Sunday, April 28, 2019

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 Easter Gospel ended in fear and silence. 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.” And, they were not alone. Today’s Gospel has the Apostles gathered together in the upper room behind locked doors in fear that what the Judaizers did to Jesus they would surely do to them. They were all filled with fear the night He was betrayed and arrested in the Garden, and when He was tried, convicted, sentenced, and crucified on Friday. But, now that He is risen, why are they so afraid?
They were afraid because Jesus’ resurrection means something. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! And, that changes everything! You simply cannot go on living your lives the same as before now that Jesus is risen. Yes, it’s confusing. No, it doesn’t make sense to human reason. But, it’s true! Jesus is alive. He lived and walked on this earth for forty days after His resurrection. He was seen by the women. He was seen by the Apostles. He was seen by over five hundred in a single day. He was seen by hundreds and maybe thousands more. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is simply incontrovertible. The evidence and the eye witness testimony would be overwhelming in any court of law. So, why don’t more people believe? Why doesn’t everyone believe? Well, why didn’t the women believe? Why didn’t the Apostles believe? Why didn’t Thomas believe, and all those who had seen Him? Why is it so hard to believe that Jesus is risen and living? Because the resurrection of Jesus demands a change on our part, a change in our lives and how we live them, a change in what we live them for and how we treat each other, our family, friends, and our enemies.
They saw the angel. They heard his Gospel message, “He is risen!” They saw the empty tomb, the stone rolled away, the burial cloths folded and lying neatly at the head and foot where they had laid His body, but still the women fled in terror and they told no one anything. The Apostles all told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” But, still, he refused to believe. Why? Because, if it’s true, if it’s true that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then that changes everything. No longer can we live for ourselves and for our own selfish pursuits. No longer is the meaning of our lives the accumulation of possessions and wealth, the grooming of our reputations and names, the envy of our peers, and all the countless foolish, idolatrous things men and the world value. Truly, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
It’s so much easier to believe that things simply go on as they always have: Birth, school, work, death; eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The fallen world and our fallen flesh love this scenario; we love death, and we live in a culture of death. However, Jesus lives; He is not dead, but He is risen! And that fact demands a change from us. That fact demands that we see things differently. We are accountable and we are answerable for our actions, not to mention our words and our thoughts! And, that’s terrifying, isn’t it? That fact makes your sinful flesh and your fallen reason want to deny the resurrection, to hide like cockroaches when the lights are turned on. That is our natural reaction, according to our sinful and corrupted sight, reason, and flesh. But, Jesus calls us in His resurrection to see differently – to see, not with our eyes, but with our ears.
“I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith.” Mary beheld her resurrected Lord, but she did not recognize Him until He called her by Name, “Mary.” Then the Holy Spirit opened her eyes and she believed, confessing, “Rabboni!” Our Good Shepherd Jesus knows His sheep. He calls them by Name. They hear His voice and they follow Him. He leads them into green pastures and He feeds them beside the still waters in the presence of their enemies who surround them. Likewise, Jesus called Thomas by name, inviting him to touch His wounds and believe. Then Doubting Thomas confessed, “My Lord, and my God!” Jesus didn’t only rise from death Himself, but He calls His people to rise from the death of sin and to live resurrected lives now, seeing differently, newly, and clearly for the first time.
Jesus invites you to see Him with your ears, to see Him in His Church, His Body, in His Word and in His Sacraments, His Word made flesh – seeable, touchable, tasteable. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” But, do you see it? Do you see Him? Or, do you see only a sinful man spouting too many words that make you wait an extra fifteen minutes to fill your bellies with food that doesn’t last? Or, do you see only an aging and slowly dying congregation, and with it diminishing resources and worldly relevance? Or, do you see only empty and unimpressive rituals that bore with their repetition and redundancy? Or, do you see only archaic hymns with too many stanzas that fail to spark a flutter in your hearts or to inspire you to tell others? If so, then this word is for you today. See– not with your eyes, but with your ears! Can these dry, dead bones live? Well, can they? Pay no matter to what your eyes see! Pay attention to what your ears hear! “Behold! I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” You will confess with Mary Magdalene, “Rabboni!” And, with no-longer Doubting Thomas, “My God, and my Lord!”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything! You cannot continue to live as you did when you were dead, unless you choose to remain in death. You cannot continue to see things as you did before, unless you choose to walk in darkness and blindness. The Light is shining in the darkness; you can either live in it or attempt to hide from it in fear like a cockroach. “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk therefore as children of the light.” We do not worship a God who is absent or far off, but we worship a God who is near, who in fact is present among you right now. And, this fact demands something of us. How do we behave in the presence of the King of heaven and earth? What do we say in the presence of our God who has defeated death and lives? We say, forgive me, a poor, miserable sinner. We say, Lord, have mercy upon us. We kneel before Him in deep reverence, humility, holy fear, and awe. We stand before Him in boldness and make our petitions known to Him as our Heavenly Father has invited us to do. We seek to touch Him, to hold Him, to taste Him, to receive Him into ourselves. He is our life; apart from Him we are truly dead. The way we worship Him is a confession of what we believe about Him: He is here, really and truly here with us. He is risen and living, bestowing life to us still through His life-giving and sustaining Word and though His Word made flesh, the body and blood of Jesus who is risen!
Do you not see Him? Then repent, and have your eyes opened by His Holy Spirit and see Him with your ears. Every Lord’s Day, that is every Sunday, is a little Easter, a day of resurrection for you as our Lord breathes His life-giving Spirit over you and into you once again. Here, in this place, this Church, His body, you are the recipients of His life, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness. Here He raises your dry, dead bones to life again and again. Here He puts sinews and flesh upon your lifeless bones once again that you may live, and live for Him by living for one another. Here He gives you anew the deposit and down payment of His Spirit, the promise that your resurrected life now is but a foretaste of the life He will bestow upon you when He raises your bodies from the dead on the Last Day when our Lord returns in glory.
If you eat His Supper too frequently it will not be special, you say? You are thinking wrongly. Open your eyes and see with your ears. The Supper is not fine China to be brought out only on Easter and Christmas, but it is your weekly, even your daily spiritual food and sustenance. If you are not hungry for it as often as you might receive it, check yourself to see if you are truly alive. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! His life is your life now and forever. Apart from Him there is no life, but only blindness, darkness, and death. Do not disbelieve, but believe, and confess with Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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

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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.
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women got up to work. There was unfinished work to do because of the haste of Friday before the Great Sabbath. They made their way to the tomb to finish the work of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. He was dead. There would be time for mourning later on. Now there was work to be done. From their perspective, nothing had changed, except that the Rabbi they loved was dead. People die all the time. Eventually, someone you love will die. Now was the time to work, to do what was necessary. Life would never be the same, but it would go on. There was work to be done, bread to bake and clothes to make, the Law to keep and sacrifices to offer for failure to keep it. Tomorrow would be like today, and today there was work to do.
The first work to do would be to roll away the stone. You see, they fully expected it to be there. That would be a daunting task for two women. Imagine their surprise, even horror, when they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Still, they entered the tomb. They still had work to do. That’s when they saw a young man sitting where Jesus’ body had been laid, dressed in a white robe. They were alarmed, as you might expect. The young man 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.”
This young man, whom we understand to be one of God’s holy angels, is the first Evangelist. He proclaimed the Good News to the frightened women that Jesus had died and had risen just as He had said He would. And, if that were not enough, he invited them to see and believe. I imagine that you have thought at times, “If only I could have seen and heard what Jesus’ disciples and the crowds saw and heard. I would have believed.” And yet, seeing and hearing, they did not believe. They didn’t understand. They simply couldn’t comprehend. The young man 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 went out and fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Seeing is believing, or so they say. But the women saw, and they did not believe. In fact, Jesus’ disciples, and even His opponents, saw and heard many amazing things and did not believe. Truly it was, and it is, as Jesus taught: They have God’s Word. If they will not hear God’s Word, neither will they believe even if someone were to be raised from the dead.
Later that same day Jesus appeared to His disciples gathered together in fear behind closed doors. They believed when they saw Jesus’ hands and side, but only after He ate some bread and fish were they certain He wasn’t a ghost. But, as you will hear more fully next week, Thomas was not there. When they told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas said that he would never believe unless he could see and touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side himself. The next Sunday, Jesus again appeared amongst His disciples. This time Thomas was there. Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him and believe. However, now that Thomas could see for himself, he no longer demanded to touch, and he believed. Jesus said to him, “ You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
But, what about Job? Job lived between 1800 – 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, and yet he famously confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job had never seen the Lord. Job had never heard the Lord. But, Job had heard of God’s promise to our First Parents in the Garden, and likely of His covenant with Abraham to bless all nations through an heir from his own decent. There is simply no comparing what Job heard and saw to what the Apostles heard and saw, not to mention the extreme affliction God permitted Job to suffer, and yet Job’s faith and confession are as rock solid and certain as no other in the entire Scriptures. “I know,” Job confessed, not “I think” or “I hope.” “I know that my Redeemer lives, and though my body will surely die and dissolve in the earth, I know that I will see God in my own flesh and blood body, with my own eyes.”
Whence comes Job’s faith and confession? Whence comes the Apostle’s, Thomas’, the women at the tomb, and your faith and confession? This faith and confession is created in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD. This shouldn’t be surprising, for that’s how it was in the Creation. God spoke His Word and there was light, heavens and earth, seas, land, trees, plants, and animals of every kind. And, the day of Jesus’ resurrection is the first day of God’s New Creation. “Behold, I make all things new.” God continues to create anew through the proclamation of the Gospel, removing the stones of sin and guilt and raising the spiritually dead to new and everlasting life.
Jesus’ death on Good Friday was for all, no exceptions, no exclusions. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” Likewise Jesus’ resurrection is for all and available to all. The Holy Spirit is blowing through the Word and Sacraments throughout the hills and valleys, fields, forests, deserts, and plains of this earth raising to life those who do not refuse and reject Him. Our justification, faith, resurrection, and life are His work, and it is glorious in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
This is the day that the LORD has made. It is a new day, not like Friday. The women were wrong. They didn’t understand at the time. But they did later. How? By the Word. They heard the Word of the angel in Jesus’ tomb. They heard the Word that Mary Magdalene spoke to Peter. Thomas also was wrong, but He believed later because he heard the Word of the Lord proclaimed by his fellow apostles. Though it may seem that seeing is believing, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Still, faith is created only by the Holy Spirit where and when it pleases Him, and the Spirit can be resisted.
But the women were also wrong about the days following being just like the days before. No, after Jesus’ resurrection, everything is changed, all things are new. No longer need we strive to make ourselves right with God. Jesus has done that for us. It is finished. The Law is fulfilled. Now we are free to serve Him without fear all the days of our everlasting lives. We live today in the freedom and joy of Christ’s resurrection. And we look forward to the day when we, with Job, Thomas, Peter and the Apostles, the Marys, and all the faithful, will see God with our own eyes, in our own resurrected and glorified bodies, face to face. Until that day keep us dear Father in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday

John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This is the day that Abraham saw on Mount Moriah, and He was glad. Jesus is the Lamb, of God’s offering, caught in the thicket of your sins, even as you remember this day the thorns that crowned His sacred head and pierced His holy flesh. Jesus is your unblemished Passover Lamb who willingly lays down His life for you. Like the fiery serpent in the wilderness, Jesus is made to be the symbol and token of your poisonous sin and death, raised up for you on a tree that you may look to Him and live. Jesus is your Great High Priest who has entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
For generations, the Patriarchs and the Prophets had told of His coming, but you have not believed their word. Because He comes in lowliness and humility and poverty you do not receive Him, while those from afar, and those who cannot see, hear the Word and believe. And, because He preaches, not works, but forgiveness, you reject Him, insisting, “Just tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it, if it seems good to me.” And, because He receives sinners and the unclean, even gentiles to Himself, and because He eats with them and drinks with them, you despise Him, and esteem Him not. And, when He is marred and disfigured, without majesty or beauty, a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief, hanging upon the cursed tree of the cross, you hide your face from Him and consider Him justly stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God.
And you are right. It was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief. But, He did not suffer because He deserved it, but, rather, He Suffered because you deserve it. Jesus did not suffer for His own sins and guilt, but it was your griefs and sorrows that He bore. It was for your transgressions that He was wounded. It was for your iniquities that He was crushed. It was for your peace that He was chastised. And it was for your healing that He bore the stripes. For, the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. And so, you do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as you are, yet without sin.
Yet, all this He does willingly for you. No one forced Him to go to the cross and no one took His life from Him – Not the Sanhedrin, not Herod, not even Pontius Pilate, Satan, or even the LORD Himself – but Jesus went willingly, like a lamb to slaughter, silent, opening not His mouth. And, in death, He gave His soul as a guilt offering and He suffered the excruciating loneliness of abandonment by His Father. But, as a seed planted in soil, the Seed promised to Eve, reiterated to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, He saw His offspring, as countless as the stars in the heavens. And, for this, He gladly suffered.
Therefore, because your Great High Priest Jesus has redeemed your flesh from death and has atoned for your sins and guilt, you may in confidence draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. That throne of grace is the cross of your crucified Lord and King Jesus from whence mercy comes and grace is offered. It is the mercy seat where the sacrificial blood is sprinkled on behalf of all nations. Do not hide your face from Jesus’ crucified body on the cross, for the crucifix is the image of God’s love for you. In His wounds and stripes you have healing; and, in His death you receive life. For, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus is that holy grain and Seed; you are His abundant fruit.
“This is the day that the Lord has made,” sings the Christ in Psalm 118, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Though that day is the day of resurrection properly, it cannot be separated from this Friday which we also call good and in which we rejoice. As your substitute, Jesus prayed, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” As Jesus faced His Passion and death for you, He trusted in the LORD and in His Word for strength, deliverance, and for salvation. He prayed, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death.” Now, the crucified Christ has become the very Gate of Heaven that the righteous may enter through it. And so, we sing with Christ, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Holy (Maundy) Thursday

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Can you even imagine the sound of that night, the sound of the slaughter of all those unblemished, one-year-old male lambs, bleating and neighing and screaming at twilight as darkness descended upon Egypt? Of course, shortly after that, the lambs were no longer screaming, but they fell silent. Then it was the mothers and the fathers, the sisters and the brothers of the firstborn sons and daughters of Egypt that were screaming and wailing in horror, and grief, and mourning over the slaughtered victims of the LORD’s wrath against sin and unbelief. Then, it was not lambs, but the Egyptian firstborn that died, but it was the children of Israel who heard the screaming as they prepared to leave Egypt, the land of their slavery and hardship, their hell.
The children of Israel heard the screaming of the Egyptians as they ate their slaughtered lambs together with their firstborn sons and daughters and their families, safe from the horror descending upon the land. They ate their lambs, roasted in fire, in haste, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs, with belts fastened around their waists, with sandals on their feet, and with staffs in their hands. For, because of the blood of those innocent slaughtered lambs that marked the doorposts and the lintels of their homes, the LORD passed over their homes and spared their firstborn His wrath against their sin, even as the LORD visited the homes of the Egyptians and all whose doorposts were not marked with lamb’s blood, pouring out the fullness of His wrath upon them and killing their firstborn. This was the LORD’s Passover, in which the LORD spared His people His wrath upon their sins because of the blood of the lambs that marked them, even as He poured out His wrath upon those who did not heed His Word and trust in Him.
Indeed, in the Passover, the LORD made a key distinction between His people and all others. His people listened to His Word and trusted in Him. They marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood as He had commanded them. Therefore, the LORD passed over them and spared their firstborn. The LORD did not spare them because they were sinless or holy or righteous or anything else, but the LORD spared them because of His Word and His promise in which they trusted, just as, long ago, their father Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD credited him with righteousness and spared his son Isaac. In contrast, the Egyptians, and, quite likely, a few Hebrews, did not believe the LORD and His Word and, therefore, refused to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. Therefore, the LORD poured out His wrath upon them and took their firstborn. The distinction between the two peoples and how they received and experienced the LORD’s visitation depended solely upon their faith and trust in the LORD and His Word. The righteous shall live by faith, then, now, and always.
Moreover, we see in the Passover that the totality of the LORD’s wrath against sin was expended for those who trusted in Him. The unblemished, one year old, male lambs were to be roasted whole, head, body, legs, and entrails, and the entire lamb was to be eaten; any remains left over were to be burnt so that there was absolutely nothing left. The lamb, whose innocent blood was shed to mark the doorposts of the faithful’s homes, was completely destroyed, having absorbed, the totality and the fullness of the LORD’s wrath against sin. Those who trusted in the LORD and His Word and sacrificed their lambs in the manner He commanded were spared the death of their firstborn, not because of their work in making the sacrifice, but because of the LORD’s Word and promise which He connected to those lambs, the benefit of which the people received through faith and trust in the LORD, His Word, and His promise.
Neither the Hebrews nor the Egyptians deserved to be passed over. Likewise, the lambs did not deserve to be slaughtered. However, the Passover is not about the LORD giving us what we deserve, death, but the Passover is about the LORD giving us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness and life. For, just as in Noah’s flood, when the waters of the LORD’s wrath destroyed the wicked, unbelieving, and unrepentant world, even as they raised up faithful Noah and his family and delivered them safely in a new world and life; and just as in the crossing of the Red Sea, in which the waters of the LORD’s wrath destroyed the wicked, unbelieving, and unrepentant Egyptians in the Sea, even as the faithful children of Israel passed safely through the waters on dry ground; and just as in Holy Baptism, where the waters of the LORD’s wrath against your sin drowned and destroyed your old sinful nature, while a new holy and righteous nature was raised up to new life that never ends, so the fate of all people is dependent upon whether or not you are marked with the blood of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ.
Yes, the holy and innocent shed blood of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ must mark the doorways of your body and your soul so that the LORD’s wrath against your sin will pass over you. And, just as in the first Passover in Egypt, this is the LORD’s work and doing, and it is accomplished, complete, and fulfilled in the self-sacrifice of the Lamb of God, God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who selflessly laid down His life for you, and for the whole world, in love for the LORD, and in love for you, whom the LORD loves with a boundless love. You receive the benefit of the Lamb’s self-offering just the same as Abraham, the children of Israel, and all people of all times and all places – by believing and trusting in the LORD and in His Word and promise, and by believing and trusting in the LORD’s Word and promise made flesh and fulfilled for you in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has borne the fullness of the world’s sin, and the fullness of the LORD’s wrath against sin, so that there is nothing left, for, it is finished.
“I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” wrote St. Paul. St. Paul did not proclaim something new to the Corinthians when he instructed them about the Lord’s Supper, but he directed them to the Apostolic tradition and practice that he had taught them, which he himself received from the Apostles, which, in turn, they received from Jesus Himself when He celebrated his final Passover meal with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and was delivered over to the Jews and the Romans to be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the entire world. That night, while recounting and celebrating the mighty deliverance the LORD visited upon His people in the Passover, Jesus reinterpreted that event in reference to Himself. There was no Passover lamb at this meal, for Jesus was the Passover Lamb of God. And, as He shared with His disciples the unleavened bread, He told them plainly that it was His body. Likewise, as He blessed the cup of wine and shared it with them, He told them plainly that it was His blood of the New Covenant, shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins.
After dinner, at twilight, Jesus and His disciples went to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to pray. The sun had set and it was now the Day of Preparation, the day on which the lambs were to be slaughtered for the Passover. There in the garden, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and taken to Caiaphas, the High Priest, and tried for the crime of blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of God and the Messianic King of the Jews. Throughout the nighttime hours of Good Friday, Jesus was tried by Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, by King Herod, and finally by Pilate once again, who, then, delivered Him over to be crucified. In the later morning hours, Jesus was scourged and mocked and humiliated, after which He was crucified around noontime, the same hour that the sacrificial lambs were being slaughtered in the temple for the Passover.
I hand over to you what I myself have received, writes St. Paul. And, so do all faithful pastors hand over to you what they themselves have received: “This is my body which is given for you.” “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And, as you eat and drink, again and again, the holy, innocent, shed blood of the Lamb of God marks the doorposts and lintels of your body and your soul – the Lamb of God who has borne the fullness of the LORD’s wrath against your sin for you so that it is finished and there is no more. His wrath passes over you, because it has fallen upon Jesus, whose blood has cleansed you and covered you from all sin.
Jesus’ selfless sacrifice was for you. You receive the benefit of His work by faith and trust in Him and His Word. Even more, you are clothed with the benefit of His sacrifice for you in Holy Baptism: His righteousness is your righteousness. His life is your life. His Sonship with the Father is your adoption as His son. Just as in Noah’s flood, just as in the Red Sea crossing, so in Holy Baptism, you have died in Christ, and you have been raised in Him to new and everlasting life. The LORD’s wrath has been poured out for you upon His Son, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus has borne it all for you. Now there is only love and life and blessing through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, there is a New Commandment, the mandate, the mandatum, of Maundy Thursday: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This is not a commandment of the Law, but it is a promise and a blessing proclaimed by Jesus just before He fulfilled the Law completely in your place. For, it is with His perfect, holy, self-sacrificial love that you are to love others. You are to deliver to others only what you have received from the Lord: grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. By this, all people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples when you have love for one another.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Palmarum is both the Second Sunday of Passiontide and the beginning of the holiest week of the Church’s Year of Grace. The liturgy and the Propers for Palmarum are steeped in drama and passion. Even the most stoic of Lutherans may be seen this day to divert their eyes, to wriggle uncomfortably in their seats, maybe even to shed a tear or two. You cannot help but get caught up in the emotion of the day, for it brings together the entire Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in one setting.
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the first day of the week that would end with His trial, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial, the crowds gathered in the City of God’s Peace for the Passover received Him with joyous, triumphal acclamation and praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” They threw down their garments and palm branches before their Messiah King who would release them from their oppression under the Romans, retake the kingly throne of David, and restore glory and honor to Israel before the eyes of the Gentiles.
But, this was not the first time that they tried to make Jesus their king. When He fed the 5,000 plus with five loaves of bread and two small fish, and the people ate until they were full, and still they took up twelve basketfuls of leftovers, the mob rushed at Jesus to force Him to be their king. Jesus retreated up the mountain to be alone. But, the next day the mob found Him in Capernaum, and there Jesus taught them that they sought Him to be their king for all the wrong reasons. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus then taught them that the True Bread that gives True Life is His flesh come down from heaven. Then the mob began to grumble.
How quickly the songs of praise turn to angry shouts and hatred. Palm Sunday begins with the joyful “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord” and it ends with ugly shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, and of the Gentiles, – the sentence nailed over His gory head was correct – but He was not the kind of king the mob wanted. He rides into the capital City of God’s Peace, not on a war horse with a chariot, but lowly, in humility, on the colt of a donkey. He wears no royal gown of costly purple, but He is stripped of all clothing, scourged until His flesh is ripped and torn and He is robed in His own blood. Only then, and in cruel mockery, is He robed in purple cloth. His crown is also a mockery, a twisted ring of terrible thorns beat into His skull. To the eyes of the Jews and the Gentiles, to the eyes of the Sanhedrin, the Romans, and even to the eyes of the disciples, King Jesus was weak, pathetic, pitiable, and defeated. Change the sentence to “This man said I am King of the Jews,” the chief priests shouted. But Pontius Pilate, the sword of authority in God’s left hand, ruled “What I have written, I have written.”
Dearly beloved people of God, having eyes, you do not see. Having ears, you do not hear. There is only one Law of God, and that is love. Love is the fulfilling of the Law because love is always concerned with the welfare of another, not with the welfare of the self. How do you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? You begin by not loving yourself more than Him. How do you love others? You begin by not loving yourself more than others. God is love, and this is how God loves, He gives, He doesn’t take, and what He gives is a free and perfect gift, the most costly and most precious gift possible, the gift of His Son in death for the life of the world. He gives the Life-Giving Bread from Heaven that men may eat and live forever, yet we grumble and complain and disbelieve because the gift doesn’t come in the fashion we desire. We are like children screaming “There’s nothing to eat!” standing before a pantry full of food!
Oh, we have eyes that see and ears that hear, but we allow them to be filled by the lies and deceptions of the devil because they fulfill our emotional needs, for a while. But, like eating a bag of fatty chips or a half-gallon of ice cream, what the devil gives us always leaves us feeling worse in the end, fat, lethargic, depressed, no energy, self-loathing, etc. Oh, we make for ourselves so very many kings, but none of them satisfies, and none of them frees us from the bondage of sin and death.
But, o people of God, you have a True King in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. King Jesus rules the people of His kingdom by serving them. King Jesus has served you by taking on your human flesh, by humbling himself, by becoming obedient to the authority of an earthly king even unto the point of death on a cross, because King Jesus is the sacrificial love of the Father for you His beloved sons and daughters that you may live with Him in His kingdom forever.
Your King who serves, your King who suffered and died for your sake to set you free from sin and death, your King Jesus, your Bread King, continues to serve you still. This day He stoops down from His throne to wash you anew in His absolution, restoring you to the purity of your Holy Baptism. This day He proclaims to you again His victory over sin, death, and the devil in His creative and life-giving Word. And this day He feeds you, still, with the Bread come down from Heaven, His holy flesh and precious blood, in this Blessed Sacrament that your flesh may be joined in His flesh and that your blood may be joined in His blood, O, most Holy Communion, that you may have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Oh, what a King our Jesus is!
As I began to prepare for today’s service, at first I thought that it was going to be quite a challenge to work together the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the horrible shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. But, as I prepared, I began to see that it is precisely Holy Communion that ties Palm Sunday and Good Friday together. Do we not sing the song of the Palm Sunday mob “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist? Does not our King Jesus come to us humbly, mounted in, with, and under the common elements of bread and wine to serve us with the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He died on Good Friday’s cross to give us? And, does not our Lord Himself exhort us to eat and to drink His body and blood in remembrance of His Holy Passion and Blessed death?
Yes! The Lord’s Supper brings to you your King. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble…” and hidden in lowly form, simple bread, inexpensive wine, He comes! He comes, and He is present, here and now for you, always for you. Once again King Jesus comes to you where you are and He serves you with His forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. And where the King is, there is His Kingdom as well, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. And at the Name of Jesus every knee bows, knees in heaven and knees on earth, even knees under the earth, and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And, God the Father is glorified!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Judica - The Fifth Week of Lent

Mark 14:53-72; 1 Kings 21:1-29

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
If you visit Israel, you will undoubtedly see the symbol of a hand having an eye in the middle of its palm. This hand symbol is called a Hamsa, and it is as prevalent today in Middle-Eastern culture as is the Star of David or the Islamic crescent moon. You will find jewelry depicting the Hamsa, doorknockers, billboards and graffiti, t-shirts, purses, and more. But, what does the Hamsa mean? Well, traditionally the Hamsa represents the Hand of God, that is to say, God’s active presence among His people. The Hamsa’s five fingers represent the five books of the Torah, the Word of God. However, over time, superstition has arisen concerning the Hamsa, particularly with the addition of the eye in its palm, and it has become a sort of amulet to ward off evil or a good luck charm. Particularly, the Hamsa is said to protect oneself from the “evil eye” of others and their covetous gaze upon what belongs to oneself and one’s family.
The Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments each address the matter of covetousness of God-given gifts that belong to others: The Eighth Commandment pertains to the good name and reputation of our neighbor; the Ninth Commandment pertains to the material possessions of our neighbor; and the Tenth Commandment pertains to the personal relations and family of our neighbor. Because of our fallen sinful nature, our every thought and desire is corrupted and selfish and self-serving. thus, we need the LORD’s Commandments to expose our guilt and convict us sin that we might despair of salvation by our own works and obedience. However, because we have been regenerated and renewed in Holy Baptism, we also have a new spirit who genuinely love the LORD and His Commandments and wants to keep and do them. This new man in us needs the LORD’s Commandments to guide him in the way he should go. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther ingeniously meets both of these needs in his explanations. First he addresses the old Adam, commanding him what he must not do. Then he addresses the new man, directing him in the law of love in how he should think of and treat his neighbor in love.
The Eighth Commandment commands us so to love God, that we also love our neighbor whom God also loves, so that we not only do not seek to harm our neighbor’s name and reputation, but we actively seek to uphold, defend, and protect them. In Israel, the Hamsa is often invoked when someone offers a seeming compliment – “Your dress is beautiful,” for example. Such a compliment may mean that you have been viewed by an envious and possibly covetous eye. Rather than appealing to amulets and charms, which are of the devil, the LORD’s children are to view their neighbors with selfless, sacrificial love, the love of God, which seeks, never the harm, but only the good of others. Similarly, the Ninth and Tenth Commandments forbid the covetous desire to have the property and relations of our neighbor, the wicked desire that our neighbor should not have them, but we are to help our neighbor to keep and protect and enjoy the blessings he has received from our LORD. Superstitions like the Hamsa do not look in love to the good of neighbor or in love towards the LORD, but the Hamsa looks to the self, it’s wants and needs and self-preservation alone. This is the very opposite of the LORD’s Commands and is of the devil.
King Ahab looked on the possession of his neighbor Naboth with a covetous, envious, spiteful, and unloving eye. When Naboth rejected the King’s offers to buy his vineyard or to give him another in exchange, Jezebel the queen put a wicked plan into action in order to acquire the vineyard by deceit. She wrote false letters and sealed them with the King’s signet declaring a fast and for Naboth to be set at the head of the table. Then she arranged for two deceitful men to bring false testimony against Naboth saying that he cursed both God and King. They took Naboth outside the city and stoned him death with stones. Then Ahab went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard, which he covetously had acquired by deceit and murder. Ahab and Jezebel transgressed the Eighth Commandment, for they bore false testimony concerning Naboth, slandering him and destroying his reputation so that he was not only rejected by others but was murdered. They also transgressed the Ninth Commandment for they covetously desired to have Naboth’s vineyard and they deceitfully conspired and schemed in order to take his inheritance. Of course, this means that they also transgressed the First and Greatest Commandment: They did not love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and so they did not love their neighbor, even Naboth, as they loved themselves. The LORD sent the Prophet Elijah to Ahab to confront him with his sin, which he called idolatry, for that is what all sin ultimately is – fear, love, and trust, not in the LORD the creator of all things, but rather in the created things that He has made.
Similarly, false testimony was brought against Jesus. The chief priests and the elders of the people could raise no charge against Jesus that would merit His death, so they gathered worthless and deceitful men who would slander and tell lies about Jesus. In contrast, Peter, Jesus’ dear friend and Apostle, had an opportunity to defend Jesus’ name and reputation against such slander and false testimony, but in fear for his own safety and welfare, Peter denied even knowing Jesus, even invoking a curse upon himself in order to convince them of his sincerity.
Truly, with the examples of Naboth and Jesus, we can clearly see how the sin of covetousness is no small or insignificant thing. What we are want to consider white lies and gossip, or what we feign as admiration, even a complement, often is but a sugarcoated demonic hatred and desire to have, or to ruin and destroy, what belongs to another. Covetousness is a failure of love for the neighbor, and ultimately it is a failure of love for the LORD. When our eyes are scouring the gifts and possessions of others we display our dissatisfaction with what the LORD had provided us. From this, Lord, protect and defend us. And, by Your Holy Spirit, fill us with such love for you that we will truly love our neighbors and help them to keep and preserve your gifts to them.
In sum, the Commandments of the LORD are not a burden to the soul who loves Him. Indeed, the LORD has promised great blessing to those who keep His Commandments. However, we must keep them out of love for Him and thanksgiving for His grace and mercy shown to us. If you try to keep the LORD’s Commandments in order to justify yourself before Him, they will either plunge you into the deepest depths of despair, or they will catapult you to the heights of pride and self-righteousness, either of which lead only to hell and eternal damnation. May we ever sing with the Psalmist: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Judica - The Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lent 5) / Sunday of the Passion

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Who’s your daddy? That’s the question we consider today. In Hebrew culture, who your father is says everything about yourself. That is why the prefixes Benand Barproceed so many biblical names – Benjamin, Simon BarJonah, Bartimaeus, etc. The prefix benis Hebrew, and baris Aramaic, but both mean son, or more precisely, the possessor of. The idea is that a sonis thepossessor ofhis father’s inheritance, name, and reputation. So, as you can imagine, who your father is says a lot about yourself.
The Jews, that is the Judaizers, the practitioners of a hypocritical and legalistic religion that was not the faith of Abraham, routinely questioned and criticized Jesus concerning whose son He was. When Jesus taught in His hometown synagogue in Nazareth, they derided Him saying, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” And, of course, Satan tempted Jesus to doubt His own sonship saying, “If you are the Son of God….” You see, sonship in Hebrew culture meant much more than mere blood descent, but sonship had a spiritual dimension as well. Thus, when Jesus said to the tax collector Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since [Zacchaeus] also is a son of Abraham,”He didn’t just mean that Zacchaeus was a Jew, a direct descendent of Abraham. He meant that Zacchaeus had faith. It is the spiritual dimension of sonship, faith, which Jesus proclaimed as being true and salvific, over and against the Judaizers who held to sonship by blood descent.
And so, Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here.” “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” That Jesus is the Son of God means that He is the possessor of all that is His Father’s. That the Judaizers are sons of the devil means that they are the possessors of all that is the devil’s. And, what they possess, Jesus says, is murder and lies. Murder and lies is the fullness of the devil’s character. He is fundamentally opposed to and set against all that is good and right and true. He is fundamentally opposed to and set against God and His Son Jesus, and he is fundamentally opposed to and set against you whom the Father and Son love with a selfless, sacrificial, perfect, and holy love. The Judaizers demonstrated this by accusing Jesus of having a demon, which is nothing less than blasphemy and the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit, for only the Holy Spirit of God can create and sustain faith that saves.
Appealing to blood descent, the Judaizers claimed to have Abraham as their father. At one time Jesus said that he could raise up children for Abraham from the stones lying on the ground. The Judaizers understood that He was referring to the Gentiles, for stones was a derogatory term they used to describe the Gentiles. This time, however, Jesus answered saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” The Judaizers protested saying, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus answered them saying, “Before Abraham was, I am.” And, they took up stones to throw at Him for the sin of blasphemy, for He used the divine Name of God in reference to Himself.
But, when did Abraham, who lived 1700 years before Jesus, see Jesus’ day? Abraham saw Jesus’ day when his only son Isaac was spared on the Mountain of the LORD, Mount Moriah, and a ram was provided as a substitute sacrifice. You will remember that the LORD had promised Abraham a son of his own flesh by his aged and barren wife Sarah. Moreover, the LORD had promised Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through this son of promise. However, as time passed, Abraham and Sarah began to doubt, and Abraham took Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar and she conceived and bore him a son, Ishmael. But, Ishmael was not the son the son of promise. The LORD keeps His Word and promise, and in time Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son, the true son of promise, Isaac. It was this son, the son of promise, Isaac that the LORD then commanded Abraham to sacrifice. This time Abraham did not waver in faith, but he trusted in the LORD completely.
As they made their way to the Mountain of the LORD, Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Though he was prepared to carry out the LORD’s command if necessary, still Abraham trusted in the LORD and His Word and promise to provide him a son of his own flesh through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. Even if he had to sacrifice his son, Abraham believed that he and Isaac would return, just as he had said to his servants. Then Isaac asked his father saying, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.” Abraham answered him saying, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So, Abraham bound his son and placed him on the altar he had built. Then he raised the knife and was prepared to plunge it into the flesh of his son. That is when the Angel of the LORD – the Malak Yahweh – intervened and said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And so, the LORD provided, not a lamb, but a ram for a sacrifice, and Abraham saw the day of Jesus and was glad, for his son was spared, and all the sons of God would be spared through Him. Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide,” and for generations it was said of Mount Moriah, “On the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
Upon that mount, the very place where Abraham offered up the ram the LORD provided as a sacrifice in place of his son, did King Solomon build the Temple of the LORD. That temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. and rebuilt under Cyrus the Great in 515 B.C. Herod the Great then expanded the temple in 20 B.C., an expansion that took forty years to complete, being finished in the lifetime of Jesus. Outside the walls of Herod’s temple the LORD provided the Lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, His only begotten Son, the very same Lamb promised to Abraham 1700 years earlier. Today the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands upon the Temple Mount, inside of which is the very same stone altar where Abraham offered up the ram in place of his son. The Muslims claim it to be the very spot upon which Muhammad received revelation from Allah that became the Koran and the foundation of Islam. Thus, the Temple Mount is sacred to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
And yet, only the practitioners of one of those three faiths shares the faith of Abraham and has the LORD as father – Christianity. “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb, takes all our sins away; a sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.” Jesus became for us both priest and sacrifice, offering up His sinless life and shedding His holy, innocent blood for all the world. “Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” Jesus is the promised Son who carried the wood of His own cross up the Via Dolorosa to the mountain of sacrifice, who was slaughtered in our place and was consumed by His Father’s wrath against our sins. Jesus is the one who was before Abraham was, and yet is his promised descendant. Jesus is the ram who is offered in our place, who is willingly caught in the thicket of our sin, and who wears the crown of thorns upon His head. Through Him we are judged not guilty and are vindicated in His blood. Through Him we have been made to be sons of God, not by blood descent, but by faith in His Word and promise that can never be revoked or broken. We have God as our Father and we are possessors of His kingdom, righteousness, and life through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.
You too, with Abraham and all of God’s children, have seen Jesus’ day. When you come to this altar and eat His flesh and drink His blood you do so in remembrance of His atoning death. However, you do not merely remember an event that is long past in time and memory, but you actively participate in the eternal reality that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. This is the mystery of faith. This is life and sonship with Jesus as co-heirs of His Father’s kingdom that has no end. All things are now prepared. Let us make our way with Him to the Holy Mountain, to the place of sacrifice, and to the empty tomb.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.