Monday, May 23, 2022

Christian Funeral for Richard Edward Spier

(Audio)


John 10:11-16; 1 John 3:1-2; Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25

 

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

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” I suggest to you that Richard believed those words and lived his life in accordance with those words. And that is precisely why we are here today – to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks and praise to God for Richard’s faith and life. What do I mean? Well, it is clear that Emil and Louisa Marie, Richard’s parents, believed and lived those words as well, for they saw to it that Richard was baptized, instructed in the faith, and that he was confirmed in the faith so many years ago. And because of this loving work of his faithful parents, who did what Christian parents are called to do, Richard became the Christian man, husband, and father that he was, and he and Darla fulfilled their Christian vocations as parents and saw to it that their children, Lori, Darci, and Traci were also baptized, instructed in the faith, and were confirmed in the faith. And you, in turn, have your own children and even grandchildren. And so it is that we have three, four, even five generations of Christians, each training up their children in the way they should go, with the hope that they will not depart from it, as Christians are all called to do.

The LORD called Richard by name in Holy Baptism. The LORD shepherded His dear sheep Richard throughout his life here in the valley of the shadow of death. And now the LORD has called his faithful sheep Richard home where His sheep may safely graze. Truly, Richard’s life was bookended by the grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness of the LORD, and Richard’s life was sustained and continues even now through the same. In his life, Richard was already God’s child through holy baptism and faith, and what he will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when Jesus appears in glory on the Last Day, we will see Him, and all who have gone before us in the faith, face to face. Therefore, we do not grieve as others do, asthose who have no hope, but we grieve in the hope of the resurrection on the Last Day when we will see our Lord and those we love with our own eyes, hear them with our own ears, and hug them with our own arms once again. And our Lord Jesus promises, no one will take our joy from us ever again.

Richard was a bit of a homebody. He loved the outdoors – hunting, fishing, gardening – but he liked to do this with his family, his daughters, and not so much with a large group of people. He was a family man, and with his family, in their family home, doing family things, that’s where he loved to be. That is where and how he showed his love, the love of Christ in him: Taking care of sister Carol while their parents worked on the farm. Taking his daughters fishing. Twiddling Darla’s ear each morning. In these quiet, simple, unassuming ways Richard showed his love. Sister Carol loved her brother and depended upon him so much that, when Richard and Darla got married, she was afraid she was going to lose her brother forever. She didn’t lose her brother, of course, but rather she gained a sister. A story that would always get a laugh out of Richard was remembering Nate’s baptism. The pastor had explained about the water and what would happen when he was baptized and Nate asked the pastor, “Do I need to put my swim trunks on?” Home. Family. Faith. Love. That is what Richard loved most.

“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.” No Nate, you don’t need your swim trunks in order to be baptized, but baptism and faith are what make us children of God. We are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. That means that Jesus’ death is our death, it counts for us, and Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection, it counts for us also. And because Jesus is raised from the dead we believe that we too will be raised. Even so we have already been raised in spirit to that new life that will never die. That is why St. John says that we are God’s children now. In this life, lived here in this valley of the shadow of death, we are already God’s children. And when we pass out of this valley, as Richard has done, we know that we will be with Jesus, just as He promised that repentant man who was crucified with Him, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” All of the qualities and gifts of Richard that you remember, only a few of which we have actually mentioned this day, are fruits of that new life he lived in Jesus as God’s own child through baptism and faith.

Our Good Shepherd Jesus knows His sheep. He knows each one by name and He calls them and they follow Him. Our Good Shepherd Jesus called Richard, and Richard followed Him. And through Richard, Jesus has called you too, so there will be one flock, one shepherd. Jesus is our Good Shepherd because He laid down His life for His sheep. He did not flee when the wolf threatened, but He threw Himself into the wolf’s jaws and broke the beast’s teeth so that he can harm us no longer. Jesus had authority to lay down His life, and Jesus had authority to take it up again. Death is defeated. Jesus lives. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)

(Audio)

John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:49

 

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

Jesus is making an important distinction in our Gospel reading today. For, there is a big difference between asking of Jesus and asking in His Name. But just what is Jesus talking about? In the former situation, Jesus serves as an intermediary; you ask Jesus for something you want and He, in return, makes your request known to the Father. And that’s pretty good, to be sure! However, in the latter situation, you get to ask the Father directly in Jesus’ Name. To ask the Father in Jesus’ Name is not merely to tack the words “In Jesus’ Name” on to the end of your prayers, though it is certainly that, but, to ask in Jesus’ Name means to ask in faith in Jesus and the Father, and, not merely as an object, mind you, but incorporated into Jesus, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, as His Bride, His Brother, and co-heir with Him of His Father’s kingdom.

Thus, both your prayer and your Father’s answer to your prayer are rooted in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. When the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, it wasn’t only that He became a man, but He also assumed all humanity into Himself. Jesus didn’t become a man, He became the Man, He became Adam as Adam was meant to be and more! As in Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man, so in Jesus are all men made to be righteous.

However, you must be in Him. That is to say, you must have faith, not merely in Him, as an object apprehended by reason, but you must have the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit in you. For, faith in Christ is not merely intellectual assent, but it is communion in and with Him. Faith comes from hearing. That is, faith comes from outside of you, it is external to you, received through your ears, your eyes, and whatever other senses you have or require. But, when you hear, your whole body and person is affected. Likewise, Jesus taught, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” Therefore, faith in Christ Jesus changes you, and for the better. If Christ is in you, then you are a new creation, the old has passed away.

This is why Jesus says to you, “In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” To ask in Jesus’ Name is to ask, not merely for His sake or because of His intercession, but to ask as God’s own dear Son would ask His Father knowing that He will be heard and received and His request granted. Do you see the difference? Because of the incarnation; because the Word of God, His Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, assumed the form of a man, He has taken you into Himself so that all that belongs to Him is granted to you: Sonship with the Father, holiness and righteousness, eternal life. Faith is what makes these things yours, which incorporates you into Christ, but faith is itself a gift of God’s Holy Spirit through the vehicle of His Word. Where the Word of God is received and not rejected, the Father will love him, and the Holy Trinity will come to him and make His home with him.

Jesus shared these words and made this important distinction to prepare His disciples for His going away. He said to them, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus knew, Jesus promised that His followers would suffer because of Him, therefore, He told them beforehand that, when tribulation came, they would remember His words and be strengthened in their faith to persevere through suffering. In a typological way, today’s reading from the Old Testament describes the same situation.

In the Old Testament reading, the people of Israel became impatient in their journey. They began to doubt whether the LORD was with them and they feared the Edomites, seeking to journey around their land so as to avoid conflict with them. Further, they came to loathe the sustaining food that the LORD had provided for them and they began to grumble against God and against Moses. Therefore, the LORD sent fiery serpents to bite the people and many of them died. Now, chances are likely that, had they passed through the land of the Edomites, there would have been some sort of conflict. God never promised that there wouldn’t be. Further, He is fully able to bring good out of such conflict, even out of evil (remember the Ninevites). Moreover, as they were journeying through an arid wilderness, the likelihood of being bitten by a poisonous snake was relatively high. Nevertheless, the LORD did increase the people’s affliction in order to turn them in repentance that they might pray to Him and call upon Him once again as LORD and God. For, the truth was that, just as danger and evil was amongst them all the time, all the more was the LORD in the midst of them all the time.

Therefore, the LORD commanded Moses to make a fiery serpent and to set it on a pole, so that, anyone who was bitten, when he gazed upon the fiery serpent raised up on the pole, would not die, but live. To the bronze serpent, the LORD, who was always present with His people, attached His Word of promise. Though it was, in their eyes, a horrible image, the very symbol of their pain and suffering and death, nevertheless, God made it to be the means of healing and life. Yet, the bronze serpent was but a shadow and a type of the horrible image God would raise up on the cross – His Son, Jesus Christ. He would not be an image of bronze fashioned by human hands, but He would be the very Son and Word of God Himself, conceived by the Holy Spirit of a virgin woman, so that He is True Man and True God. All who hear His Word and keep it, all whose eyes are filled with His Light, all who are baptized into His death and resurrection and believe Him will live, even though they die, and those who live and believe in Him will never die. While merely gazing upon the bronze serpent was sufficient to cure those bitten by the deadly poisonous serpents, how much more does faith and communion with Christ who shares your flesh and blood as your Bridegroom, Brother, and Co-heir of His Father, cure you of the deadly poison of sin and death you have suffered from Satan’s deadly bite?

You don’t need to ask Jesus for what you need, for now you can ask the Father in Jesus’ Name. That is, you can ask the Father with faith in Jesus; you can ask the Father in communion with Jesus; and, you can ask the Father as Jesus asks His heavenly Father and is heard because He is loved by the Father and you are loved by the Father in Him. Thus, asking in Jesus’ Name is literally asking in Jesus, as Jesus’ Bride, Brother, body and blood. Asking in Jesus’ Name is asking for those things that Jesus would ask for, those things that are completely in willing accord with the Father’s will, Word, and wisdom. No, the Father will not give you everything that you ask for, but He will give you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name.

To help you to understand what it means to be in Jesus and to ask the Father in Jesus’ Name, you have the words of St. James in today’s Epistle Reading, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James would have you understand that you have been changed by faith in Christ, that you are no longer who you were, but that you are a new creation, born again by water and the Holy Spirit. Thus, you are no longer one who merely hears God’s Word, but you are one whom God’s Word has penetrated and raised from death to life in Christ. You are not merely a hearer, but you are a doer of His Word – you are a little Christ. You will ask in Jesus’ Name, and you will do as Jesus did. James exhorts you saying, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” For, in Christ, you have looked into the perfect law, the law of liberty, therefore you may pray with boldness and confidence as dear children of God.

Though Christ has ascended, you are not alone, but He is with you, and you are with Him in intimate communion through baptism and faith, body and blood. You are not an orphan, but you have Jesus, your brother, God, your Father, and the Church as your Mother. You are not a widow, but you have a Husband and Bridegroom, Jesus, who has laid down His life to purchase you and redeem you, to make you holy, pure, clean, and righteous. He will never leave you or forsake you. Though He is at the right hand of His Father in heaven, you are His body, and, where your Head is, there His body shall surely be. Even now He is present to commune with you, His Bride, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone to strengthen you and restore you in faith and holiness. Soon He will come to take you to be with Him in His kingdom forevermore. The Spirit and the Church cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, quickly, come.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)

(Audio)


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.

In one of the Gospel accounts a young man addressed Jesus as “Good teacher” desiring to ask Him a question. Jesus answered the young man, however, by asking him a question, “Why do you call me good?” It’s a good question if you stop and think about it. Obviously, the young man had some reason for believing that Jesus was good, but what was it? Was Jesus good because He met the young man’s expectations of a good teacher? Or was Jesus good because of some other standard or metric? Let us not forget that there were many others, men of authority and good reputation, who did not believe that Jesus was good, but rather that he was a liar and had a demon.

What sorts of things, ideas, and people are good? How do you know? You have an opinion, and you know very well that everyone else has an opinion too. It wasn’t all that long ago that most people believed that good and evil really exist and that there really are good and evil things, ideas, and people. However, that kind of thinking began to fall out of fashion in the 1960s and it has evolved and progressed such that today there are few people who believe in objective truth at all.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. What standard or metric are you using to evaluate my goodness? James has an answer for us in his epistle: “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.” If the thing, idea, or person comes from God, then you know it is good. If not, well, then who’s to say?

We work and save for and spend and buy lots of things we believe to be good: Food, clothing, a house, a car, an education, a vacation, an 85” TV, mobile phone plans, streaming subscriptions, and more. What is our standard or metric for considering these things good? Are they good because WE think them to be good, or do they come from God and thus are good? Let’s be honest, we often get it wrong. Satan convinced our First Parents to believe that something God had forbidden and that would kill them was “good for food,” “a delight to the eyes,” and “to be desired to make one wise.” None of Jesus’ family, friends, or disciples believed His death on the cross to be good, and still we struggle with the thought and image, and yet it was God’s will, and it won the salvation of us all. Truly there are many things that men consider good that are evil, and there are many things that men consider evil that are good.

Is abortion good or evil? Look, don’t get upset, I do not intend to be political. How do you think God would answer that question? Is divorce good? Is homosexuality good? Is lying good? You get the idea. There are plenty of people who will call those things good without hesitation. But being in a heterosexual marriage, having children, going to church, and raising your children to trust God and His Word are considered by many of the same to be not good, but to be bad, or even evil. And what are you attracted to as good? Are those things good because you think them to be good, or are they good because they are from God? Are sports, camping, yardwork, or just sleeping in on Sunday morning good?

Well, we hoped to “pack the church” today. Did we do it? I suppose that’s a matter of opinion as well. What is the sign of a good and healthy congregation anyway? Is it numbers and attendance? Well, that’s definitely a standard and metric that men often use to evaluate what is good. But is that what God considers good? Does not God consider faithfulness more important than numbers? Does Jesus not teach that His people, His Church will suffer in this world and will be mocked and ridiculed by those think His Word to be foolishness and His followers to be fools? Do you see what I’m getting at? If we judge the goodness and success of the Gospel and Christ’s Church by popular human standards and metrics, then the Church looks like a failure, even bad or evil. Of course, by the same popular human standards and metrics Jesus Himself looks like a failure, even bad or evil. The problem isn’t the Gospel or the Church, and it certainly isn’t Jesus Her Lord and Savior; the problem is sinful, fallen, humankind and our sinful, fallen, perverse and backward ideas of what is good. Let us repent and “return to the LORD our God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster.”

“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.” I hope that is why you are here today. And I hope that you will come back to receive ongoing and continual good things from God in the weeks, months, and years to come. This church is but one of thousands across this nation, and of hundreds of thousands across the globe, where God serves you with His good and perfect gifts through Word and Sacrament – gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. St. John Lutheran Church a particular place where a particular people gather at a particular time where God provides you the truly good things that come from above that will sustain you in your lives here in this world until He returns.

The pandemic that has afflicted us the past two years was uniquely challenging in numerous ways. Most uniquely was that it prohibited us from gathering here to receive God’s good gifts for a time. We were blessed in that our doors were only closed for about eight weeks and that throughout that time we were able to utilize video technology and still provide Word and Sacrament to individuals and families in small group settings. Still, the pandemic caused members to stay away out of concern for health and safety. As we began to realize what the “new normal” might look like, more and more began returning to church, but then we seemed to reach a plateau reflecting a forty percent drop from pre-pandemic attendance. Many of those that did not return were families with young children. And, members having other health concerns and some of our most vulnerable seniors. We began to reach out to many who had not returned and among the many reasons we encountered, one reason in particular was named repeatedly: “We just fell out of the habit.”

Now, it might seem somehow crass to think of attending worship as a habit, but I encourage you to think a bit differently. Habits are good things. We are creatures of habit by nature. One might even count our tendency to habitual behavior amongst God’s First Article Gifts. Only think about all the good that habits provide for us: Our morning and evening routines. Our mealtimes and giving thanks to God for our blessings. Our habits concerning mundane things like doing the laundry and mowing the yard, taking out the trash, and going to school. One might think of habits like a safety net when chaos threatens our lives and security. Habits are like autopilot on a jet airplane; when the pilot collapses in a crisis of health, thanks be to God that there’s the autopilot to keep us in the air. Now, of course, we don’t want our worship life to be merely a habit, but we want it to be engaged and intentional, but we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the value of good habits.

Behavioral psychologist James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller “Atomic Habits,” writes that it takes on average sixty-six days to form a new habit. Unfortunately, it takes considerably less time to fall out of a good habit. Forming a good habit can be hard work, and falling out of a good habit can be discouraging. Most of us have experienced this in the form of failed New Year’s resolutions. Here we can learn something from the Scriptures. We all know what that sin is disobeying God’s commandments. The Hebrew word for sin is actually a term used in archery meaning “to miss the mark.” The goal in archery is to hit a target. Before you can hit a target, however, you have to have a target; you have to have a mark. You have to aim at something in order to have a chance of hitting it. Forming new habits is like that. If you don’t set a target for yourself, then there is no possible way that you will hit it. Also, do not set the target too high or too far, but make the target reachable and attainable. When you aim and hit the target you will be encouraged, and you will be prepared to take aim at a higher and farther target and hit it next. If you have fallen out of the habit of coming to church, don’t beat yourself up over it. We’re glad that you are here today. You set a reasonable target and you hit it. Moreover, God loves you and forgives you and wants to shower you with His good gifts no matter what.

Next Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus. Forty days after His resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus ascended in His resurrected and glorified flesh and blood body to the right hand of His Father so that He now fills all things. That is why and how Jesus is with you here in this particular place and time with His good and perfect gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Yes, Jesus is everywhere at all times – this is most certainly true – but He is only present with His gifts in those particular places He promises to be: Wherever two or three are gathered in His Name to receive His Word and Sacraments. That is precisely what the Apostles and disciples did following Pentecost. Acts 2:42 states that they met together in houses on Sunday for four specific things: The teaching of the Apostles (the Holy Scriptures), the fellowship of believers (the Church), the breaking of the bread (the Lord’s Supper), and the prayers (the Liturgy). Two thousand years later that is precisely what we continue to do right here at this particular place and time.

“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.” The LORD wants to give you His gifts. You need His gifts. And we need each other even as we are gifts to each other. Let today be the beginning of a new good habit. Let God and His gifts in Jesus Christ be your goal and target, and the Holy Spirit will make your aim true.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4)

(Audio)


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.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” according to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and they’re right. Whether you’re waiting in fearful anxiety for the results of your biopsy to return, or you’re waiting in joyful anticipation for your son’s or daughter’s wedding day, the waiting is hard and fraught with impatience, anxiety, worry, fear, and worse.

Your enemy, Satan, knows this well, therefore he waits and he watches for the opportunity to take advantage of your conflicted state. Satan tempts you in your impatience to take matters into your own hands and to act rashly and foolishly and without faith, trusting in your reason, wisdom, and instincts above and before God. Then, if you are successful, he will pump you full of self-righteous pride, and if you fail, he will use that against you to bury you in guilt, despair, and hopelessness. Either way, he wins, for he has successfully taken your eyes, your faith, and your hope off of Jesus and has placed it upon something, anything else. Likewise, Satan lies to you and deceives you through your anxiety, worry, and fear so that you place your fear, your love, and your trust in other things and persons in place of God. Once again, he wins.

But, why is waiting so hard? As Jesus taught with wisdom and eloquence, you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying. Has the Lord not promised you that He will return for you and that you will live with Him forever? Has the Lord not promised you that even now He is with you and will see you through all things, joys and pleasures, trials and tribulations, even death? Then, why do you worry? Why is the waiting so hard when you know that what you’re waiting for will come and that it will be ok in the end? Do you not trust in the Lord and His Word with all your heart, soul, and mind? Do you think that He has lied to you, deceived you, or didn’t really mean what He said? Do you not believe that He is risen from the dead just as He said?

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will me.” Jesus spoke these words to His disciples before His Passion. In some respect, He was preparing them for His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. When He was dead and buried, they would not see Him. But, in a little while, they would see Him again resurrected from the dead. But mostly, primarily, Jesus is looking beyond His death and resurrection to His Ascension and Parousia. This is to say, the “little while,” to which Jesus refers, in which His disciples will not see Him, is the time between His Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven and His Parousia, His coming again on the Last Day in power and great glory. Thus, that “little while” is right now.

So, if the disciples, who were with Jesus, had some trouble understanding what Jesus meant by “a little while,” what does that mean for you who are living nearly two thousand years later and have never seen Jesus at all? It means that you should take to heart the words of your Lord to St. Thomas that you heard two weeks ago, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And yet still, whether you see or not, it is ultimately faith which apprehends the “little while” before Jesus’ appearing. Thomas and the other disciples needed faith to believe as much as you do, even though they were much closer to Jesus physically, visibly, and aurally than you are. For, though they could see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and touch with their hands, none of it made any sense to their reason. Faith took over where their reason failed, thus their faith was not unreasonable, but it was most reasonable indeed. And, so it is with you. Though you do not see, hear, and touch the Lord in the same way as the disciples before you, you have their testimony and the testimony of countless others, and you have the Apostolic teaching handed down over generations of faithful disciples, and you have the Holy Spirit whom Jesus poured out upon His Church on Pentecost as a counselor and guide, creating and sustaining your faith and pointing you always, always to Jesus.

In one sense, the “little while” for Jesus’ disciples was only ten days, for that was the time between Jesus’ bodily Ascension and His promised sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. For, by His Holy Spirit, through His Word and Sacraments, Jesus would be with His Church always, just as He said. Indeed, through these same means He is with you now, and He will continue to be present until He comes again in flesh and blood, body and soul on the Last Day. However, in another sense, Jesus was referring specifically to the much longer and unknowable time between His Ascension and His Parousia, the time in which you now live and wait. It is in this regard that Jesus describes for His disciples what that time will be like using the analogy of a mother giving birth. An immensely timely and appropriate analogy, I might add, being that today is Mother’s Day.

Jesus used the analogy of a mother giving birth because such an event is fraught with joyful and expectant anticipation mixed, often, with anxiety and fear because labor is an arduous and painful experience in which the life and welfare of both mother and child are at some risk. Jesus teaches point blankly that you will experience sorrow in your life, you will weep and lament while the world rejoices in spite of, and often because of, your sorrow and suffering. But, He also teaches that your sorrow will turn into joy. In this regard, the “little while” in which you live before Christ’s return is like unto a mother giving birth. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

Now as both a pastor, and as a husband and father, I have had the experience of ministering to numerous mothers shortly before and after giving birth, and I can attest that Jesus does indeed speak the truth, with the possible exception of that “no longer remembering the anguish” part, at least shortly after giving birth. Truly, the mother who cries out “Never, never again!” during labor and delivery, soon thereafter smiles, laughs, and weeps with joy for the gift of life in a new son or daughter lying at her breast. Indeed, many will willingly and joyfully go through it all again without thought of the pain and sorrow of childbirth because of the joy of new life.

“So also,” Jesus teaches, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Your Lord is frank and honest with you; you will experience sorrow, pain, and suffering personally and in the lives of those you love. But, just as a mother giving birth experiences pain and sorrow, and then joy after the birth, so too is your pain, suffering, and sorrow for a “little while,” and you too will receive joy, joy that no one will ever take from you. Not only will you receive joy, however, but Jesus teaches that your sorrow will turn to joy. And, this is the heart of the Gospel this day, that the Lord Jesus is Lord of all. Jesus is the Lord of life and death and everything in between and thereafter. Whatever you suffer, you suffer because He permits you to suffer. Your suffering is not caused by Him, but He allows it to come upon you and He uses it for good in accordance with His holy divine love, will, and providence. Jesus gives you the very real analogy of the joy a mother experiences after giving birth, though while in the course of labor things might appear hopeless and endless, so that you might view the experiences of your life in a similar way. For, while the child that is born is born into a life intermixed with sorrow and joy, the life to come in Jesus’ kingdom is only joy.

This is a life lesson meant to change your perspective from a perspective limited to only what occurs between birth and death to an eternal perspective that is unlimited, looking far beyond physical death to the resurrection of the body and into all eternity. What is a moment of sorrow from the perspective of eternity? What is a fleeting pleasure from the perspective of endless joy, joy that no one can take from you? Such a perspective must surely have an impact on your day-to-day life. How can you not forgive one who has sinned against you, when all your sins have been forgiven and washed away? How can you not love your neighbor, even a stranger, when immeasurable, eternal love has been poured out upon you? How can you not freely give to one who has need, when all your needs of body and soul are provided you by your heavenly Father because He knows you need them and He loves you.

Perhaps here is another motherly analogy. For, does a mother not willingly sacrifice her own comfort, pleasure, welfare, body, and life for the child she carries within her? And then, after birth, does she not continue to sacrifice her own comfort, pleasure, welfare, body, and life for the new life the Lord has blessed her with? Each of you have been born of a mother for a purpose beyond that of self. You were blessed with birth and life to be a blessing to others. Your birth was the beginning of your life, but your death will not be the end. Therefore, in the words of St. Peter, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” Honor those in authority over you. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

You are sojourners and exiles. This world in which you live is not your life. Yet still, you are given to live it mindful of God. Therefore, live your life without fear and anxiety over future or present sorrow, but for the joy laid up before you, just as Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” And, to help you and aid you on your way that you may persevere, our Lord and Good Shepherd Jesus goes with you. He calls you and teaches you, feeds you and protects you through Word and Water, Body and Blood. As His disciple you take up your cross, the cross He has chosen for you, and you follow Him in the way He leads – the way through, not around, the valley of the shadow of death, and through death into life with Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Misericordias Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter

(Audio)


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

 

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

The image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd has suffered greatly in contemporary Christian imagination from an overly romantic sentimentalism and from Gospel-reductionist pietism. From the pastel-colored Precious Moments figurines of Christian kitsch to the airbrushed Sunday School and church bulletin artwork depicting a smiling Jesus holding a young lamb over His shoulder or surrounded by a flock of innocent enough seeming sheep, the popular Christian image of the Good Shepherd is a soft, gentle, kind, and often effeminate, young man who lives a happy, simple and pastoral life with His greatest joy being young children and social outcasts. Now, that image is not entirely wrong, mind you, but it is a far cry from the fullness of what it means that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and from the Church’s historic understanding of that office of Jesus Christ.

That Jesus is the Good Shepherd does not mean that He is kind, gentle, happy, loving, etc. any more than it means that He is merely a competent practitioner of animal husbandry. The adjective good here (kalos in the Greek) doesn’t mean that. Rather, Jesus is the Good Shepherd in the same way that God proclaimed each day of His creation and work to be good: Jesus is good in the sense that He knows the Father and the Father knows Him. He is in complete agreement and harmony with His Father’s will. He loves what His Father loves, and He does what his Father commands. Jesus’ goodness is an innate goodness. Therefore, in calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, righteousness, beauty, and unity with His Father. Jesus conformed perfectly and completely to His Father’s will, even laying down His life unto death for His Father’s sheep. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He dies for them. For this reason the Father loves His Son Jesus, because He lays down His life for the sheep. Therefore, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He saves us, not because He plays with us and rolls with us in the grass.

The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. He does not flee when the wolf comes, but He places Himself into the beast’s jaws and teeth that His sheep may live. This is the Father’s will, and the Father loves Him because of this, and the Son loves His Father and you in this way. This is the way in which the Father loves you, His sheep: God so loved the world in this way, He gave His only Son. The Good Shepherd protects and defends His sheep. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. The Good Shepherd dies for His sheep. This is what it means for Jesus to be the Good Shepherd. In contrast to the Good Shepherd then is the hired hand. The hired hand is not a shepherd. The hired hand does not own the sheep, does not love the sheep, and most certainly will not die for the sheep. When he sees the wolf coming, the hired hand leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and they know Him, and He lays down His life for the sheep.

From man’s perspective Jesus is not a good shepherd, but a fool or a lunatic. From man’s perspective, a good shepherd raises his sheep for their wool or their meat. A good shepherd most certainly will not die for his sheep, but rather, he will raise his sheep so that they die for him, for his profit, benefit, and good. Not even faithful pastors are ultimately good in the sense that the Good Shepherd is good, but, despite their best intentions, they are still hirelings. Undoubtedly, however, Jesus had the scribes and the Pharisees in mind, who were the teachers and shepherds of Israel. Instead of leading the flock of Israel to the cool waters and wholesome food of Jesus, they slaughtered them with legalism and false teaching, directing them to works under the Law, rather than to the life-giving grace of the Gospel. And, sadly, too many hireling shepherd pastors continue to do the same today.

The problem with hireling shepherds and pastors is that they are afraid of the wolf and flee, or they do not believe that the wolf even exists. But the wolf is real; Satan is real, and as St. Peter warns, he prowls this earth seeking sheep to devour. Satan prowls in the Church disguised as works righteousness, which falsely comforts the flock by causing them to put their trust in their works, in being good, fair, and tolerant people. Satan prowls in the Church tempting pastors and parishioners to misrepresent and misunderstand God’s Word and commands so that they do not fear His holiness and righteousness but minimize and deny their sins, believing that God only wants them to be happy and prosperous, but not obedient. Hireling shepherd pastors preach “Peace! Peace!” where there is no peace, because they do not preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins but exhort the flock to keep on doing as they are doing with the false assurance that God is love and doesn’t care about sins so long as you are loving and tolerant and kind. And so there are prosperity preachers teaching the power of positive thinking and self-improvement instead of repentance, humility, and true love, which is sacrifice and selflessness and service to your neighbor to the glory of God

Through His prophet Jeremiah the LORD has said, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” “You have scattered My flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.” “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness’.” That is a direct messianic prophecy of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. “I Myself,” says the LORD, “will be the Shepherd of my sheep.”

Hence Jesus proclaims, “I am the Good Shepherd.” This is one of seven great “I AM” statements of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel. “I AM,” in Greek ego eimi, is a rendering of the LORD’s Name given to Moses in the burning bush. Thus, Jesus at once communicates that He is the LORD’s promised Good Shepherd, even the LORD Himself. Jesus is the fulfillment of the LORD’s prophetic promise to seek, gather, and rescue His lost sheep Himself from all the places they had been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. That dark day was, first, the day our First Parents fell in the Garden and, second, Good Friday, yet another instance in which good means something substantially other than pleasant, competent, or kind. In Jesus, God Himself sought and gathered and rescued His sheep from the Satanic wolf by laying down His life unto death. “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” By dying, He destroyed death and broke the wolf’s jaws so that now he is a toothless, wounded, defeated, but furious, dangerous, and still powerful enemy. No one took His life from Him – indeed, no one could possibly do that – but Jesus had authority from His Father to lay it down and authority to take it up again. Indeed, the Father loves Him because He laid down His life in love for His Father and for you.

This day in the Church’s Year of Grace is called Misericordias Domini, the merciful goodness of the LORD. No one made the LORD lay down His life for you. He did so because of who He is, not because of who you are. God is love. Love is sacrifice. And, God so loved you in this way: He died for you that you may live for Him and in Him, not for yourself. And, you honor, thank, praise, and obey Him by laying down your life in love for Him and for others. He promises, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Your pastor shepherds may be hirelings, they may be sinners themselves in need of mercy and forgiveness, but they are called and ordained by God through His Church for you and for your sake, that you may be fed and nourished, protected and defended from the attacks of the Satanic wolf and his demons. Follow where they lead you. Eat and drink what they feed you. Heed their warnings and exhortations, all the while listening for the voice of your Good Shepherd. They are called and placed under holy orders to care for you in the stead and by the command of Christ the Good Shepherd, and they will called to account for their shepherding.

However, you have a call as well: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” You are called to suffer, to lay down your lives for others as Christ suffered and laid down His life for you. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” You are not to fight with the weapons of men and with violence, but remain steadfast in His Word and in the confession of Christ crucified and risen. This may very well mean maintaining the good confession before family members, neighbors, your employer, lawyers, judges, and people who will revile you and mock you and curse you and hate you, even fine, imprison, torture, or kill you. “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.” Truly, this world is still very dark and dangerous, and the Satanic wolf still prowls, but do not be discouraged, and do not be afraid. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The earth is full of the merciful goodness of the LORD! “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2022

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

(Audio)


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

 

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

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Then, why are you so afraid? Jesus is risen! The tomb is empty! But the women were astonished and afraid. They told no one anything. The disciples were gathered in fear behind locked doors because they were afraid. And too often you are silent and don’t tell anyone anything about the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because you are afraid. Because you are afraid of what people will think of you. Because you are afraid of what people will do to you. Because you are afraid that you won’t know what to say. Or, perhaps, because you are afraid that you don’t really believe as much as you think you should? But take comfort, and do not be afraid, O you of little faith. For, you are not so different than Peter and the apostles, than David, or Moses, or Abraham before them. And you are not so different than Thomas, who refused to believe that His Lord had risen until he could see and touch His wounds with his own hands and fingers.

Still, Jesus comes to you, as He came to them. Still your resurrected Lord Jesus Christ comes to you to absolve you of your sins, to comfort you with His presence, to strengthen you in your faith, and to bring you His peace which is beyond human understanding. Still your living and ascended Lord Jesus comes to dissolve your fear and to replace it with faith and contentment and peace, that you may, not avoid, but face all those things you fear, and persevere and endure. Still your resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord comes to you and shows you His wounds, the living proof of His death for you, and His resurrection for you. He is the Lamb standing as though slain – standing, because He is clearly alive, victorious over death and the grave – yet bearing still the marks of both spear and nail forevermore, the living sign of our pardon for His sake. He invites you to gaze upon those glorious scars and to find confidence, comfort, and confirmation in them. And God the Father gazes upon those scars and He sees His suffering servant who loved Him and His Word and His Law perfectly in holiness and innocence for you and He is satisfied and at peace with you because of Him. Still, He comes to you, and still He invites you, not to put your fingers into the marks in His hands and His feet, your hand into His side, but His flesh and His blood into your mouth in Blessed Communion with Him now until He returns. And, lo, He is with you always, even to the end of the age.

He came to them in the evening of the day of His resurrection. He came to bring them peace – peace with God, which is the only source of peace with man. They were gathered in fear. They were afraid of the Jews who murdered Jesus, that they might do the same to them. And, they were afraid of their own guilt and sin, that they fled and abandoned their Lord in the hour of His greatest need, choosing to save their own skins and let Him perish. Satan had them right where he wanted them – locked away, isolated from the community and the world, hiding in fear and guilt, not telling anyone anything. That’s what Satan wants for you as well. He spoke to them His peace – His performative and creative Word, at once proclaiming and actually producing the peace that He spoke. And then, He gave them a sign, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’.” Not only the Word does Jesus give, but the Word and the Sign. Though the Word is sufficient, indeed all that is necessary, He who created you body and soul graciously ministers to you according to both natures. The Sign is a gift to you that your faith may be strengthened, that you may be confident in forgiveness, and that you may not be afraid.

But Thomas wasn’t there. He skipped Church that first Easter Sunday and He missed out on the gifts. The others were now overjoyed to tell Him they had seen the Lord, risen from the dead just as He had said. No longer were they reticent in the silence of their guilt and fear. But Thomas didn’t believe them. In fact, the Scriptures say that Thomas refused to believe unless he saw for himself in Jesus’ hands the mark of the nails and placed his fingers into the mark of the nails, and placed his hand into Jesus’ side. For Thomas, the Word of the Lord was not enough, but He demanded a sign. Now, throughout His ministry, Jesus often refused to grant a sign to those who opposed Him in hardhearted unbelief, such as the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the Jews. However, to those “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” who struggled to believe, even His disciples, Jesus would often grant a sign, along with a mild rebuke, to those of “little faith.”

And so He did the following Sunday. Once again, Jesus appeared to His gathered disciples, showed Himself, breathed upon them, and proclaimed to them His peace. Indeed, a pattern was established, recounted in Acts 2:42, that the disciples would gather together on the Lord’s Day for the apostles' teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers, in the belief that the Lord would be with them as He had promised in His Word. The Lord appeared to His disciples once again, as He does to you now, and He invited Thomas, and you, to behold and to touch and to handle His wounds, the proof and sign of His resurrection from the dead and of the absolution of your sins. He comes to you with His Spirit-Word-Breath, which is sufficient and true, but also with His flesh and blood body, with water, and blessing, and touch that you may believe and be confident and trust and have comfort and peace. He comes to you to absolve you of your sins, to remove your guilt and your fear, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for good works, and to send you to tell everyone everything about the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection victory on behalf of all the world.

To all you Doubting Thomases, Jesus mercifully and graciously gives you these signs, these Sacraments – the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper – that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” Whereas Thomas was blessed to see, to hear, and to touch Jesus in the flesh, nevertheless, Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are they. You are the ones who have not seen and yet have believed, thanks be to God. To you Jesus has given the sacramental signs of water, blood, and spirit that, by their witness, you may believe and overcome the world. The victory over sin, death, and Satan is yours in Christ. Jesus Christ has died for your sins and has been raised for your justification. Now He shares His victory with you. Of what is there for you to be afraid? Are you afraid of what others will think of you or do to you? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” and that One is God. Or are you afraid that you will not know what to say, or that you do not believe strong enough? Well, you don’t. But do not despair, but rather cling all the more to Christ and His Word of Promise. Receive His gifts and be forgiven and strengthened and equipped through them.

Confess that you are a fearful sinner. You stand in good company, for so were the Apostles, the Patriarchs, and the Prophets before you. For, the Church of Jesus Christ is not a memorial for saints who need no forgiveness, but it is a hospital for sinners just like you. The Church is a mouth house for the forgiveness of sins. Do not be afraid! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And that has changed everything! After beholding His Lord and His Wounds, doubting Thomas no longer needed to see and to touch, but he believed and he confessed, “My Lord, and my God!” a confession even greater than that of Peter. Yet, still, your Lord Jesus is present for you with His Words and His Wounds that you may hear and see and touch and taste and believe and confess, with Thomas, and with all the saints in heaven and on earth, “My Lord, and my God!” “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” and by believing, you have life in His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Christian Funeral for Mary Lynn Cain

(Audio)


John 10:11-18; 1 John 3:1-2; Isaiah 40:9-11

 

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

God’s children. That is what we are. Now, we didn’t choose to be God’s children, – no one chooses to be born – but we are God’s children born of the Holy Spirit through water and faith. Being God’s children was not a decision that we made, but it was a decision that the Lord made who formed us in our mother’s wombs. We are not God’s children because we are so very good and never sin, nor because we attend church every Sunday, nor because we believe all the right things, but we are God’s children because He chose us in Jesus Christ and created faith in us by His Holy Spirit through the Word of God and sealed us in His Name through Holy Baptism. That is why we are God’s children now. That is why Mary Lynn is God’s child now. And what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The Father’s love is seen in this: He gave His only Son over to death on the cross that we should not perish but have everlasting life in Him. That is what we just remembered and celebrated on Easter Sunday. Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends. Such love is selfless and sacrificial. Such love is exemplified in the love of the Father for His Son, and the Son for His Father, and the love of the Father and Son together for us, His children. Such love is also exemplified in the image of a shepherd tending his flock.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. The Good Shepherd has laid down His life for His sheep, including His dear lamb, Mary Lynn. Our Good Shepherd has passed through this valley of the shadow of death where we live our lives and He has secured for His beloved sheep good pasture, safety, and life in His Father’s house forevermore. And, because He has traversed this deathly valley already Himself, He knows it intimately and He is well prepared to shepherd His sheep safely through it. Our Good Shepherd has faced our greatest enemy, death, which threatened to keep us in our graves. Jesus defeated death by taking away its sting, sin. He took our sin, He took all man’s sin, He took Mary Lynn’s sin upon Himself, and He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become righteousness in Him. “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

Amongst Jesus’ final words to His disciples is this New Commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, when you have love for one another.” I know that “love” means many things in our language, but what Jesus means is agape, a selfless and sacrificial love that serves others without counting the cost. It was agape love that Jesus demonstrated in His own selfless and sacrificial service to us, laying down His life to set us free from sin and death. We show that we have received His love when we return that love to Him by sharing that same love with others. Christians share the love of Jesus in their lives, words, and deeds primarily through their vocations.

Mary Lynn was a nurse for forty-four years. I can hardly imagine a vocation that embodies the Christian virtues of love and service, selflessness, and sacrifice better than nursing. Shortly after she graduated high school, Mary Lynn began her nursing career serving the most vulnerable and helpless of humankind, newborn babies born premature or with health complications in Iowa’s first NICU in Des Moines. Then she worked for many years at the hospital in Waverly, showing love, care, and compassion serving others in their time of need. Perhaps her favorite experience in nursing, however, came near the end of her career when she served as a traveling health care nurse. It was then that she came to realize what had been true all along, that she had a God-given passion for providing exceptional care to her patients whom she considered family. Mary Lynn ended her nursing career in 2014 after forty-four years. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Anyone who knows Mary Lynn and Jack knows their love and support for the Waterloo Black Hawks hockey team. Mary Lynn and Jack have been season ticket holders for eighteen years and traveled the country in support of their team. What a gift it is to share something you love with someone you love. Mary Lynn was even watching a hockey game the night her Good Shepherd called her home, making her, literally, a lifelong fan. Mary Lynn loved crocheting and was also a gifted seamstress. She made Jen’s wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses. Mary Lynn was also known to make clothes for both Jen and Emily – the very same clothes, mind you, having the very same patterns and made from the very same fabric – a frugality she seems to have inherited from her mother who did the very same for Mary Lynn and sister Bonnie.

Life wasn’t always easy and full of laughs. Life never is. But with the trials and the tribulations, those who trust in the Lord have faith and hope to see them through. Many Christians somehow have the idea that, if you are a believer, then things will go well for you. That most certainly is true over the long haul, but that does not mean that a Christian will not experience sorrow, hard times, and suffering in their lives and in the lives of those they love; in fact, they most definitely will. Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple you must take up your own cross and follow me.” The way of Jesus is the way that leads through the valley of the shadow of death, which is this life, not around it, and into the Father’s house forevermore. Our Good Shepherd Jesus has traversed that valley already and has defeated death which barred our entrance into the Father’s house, and now He accompanies His children, His sheep, as they make their own way through that valley. Mary Lynn understood this. She understood Jesus as the Suffering Servant and the Man of Sorrows depicted in Isaiah, and she could relate to Him, and her own life to His, as one “acquainted with grief.”

Mary Lynn was a child of God, born of water and the Holy Spirit. In Holy Baptism our LORD named her and claimed her as His own child and promised her, “I will never leave you,” “I am with you always,” and “nothing can separate you from my love in Jesus Christ.” Jesus lives! And because He lives, we believe that we shall live also. Because of the promises of God in Christ Jesus we can take comfort and have hope that Mary Lynn is with Him and that we will see her again on the day of resurrection. Then there will be joy that will never be taken from you and peace and comfort without end.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

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

(Audio)

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

 

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

The women “went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Kind of an anticlimactic Gospel for Easter Sunday, don’tcha think? Imagine if this had been the response of everyone to the resurrection of Jesus, that they were afraid and didn’t tell anyone anything. How very few would believe. Truly, only a very few could be saved. After all, Jesus’ body could have been stolen from the tomb. Then, where would be the proof? All those sightings of Jesus raised from the dead, and other believers raised from the dead too? Only the hopeful psychotic delusions of the distraught, the na├»ve, and the superstitious.

And yet, here we are, two thousand years later, gathered in this sanctuary at the same time millions of others are gathered in their churches throughout this nation and, at one time or another this day, throughout the world, to remember, and to celebrate, and to praise and give thanks to God for the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, from the dead. Apparently, someone believed. Obviously, a whole lot of someones believed. They believed and, afraid or not, they told everyone everything. In fact, they most often did so to their great risk and peril, which lends credence to the truth of Christ’s resurrection rather than doubt.

For, consider the zeal of the Apostles and the early Christians in the years and decades following Jesus’ death. Each of the Apostles, save John, were martyred because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and their refusal to be silent, but, rather, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all without concern for their personal safety or well-being. Tradition holds that Peter was crucified head downward, humbly considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as His Lord. Tradition also holds that St. Paul was beheaded in Rome, that James the Lesser was thrown from the temple wall, stoned, and had his brains beat out by a fuller’s club, that James, the brother of John, was slain by the sword, that Thomas was run through with spears, seared by heated plates, and finally burned alive, that Judas Thaddeus was beaten to death with sticks, that Phillip and Andrew were both crucified, that Matthew was beheaded, that Nathaniel (Bartholomew) was flayed alive and was crucified, and that Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, was stoned to death while hanging upon a cross. While John, the beloved disciple, remained alive and presumably died an old man, he was exiled by the Romans and lived alone on the Island of Patmos. Truly, martyrdom takes many forms. Further, subsequent generations of Christians until the early part of the fourth century were met with similar persecution and death for their witness to Jesus, His resurrection, and the Gospel. And there are still Christians today who are persecuted and martyred for their confession of the faith. There were the twenty-one Coptic Orthodox Christians who were executed by ISIS in 2015. There was the Indian Roman Catholic Priest Father Tom who was abducted in Yemen by ISIS around that same. Father Tom was released after eighteen months in captivity, but ISIS murdered four nuns that were with him. And there are countless Christians in China, the Sudan, and throughout the world who daily risk their lives and livelihoods for their Confession of Christ.

Why would any of them die for something they were not certain of? Would anyone suffer such horrendous torture and evil death, and subject their families to the same, if they were not absolutely convinced of the truth and the Gospel meaning of what they believed about Jesus, His death, and His resurrection? No, not likely. But, what made them believe so strongly? What evidence was there that Jesus had been raised, just as He had said? Undoubtedly, the greatest evidence was the empty tomb itself. Only consider the facts of Jesus’ burial: The Jews and the Romans had no motive to steal Jesus’ body. In fact, they were extremely concerned about that possibility and so set a Roman guard at the tomb to prevent such a scheme. Further, before His resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were too fearful and cowardly to attempt such a feat. Some skeptics have suggested that the women went to the wrong tomb. However, this does not pan out as the women knew where the tomb was, and the Sanhedrin could simply have produced Jesus’ body from the correct tomb and effectively falsified the account of Jesus’ resurrection. And then, there were the burial linens neatly folded and placed at the head and feet of where Jesus had lain, hardly what one would expect in the case of a hasty grave robbery.

Even the fact that the Gospels record women being the first eyewitness of the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord lends credence to the truth of the resurrection, for women were among the lowest in society in terms of respect and honor. Their testimony would not even be admissible in a court of law. Surely, if the writers of the Gospels wished to convince people of the truth of the resurrection, they would have recorded the accounts men of renown and honor, whose testimony would have been received with greater credulity. The fact that the Evangelists preserved the eyewitness testimony of women and did not change the facts to something that would be more socially acceptable lends to the veracity and trustworthiness of their report.

Likewise, our Easter Gospel’s rather abrupt and disconcerting ending, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The earliest manuscripts and fragments we have of St. Mark’s Gospel all end in this way, with those words. And St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection has been read and heard in Christ’s Church on Easter Sunday since at least the seventh century. Truly, the Gospel reads and ends like a historical record of factual events rather than as a story intentionally constructed to lead the hearer or reader to a particular conclusion and belief. You have to acknowledge that the St. Mark could easily have ended his Gospel on a more upbeat note with an actual siting and even a conversation with our resurrected Lord instead of the women fleeing the tomb confused and afraid and saying nothing to anyone. However, St. Mark has recorded what actually happened. The preservation of these uncomfortable and often embarrassing facts lends credibility to the Gospels and the testimonies of both Jesus’ disciples and those who had no interest in lending credence to them at all.

Still, as interesting as all these signifiers to the veracity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection may be, that is not why we are gathered here this morning, is it? No, it is not. We are here this morning because Jesus is risen from the dead, just as He said. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Regardless of their response to the angel’s announcement, the women found the tomb empty, and they were astonished and filled with amazement and fear. As they approached the tomb, they fretted about the very large stone sealing its entrance. However, when they arrived at the tomb, they found that the stone had already been rolled back. You must understand that this was not for Jesus’ benefit, but your theirs and yours. Lutheran dogmatician Franz Pieper writes in his Christian Dogmatics, “Just as Christ came to His disciples clausa ianua (through closed doors), so He also arose clauso sepulchro (through closed tomb). The only purpose of rolling the stone from the door of the sepulcher was, according to Scripture, to exhibit the empty tomb to the women and to convince them by this very fact that Christ had truly risen.”

The stone was rolled away for you, that you might believe and trust and be confident in your faith that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead just as He said. Our Lord Jesus had already been raised from death, had visited the spirits in prison in hell to proclaim His resurrection victory, and was on His way to Galilee just as He told His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. The stone rolled away was a sign for you. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Jesus had predicted His death, even by crucifixion, His rest in the tomb, and His resurrection on the third day. Everything He had predicted has been fulfilled. The stone rolled away, and the empty tomb were the indisputable proof. Now, all there was left to do was to believe. If all that Jesus predicted had come to pass, then He must also be in Galilee just as He said.

What does this mean? Well, apart from Jesus and those whom He raised, who later died again, no one has ever been raised from the dead. That is because of the curse of our First Parent’s sin, which is truly our sin as well, the wages of which is only and always death. But Jesus’ resurrection means that our sin is atoned for and we are free. Jesus’ death was our death – the death of the sinless Son of God as a man in our place – and, therefore, His resurrection is our resurrection. The stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb can be understood metaphorically as our sin which keeps us in death and in our tombs. But it has been rolled away; our sin has been taken away and can no longer hold us in death and the grave. In fact, even if the stone were still in place, it could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold you who believe and are baptized into Jesus. But, as I said before, the stone was rolled away for you, that you may believe and be strengthened and be confident in the truth that your sins are forgiven and that, even though you die, you will live. As the Lutheran dogmatician Johann Gerhard wrote in his Postilla, “True believers cannot be damned on account of their debt of sin – it has been adequately demonstrated by the resurrection of Christ that God the LORD has been paid a complete settlement.”

Yet, still, how often are we silent about this Good News, our faith, our forgiveness, our justification, and our hope of resurrection to never-ending life? How often are we like the women at the tomb – afraid? We have this incredible Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and yet, we tell no one, we say nothing, and, too often, we live as though nothing has happened, nothing has changed. Fear keeps us from sharing the Good News. Fear of judgment from our peers, fear of judgment from our family, fear that we don’t really believe what we think we believe, or fear that we are not strong enough in faith to tell anyone else. Well, my brothers and sisters in Christ, fear died this morning. The tomb is empty. He is not here. He is risen, just as He said! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Cleanse out the old leaven of sin and death and fear. You are a new, unleavened lump! For, Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed! Therefore, let us celebrate this festival, not with the old leaven of malice, evil, and fear, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth! This is the Feast of Victory for our God! Alleluia! Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.