first to rebel and thus the first to suffer. Satan’s temptation of our First Parents is truly nothing more than a desperate attempt to alleviate his suffering by inflicting suffering upon others; after all, misery loves company. Nevertheless, suffering is from the LORD. What I mean is that God permits his people to suffer, sometimes he even sends the suffering himself, it is his will. I know that this seems outrageous, even sinful and blasphemous, and yet it is the consistent truth and teaching of the Holy Scriptures. If God permits it, if God wills it, then suffering is good. Scripture is replete with such examples.

Paul confessed that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. […] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Remember, suffering is the result of our sin, the wages of sin is death and everything that precipitates death. But death was as much God’s word and will as was life, for he attached his word and command to two trees, one that gave life and another that brought death. Further, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” All that Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, and his own arrogance and pride, though others meant it for evil, the LORD meant it for good so that many people would be saved. Job was a righteous man in the LORD’s eyes, and yet the LORD gave him into Satan’s hands to inflict suffering upon him, to strip him of all blessings of wealth, family, health, and joy, that the LORD’s righteousness might be revealed. Jesus taught similarly about a man who was born blind saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And the list, and the examples, goes on and on.

Suffering is not evil in its own right, but it the result of evil and sin. Suffering is a result of sinful rebellion and disobedience under God’s righteous will and law. Humankind brought sin, suffering, and death into the world, but the LORD used sin, suffering, and death to defeat them: God gave his only Son who knew no sin to become sin for us; Jesus suffered for our sins; he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; Jesus died in our place as our substitute; the LORD laid on his Son the iniquity of us all.

Buddha and the philosophers weren’t entirely wrong: Life is suffering. We all suffer in one way or another, at one time or another. Suffering is the result of sin: Original sin, your sin, my sin, sin in general. But suffering has been sanctified in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We all suffer the result of sin in the world, in our desires, and in our flesh, but we can suffer for that alone, or we can suffer for the sake of Jesus who has suffered all for us. To be a Christian is to suffer differently than the heathen; it is to suffer for Christ, for our witness and confession of him. This is the suffering that St. Peter and our Lord Jesus exhort us to expect and even to rejoice in. Peter writes, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” Our Lord Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the word hates you.” We all suffer, but our suffering is sanctified in Christ. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed,” writes St. Peter, “but let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

When we suffer for doing good, we share in Christ’s sufferings. What a privilege! We don’t deserve to share in Christ’s sufferings. We are not perfect or holy. And yet, we are privileged or counted worthy of suffering for Christ and for sharing in his sufferings. This privilege is given to us by grace, God’s unmerited favor. If we share in Christ’s sufferings, we ought to rejoice. Suffering is a good thing because it means that God loves us. It means that the Holy spirit rests on you. It means that you are blessed. If you share in his sufferings, you shall also share in his glory when he is revealed from heaven on the last day to judge both the living and the dead. Suffering is not a bad or evil thing. Suffering is inevitable. But what you suffer for makes all the difference. You may suffer as a malefactor, or you may suffer as a benefactor. Christ suffered as a Benefactor, a do-gooder, and was exalted to the right hand of God. May we share in his sufferings as benefactors so that we might share in his glory by grace when he is revealed.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen. 

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Judica - The Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lent 5)


John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The First Gospel proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures occurs quite early, in Genesis 3:15, immediately following our First Parents’ rebellion against God and His Word and their consequent fall into sinful concupiscence and its fruits of spiritual death now, and physical and eternal death in time for themselves and for all their progeny. The First Gospel comes as part of the curse spoken to Satan: “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.” Our First Parents understood that the LORD intended to provide a human man, a son of their own flesh, who would destroy the power of Satan even as He suffered a fatal wound from the devil Himself. So literally and immediately did they understand this Good News that, when Eve gave birth to her firstborn son Cain, believing that the Gospel prophecy had already been fulfilled, she exclaimed, “I have gotten a man, the Lord!”

However, Cain was not the promised Messiah. In fact, Cain became the first murderer, shedding the blood of his brother Abel: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Origins matter. Who’s your daddy matters. Adam and Eve had plunged themselves and all of God’s creation into sin, corruption, decay, and death. Adam was a sinner, bound to die. Eve was a sinner, bound to die. Together, all they could produce from their own flesh were sinners, bound to die. This is true for you and me as much as for Our First Parents, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our own parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and for all. Everything we produce from our flesh – our words, thoughts, and deeds, our children – is sinful, corrupt, decaying, and destined for death. Thus St. Paul exclaimed, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

The scribes and the Pharisees in particular, and the children of Israel in general, prided themselves that they had Abraham as their father. Their fear, love, and trust, their self-righteous security, was not in the LORD, but it was in their blood descent and lineage from the man they called their father, Abraham. However, Abraham was no less a sinner, corrupt, and destined for death than was his father Terah, and his father before him. To be a child of Abraham and of the Gospel promise and of the covenant the LORD made to Him – which was truly a reiteration of the First Gospel promise made to Satan in the hearing of our First Parents in the Garden – was to be a spiritual descendant of Abraham, believing and trusting the Word of the LORD as their spiritual father Abraham had done so many centuries before. Thus, Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here.” “Why do you not understand what I say?” Jesus continued, “It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” And then, showing that their sinful, blind misunderstanding was really no different than was Adam and Eve’s at the birth of Cain, Jesus said to them, “He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

It is Jesus who is the true Son of Abraham, the true Son of the LORD’s Promise to Abraham, the true Seed of the Woman, who would bruise, even crush, the serpent’s head. When the LORD commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to test his faith and trust, Abraham believed and trusted in the LORD once again as he did when the LORD first called him and made His covenant promise to him to provide him a land, a son and a people through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. The LORD spared Abraham’s promised son Isaac and provided a sacrifice as a substitute, just as Abraham prophesied as they made their way to the mountain saying, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Abraham sacrificed the ram caught in the thicket by its horns in the place of his son of promise, Isaac. But, Abraham believed, knew, and confessed that that ram was but a type and a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose blood would take away the sins of the world.

This is what Jesus meant when He said to the scribes and the Pharisees, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” What Abraham saw was that God would indeed provide a sacrificial Lamb that would be a substitute, not only for his son of promise Isaac, but for all men of all times and all places. The LORD spared Abraham’s son and kept His covenant promise that, through an heir from Abraham’s own flesh, He would bless all the nations of the world. Abraham’s son was spared and lived and became the father of Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel. But, the LORD’s only-begotten Son, His Beloved, He did not spare, but gave Him over as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all humanity. Of this the preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not be means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

In Jesus’ death, Isaac was redeemed, Abraham was redeemed, Adam and Eve, you and I and all the humankind were redeemed. All those conceived of the seed of man are conceived and born in sin, bound for death. But Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and the seed of the woman. Jesus’ father was not a human man, but God Himself was His Father, thus He bore not the taint and corruption, sin, and death of original sin. The death He died was not for His own sin but for yours and all men, the sin of the world. God, His Father offered up His innocent Son as a sin-offering for your sin and guilt. Jesus, God’s Son, willingly laid down His life in love and obedience for His Father and for you. And the Holy Spirit was given to create faith in your hearts that you may trust in Jesus and become true sons of Abraham, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. If God is your Father, you will love Jesus and you will hear His Word, you will listen to, believe, and trust in His Son, his Word made flesh, crucified, died, risen, reigning, and returning. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.”

Two weeks ago, on Oculi Sunday, the Third Sunday In Lent, the scribes and the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, Satan. That was blasphemy, even the sin against the Holy Spirit, for it was the Holy Spirit, the Finger of God, in and through the Word of God, who exorcised the demons. Today, once again, the scribes and the Pharisees utter blasphemy by calling the work of the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus, the work of demons and of the devil. Thus, Jesus now pronounces His harshest rebuke of the scribes and the Pharisees saying, “You are of your father the devil.” Their accusations continue, even in the face of the clear fulfillment of the Word of the LORD in Jesus’ teaching and miracles. Like Pharaoh of old, they hardened their hearts against the Word of the LORD, against Jesus, and against the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearing, they do not hear; thus, seeing, they do not see. For, the sin against the Holy Spirit is a willful and intentional rejection and opposition to the Holy Spirit. Such a sin is unforgiveable because only the Holy Spirit can create and sustain faith, and He is rejected and refused. The scribes and the Pharisees knew precisely who Jesus claimed to be, and that He backed up His claim with the clear Word of the LORD and with miraculous signs fulfilling Messianic prophecy. When they rejected Jesus, they knew who they were rejecting. Thus, when Jesus finally proclaimed the Divine Name of Yahweh for Himself saying, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” they reacted violently, full of rage and hatred, and attempted to stone Him to death. As Satan was a murderer from the beginning, so are his children murderers, hateful, and liars. They cannot convict Jesus of sin, therefore they call His holy works by the Holy Spirit sinful and demonic. That is blasphemy, to call the work of the Holy Spirit sinful and demonic. They call good evil and evil good – just like their father Satan.

Origins matter. Who’s your daddy matters. If you have God as you Father, you will love His Son and listen to His Word. The Holy Spirit will make His home with you and protect and keep you, equip and send you as light in this world of sin, death, and darkness. As Jesus taught His disciples, His mother and His brothers, His family, are “those who hear the Word of the LORD and keep it.” You are the true spiritual children of Abraham, the New Jerusalem. You are marked, named, and claimed as God’s own children in Holy Baptism, with a circumcision of the heart and rebirth of spirit. You have been judged already, vindicated, declared “Not guilty!” in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb of God’s own offering. Because of this, you need not fear death, for, truly, you will never taste it! You have already died with Christ and have been raised with Him. The second death cannot harm you. Abraham died, yes. The prophets died. You will die, but death cannot hold you, because it could not hold Jesus, and you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. But, those who reject Jesus, who reject God’s Word, who reject His Holy Spirit cannot be saved. There is no other way.

You will be rejected by those who reject Jesus, for the disciple is not above his Teacher. As they did to Him, so will they do to you. Today our Lenten pilgrimage to the cross intensifies as we meditate more deeply upon Jesus’ Passion and our sins for which He suffered and died. Jesus is our ram caught in the thicket of biting whips, piercing thorns and nails. Nonetheless, take heart, have hope, and be comforted, for you have been vindicated, you have been judged “Not guilty!” in Jesus’ cleansing blood. Already you have died, have been raised, born again into a new life that cannot die! Your Great High Priest Christ Jesus has entered into the holy presence of God His Father for you, with His own holy, innocent blood. He is your head, and where your head is your body will soon be. Until then, Jesus communes with you, forgiving you, feeding you, strengthening you, preserving and protecting you with His precious body and His holy blood. He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in day of Christ Jesus. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.