Sunday, April 29, 2018

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)

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

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4)

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

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a sheep, you are meant either for the sacrificial altar, or for the dinner table. That’s what it means to be a sheep. To be sure, while you are alive, your wool is valuable and will be shorn from your body to make clothing and blankets, and your milk is valuable for men to drink and to make cheese, but still, you are a sheep, and you are meant to die. And, when you have been killed, you will become food for men, or for animals, or you may become a sacrificial victim on the altar of God, or gods.
Throughout your sheepy life, your trust is in your shepherd. You trust in your shepherd to lead you to food and to water. You trust in your shepherd to protect you from thieves and from wild animals. You know your shepherd’s voice and his call, and you listen to and follow your shepherd wherever he leads you. However, even the best of shepherds – those who feed you well and who give you clean, clear water to drink, even those who fend off the wolves and seek you when you go astray – even the best of shepherds are still shepherding you to your death – either to sacrificial death at the altar or to the dinner table.
A shepherd knows this. A shepherd knows this ironic truth that he will, ultimately, lead the sheep he has so devotedly cared for, nourished, and protected, to slaughter, to death. A hireling shepherd will gladly do this – it’s his job, it’s what he’s paid for, it’s what puts bread on his table, clothing on his back, and a roof over his head. It’s not that he hates the sheep, or that he despises the sheep, but the sheep are a means to an end, and he cares nothing for their welfare beyond that end. Thus, he will not sacrifice his own welfare for the sheep. Certainly, he will defend them, if he can, but, not because he cares for them, but because he cares for himself – it is not in his own best interest to let the sheep die before their time. Therefore, when the wolf comes, he will not put himself in the beast’s jaws in order that a few sheep might live, but he runs and flees.
That’s the way it goes with hireling shepherds. They may not be bad people, bad shepherds, but they’re working for a wage and they’re not going to risk more than they expect to reap in reward. They’re not fools, and they’re not shepherding for charity. However, there are bad shepherds. Such scoundrels not only care nothing for the sheep, but they care nothing for their master for whom they work. A bad shepherd will exploit and fleece the sheep for his own benefit. He will take a sheep and shear it for himself and then slaughter it to feed his belly. He will abuse the weaker sheep and pit sheep against sheep for his pleasure. A bad shepherd will not lead the sheep to pure water and good pasture but will allow them to eat and drink what is not good for them. He will not seek them when they go astray, and he will not defend them from the wolves and thieves.
Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd actually lays down His life for His sheep – for one or two sheep, and for all of the sheep. He places Himself between you and the wolf. He lays Himself, willingly, into the beast’s jaws for you. The Good Shepherd does this because you are His Father’s sheep, you are Hissheep. You belong to Him, and He loves you, and He loves His Father who has given you to Him.
The bad shepherds are the ruthless King’s of Israel described in Ezekiel’s prophecies, they are the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and they are the pastor’s, religious leaders, and false teachers today who fleece the sheep, the people they are called to shepherd and to care for, by promising them blessings for money, by embezzling their charitable gifts, and by squandering their donations on wicked, fleshly indulgence and depravity. They are those shepherds who keep the sheep in bondage and abuse them by teaching righteousness by works according to the Law, while ever raising the bar of what they must do. They are those shepherds who will not defend the sheep from false teaching predators who would lead them into apostasy or complacency, so that they no longer repent of their sins and, therefore, do not receive absolution. They are those shepherds who kill and devour the sheep themselves by teaching them lies and deceptions and by withholding the Gospel grace and mercy of God revealed in the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. They are those shepherds who care nothing for the sheep and do not serve the sheep but desire only to be served by, and make a feast of, the sheep. And, often they are not shepherds at all, but they are wolves who infiltrate the flock by coming in the guise of sheep’s clothing, deceiving the sheep in order to lead them astray or to devour them.
Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, Himself, seeks out the sheep that the wolf has scattered and He rescues them. The Good Shepherd brings them together into the fold from all the places they have been scattered and have wandered, and He feeds them and gives them drink in good pasture, in their own land, in their own country. The Good Shepherd leads them to rest from their laboring to provide for themselves righteousness by works according to the Law, and He binds up the injured and He strengthens the weak. The Good Shepherd is not a hireling motivated by self-interest, but He is the Father’s seeking love incarnate. He is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but He is the Good Shepherd in sheep’s clothing. He is God in human flesh, become what you are that you may become what He is.
The Good Shepherd seeks you and lays down His life for you precisely because He is the Good Shepherd and you are His sheep. He does it because He is good. And, He is not good because men judge Him to be so, but He is good, and He is the measure and judge of all goodness. Through the mouth of His prophet Ezekiel He says, “It is not for your sake, O Israel, that I am about to do this, but for the sake of my holy Name" (Ezek 34:36).You belong to Him, and so, He takes back what is His. This He does for the sake of His Name and because of the kind of God and Shepherd He is.
The Enemy, the predatory wolf, Satan, has sought to scatter and devour God’s people since their creation. He was successful with our First Parents in the Garden. He was successful as the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. He was successful as the kings of Israel served as wolves in sheep’s clothing to lead the people into apostasy, idolatry, and unbelief. He was successful as the Babylonians and the Assyrians scattered the people in exile. And he was successful as the scribes and the Pharisees, the shepherds of Israel, lead the people astray into complacency or despair by withholding from them the Good News of God’s salvation in His Shepherd Messiah who was coming into the world.
On a day of clouds and thick darkness, on a Friday that we now call Good, it appeared to us that the Enemy had finally won once and for all. The Good Shepherd gave Himself into the jaws of the wolf and died. But, in His death, Jesus broke Satan’s jaw and crushed his teeth, and on the third day He rose again having defeated death and having removed the stone of sin and guilt that kept you in your graves. The Good Shepherd takes back what is His for the sake of His Name. To God, you are His precious sheep. You are worth sacrificing for. You are worth dying for. To lose you or to give you up to an usurper is to be something other than who God is; it is to not be God at all. God is love, and the greatest possible expression of love is self-sacrifice, laying down one’s life for another.
And, “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
On a day of clouds and thick darkness, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, was raised up in death that He might draw all men to Himself and to life. He has sent forth His Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten all His sheep whom the false shepherds have scattered all over the face of the earth so that there is one flock and one Shepherd.
But, still you are a sheep, and death is part of what it means to be a sheep. Therefore, your Good Shepherd Jesus came as a sheep that He might lure and be attacked by the satanic wolf and so defeat him by His sinless and guiltless substitutionary death. Now you follow your Shepherd through death into His eternal life in His Father’s House. Death has lost its sting. It can no longer hold you. But, it has become an open door into life that cannot die. Because He has blazed the trail before you and has been raised the firstfruits of those who die in faith in the Lord, He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
Even now, as you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd leads you and guides you, cares for you, and protects you. He has prepared a meal for you in this life and world, in the presence of your enemies, that you might persevere. And, He leads you through death and the grave into His Father’s pastures where sheep may safely graze.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

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

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

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

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.
Everything is upside down. Nothing is as we had expected. He came as our king on Sunday. The city was electric as the crowds cheered Him and laid down their cloaks before Him praising God. Everyone was full of hope and joy. We cut palm branches from the trees and waved them in the air, and our children sang “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!” It was the inaugural day of a new kingdom, of a new hope. But then, He didn’t go to the king’s palace, He didn’t go to the governor’s fortress, but He went into the temple and He began doing the unthinkable…, He began turning everything upside down. He overturned the tables of the money changers and those who sold sacrificial animals. He made a whip of chords and began lashing at them and driving them out of the temple crying, “It is written: ‘My house will be a house of prayer.’ But you have made it ‘a den of thieves’.”
The Sanhedrin was enraged. Herod was both curious and suspicious. And Pilate was afraid that a riot would break out and Caesar would have his neck. So, they began looking for a way to kill Him. Since He was innocent, they began looking for false testimony against Him. And, many came forward in those days, but they were all easily disproved, until…, blasphemy! They would charge Him with blasphemy, a crime for which the punishment is death. Oh, they had to trump it up a bit, to be sure. After all, He didn’t come right out and say directly that He was God. But, He said what He said, and He meant what He meant, and, and for once, everyone understood Him. They understood Him because they had seen the signs, the miracles, He performed, signs and miracles that confirmed and fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, signs and miracles that only God could do. The only way you could charge Jesus with blasphemy was if you knew who He was and that His claims about Himself were true, and you rejected Him. That isn’t unbelief, but that is rejection of the Truth staring you square in the face. But, that is what they did. And, in effect, that is what we all did. We exchanged the Truth of God for a lie. We called good evil, and evil good. We turned everything upside down.
But, we were deceived. An enemy had done this. And, this is what the enemy does: He turns everything upside down. Though he attempts to mimic God, His Word, and His works, He twists them in order to deceive us. He makes good and true things seem like torturous slavery, and evil things seem enticing and desirable and good. The enemy deceived Judas, convincing him that he should betray our friend and teacher. Maybe he thought it would speed things up, get the revolution started already. Or, maybe he doubted that Jesus was truly the Messiah. Who knows for sure? Regardless, we know that he changed his mind later, when it was too late. After Jesus’ arrest in the garden Thursday night, we were all afraid that we would be next. And so, we ran, each one of us, going our own way, and we abandoned Jesus as they arrested Him and took Him to trial before the High Priest, the king, and the governor. I myself escaped with only a linen cloth covering my body. But, Judas was very sorrowful. He tried to return the money, but they wouldn’t take it back. Then they themselves, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin, became the instruments of the enemy. Instead of thanking Judas, praising him, or forgiving him and comforting him, they began to accuse him. His guilt was enormous, more than a man could bear. He had betrayed an innocent man, his friend and his teacher. The enemy convinced Judas that it was better to end it all, to die, than to keep on in such pain. The enemy robbed him of all hope. But, it was a lie; it was all a lie. That is what our enemy is. He is a liar, even the father of lies. All he wants is to destroy us and end us in ruin, because he hates God. And, how weak we are, so susceptible to his tempting, believing his lies. God, have mercy on us sinners.
Even Peter denied Him, though Jesus had told him in the garden, “This night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter answered Him saying, “I will die for you, but I will never deny you.” And, we all said the same. But, we were so afraid! Fear – fear is one of the enemy’s most powerful weapons against us. To fear anything or anyone more than God is to sin against His First Commandment. We all feared losing our own lives more than we feared denying Jesus. Three times someone from the crowd identified Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples. Each time Peter denied it vehemently, the third time even invoking a curse upon himself, he was so very afraid. But, then the cock crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “This night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter was cut to the heart. Like Judas, he also wept bitterly. But, Peter remembered how Jesus had forgiven him in the past; He remembered the mercy and love He had shown to the least of men and women, and he had hope. In truth, I think that the angel told the women at the empty tomb to go and tell the disciples, and specifically Peter, the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and that they would find Him in Galilee, in order to absolve and comfort Peter from the sin of his denial and betrayal. After His resurrection, Jesus did absolve Peter personally, and He sent Him with this charge: “Feed my sheep.”
Everything is upside down. The women went to the tomb early Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, in order to finish the preparations for His burial, to anoint His body and wrap it in linen. The rest of us had returned to the upper room where we celebrated the Last Supper with Him, in fear, with the door bolted tight. The women worried that they would not be able to roll away the great stone that barred the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. But, when they arrived, they were terrified to find that the stone had already been rolled away! Moreover, Jesus wasn’t there! I mean, His body, it was gone! And, there was a young man there, sitting where Jesus had lain, wearing a white robe. He said to them, “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.” Then he told them, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” But, they were terrified, and they fled from the tomb, and they said nothing to anyone, because they were so very afraid.
Fear. Fear keeps us locked up inside ourselves, in our homes, in our churches. Fear keeps us from telling anyone anything about Jesus, about the Good News of death and resurrection for the life of the world. The stone that was meant to keep Jesus’ dead body in His tomb was rolled away, and yet our fear was like a great stone keeping us locked up in our own tombs of hopelessness, despair, and unbelief. Fear turns everything upside down. Christ is risen, just as He said! And yet, we too often live our lives as though He remains dead.
My brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And so are we! Jesus’ resurrection isn’t merely a historical fact, although it is certainly that, but it is a present fact and reality. Jesus lives! Death could not hold Him, and it cannot hold us! How then will we live our lives as a result of this fact? After Jesus’ Ascension and His sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we were no longer afraid. For forty years and more we proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus before kings and emperors, suffering imprisonment, beatings, torture, hardship, and loss, but without fear. We all gave our lives for our confession of Jesus. I myself was dragged to my death through the streets of Alexandria for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of you will be blessedly spared such horrible suffering, but persecution in your day is of a different, more subtle, and therefore, more deceitful and devilish kind. We knew fully well that we were on the outs with our society and culture, but you have enjoyed being inwith your society and culture for such a long time now that you have much to lose in terms of worldly comfort, stability, possessions, and prestige. That is why St. Paul speaks of the importance and necessity of disciplining yourselves as a runner disciplines his body to run a race. Likewise, he exhorts you today to “Cleanse out the old leaven,” the “leaven of malice and evil,” and celebrate this festival with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Your culture values what it considers freedom, independence, and equality more than anything else, but these are nothing more than a euphemism for sinful license without any regard for truth, goodness, or God. It is tempting and intoxicating, but it is another lie of the enemy of which you must beware, mark, and avoid lest you become ensnared in the tomb once again.
But, He has left us a wonderful gift, His body, the Church. As He was dying, Jesus told His mother to behold John as her son, and He told John to behold Mary as his mother. What He meant was that, in Him, we are a new community and family of faith. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted children of our God and Father in Jesus, and we all have the Church as our Mother, from whose holy womb in baptism we were born again into a new life that will never die. Therefore, let us gather here together every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, which is a Little Easter, to commune together in Christ, our sins forgiven anew, nourished, strengthened, protected, equipped, and sent by His Word and Blessed Sacraments to live in true freedom without fear. And let the Light of Christ shine through us in word and deed to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, in His most Holy Spirit. For, Jesus has turned everything upside down, which means He has made us right again with God His Father, a new creation.
Then let us feast this Easter Day on Christ, the bread of heaven; The Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven. Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed; faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.