Easter 3 and Confirmation: Acts 9, Blinded By Light

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

We live in a time when glowing personal testimonies are often regarded as God’s sure action.People may yawn at Scripture texts but get goose bumps over something that has no sure promise from God. Perhaps it’s an experience (near death/change of fortune/strange event in nature) or an inward feeling or a sign they imagine has occurred.

Consider the testimony of the young boy – poor of speech – who was sure he should be a pastor. When asked why he said it was because one day while in the field the clouds seemed to form the letters PC. He was sure that meant he should “Preach Christ.” A wise, older friend said – or perhaps “Plant Corn.” Another example is the person who said – I know God was with me today because a car ran a light and narrowly missed plowing into my car.  A wise friend quietly said – then I guess God was with me even more because nothing bad even came close to me and my car as I travelled today. You see, our hearts look for signs from God in this and that and the other thing, yet seemingly overlook the simplicity of His Word and presence in the Sacraments.

Like Saul, like we heard of Thomas and really the other disciples last week, we don’t want to fall trap into what we fear might be a fraud. That’s what Saul thought and believed of Jesus He was convinced the whole business was: one massive deadly, dangerous deception. It’s not that he denied the resurrection of the dead; oh, no. He’d go to the bat for that. But what he specifically denied was that this Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead and then glorified at God’s right hand. Nonsense and downright evil, that’s what he thought.

Saul’s star was on the rise, he was a mover and a shaker! He was advancing in the strict sect of the Pharisees. He rallied people and gathered crowds. He received orders directly from the Chief Priest and the council of the elders. He was busily at work pursuing and imprisoning Christians. He was energetic and fully committed to his cause. As we heard from Acts chapter nine, he was hot on the trail of Christians who had fled from Jerusalem to the city of Damascus. He had undertaken this lengthy trip (150 miles) for the very purpose of hunting them down like criminals.  He sincerely thought He was serving God with his actions.  He was so confident that he was right!  Continue reading

Posted in Baptism, Catechism, Confirmation, Lord's Supper, Luther, sermon

Easter 2: Where to Go

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Ever have your doubts? Of course you do. You’ve waited for personal revelation. You’ve hoped to have an experience, perhaps without the tragedy and hardship that comes in life. We’d like to have personal revelation of Jesus. If at any point you’ve bargained with God: Lord, show me this or do this and I will believe; act in this way and I’ll know this is true; provide this and I’ll be more faithful. We crave that personal revelation to strengthen our faith.

Emotional things have a way of changing our perception and feelings. Want to persuade someone, want to effect someone’s behavior or thoughts, just play with their emotions. It’s why we are quick to proclaim everything of God is good when things are going well and question the Lord’s goodness in times of difficulty and struggle. It’s why there is bargaining attempts with God.

We’re not the only ones to such bargaining. Luther did so. He famously bargained with God through St. Anne that he’d become a monk if spared from a lightning storm. Thomas bargained that he’d believe the resurrection if he could see and touch.

Think of the emotion and energy going around. In a matter of ten days Lazarus was raised from four days in the tomb, the Triumphal Entry happened, all the events in Temple, to the Lord’s Supper instituted, Judas’ betrayal, Gethsemane, the trial, and crucifixion, and these women come saying he is risen. In that span of time it was Thomas who proclaimed that the disciples ought to go with Jesus so that they may die with him (John 11:16). On Maundy Thursday when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for them it was Thomas who boldly asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14).

While Thomas gets a bum rap for being the one who doubted, let’s be honest, the women went and told the disciples, Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen it empty, and they are still hiding in fear. Emotions are running high. They feared the Jews, they feared death, even though their Lord is risen. Truth be told, most of us would react just like Thomas. We’d want to see the evidence. Continue reading

Posted in Day of Resurrection, Holy Week, sermon, Weekly Communion

Easter Festival: 8th Day

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  His is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  The suffering and death of one man on a Friday afternoon was the greatest moment in the history of this fallen world!  As His death struggle drew to a close Jesus voiced an astounding cry – a cry of victory – “it is finished!”  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world claimed to have done just that – to have taken away the sin of the world!  In that horrible, brutal, bloody, death Jesus claimed that our redemption had been won – “it is finished!” 

Then came a day of rest – rest in the tomb.  Then – on the third day The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit spoke the “amen” to Jesus’ cry of finished victory on Calvary!  Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  The greatest news the world has ever heard came from the garden tomb, the proof of the cry of the Savior on the cross that proclaimed the total success of His sacrificial and saving work!  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  

Dear Christians – it really is finished – our redemption!  The world’s reconciliation with God (II Cor. 5:21) is complete!  The risen Lord is among us in this hour to bring to us the fruits of His once-for-all sacrifice!  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

You see, in finding nothing the women made the greatest find.  Jesus is not in the tomb because He is life itself! It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him (Acts 2:24) because He is life. He took on flesh that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9). Yet, by His own nature He is life! He partook of death to destroy Him who had the power of death – that is the devil (Heb 2:14) and “It is finished”!  Alleluia!

It’s not just that His memory lives on so that people can say “I’m following Jesus” while they say and do what they want. It’s not that only His soul is alive, free-floating separate from His flesh in a purely spiritual way. The tomb is empty! Christ is risen body and all!

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

No grave robbers had overcome the soldiers. No half-dead man had rolled away the stone from the inside and fought his way past the guards. The tomb was empty because the Good Shepherd who had laid down His life for the sheep had taken it back again (John 10).  There is no record anywhere, in any source friendly to Christianity or any source hostile to Christianity that reports Jesus’ body was still in the grave. Even attempts to disprove the Resurrection make clear that the tomb was empty.

It was the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath day of rest, Sunday, now forever known as the Lord’s Day! A new week began, seven days and then – once more – the week starts at the beginning – round and round the calendar goes! After Day Seven it’s Day One all over again. You don’t get an eighth day in this fallen world, a day of release from it all, a day of total renewal! Continue reading

Posted in Day of Resurrection, Holy Week, Lord's Supper, sermon

Easter Vigil: What is it We Receive and Celebrate

EasterVigilIt’s not just empty ceremony, the creation. Because behind it stands the Creators full love for you.

It’s not just empty ceremony, the flood. Behind those waters, stands the full washing away of sin for you, so that you can remain safe and secure inside the ark of the Church.

It’s not just empty ceremony, the Exodus through the Red Sea. Because the passing through on dry ground and the drowning of hardhearted Pharaoh, means that you are released from slavery to sin.

It’s not just empty ceremony, the earthquake after Jesus’ resurrection. For it was the response of the earth at the resurrection of it’s Creator. What greater handiwork can the earth show, than the raising of the one who was crucified? (Ps. 19) What greater event can creation confess than the salvation of mankind and the resurrection of it’s Creator?

God lives! The fast is finished. Lamenting is foregone. The day of our Lord has dawned. The desert wandering is over. We have entered into the promised time of feasting and rejoicing. Sackcloth and ashes have been washed and purified by the blood of the Lamb. He who was crucified is not dead. With triumph He has come forth from the tomb. In victory, He marches forth to give peace, comfort and rest to His weary children. Heaven and earth are united in joy once again. Those who were with Him through the fasting, praying, and grief can now take comfort.

The Resurrection is the event that colors all of history. It cleanses all events in the world and establishes the Christian Church. It is the lens through which we see every action in the history of the world. That’s what makes the Vigil different from every other service in the Church Year. It gives us a snapshot of all that the Church does, and shows it from the perspective of Easter. Salvation is now complete. There is no more Old Testament anticipation. It is finished. It has been accomplished. God has worked it with His own arm. It’s all here tonight, readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, rejoicing, and Benediction. Our Alleluias are back, and they echo into eternity with the choirs of the heavenly Jerusalem.

All the symbolism tonight points to the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. It permeates our lives in Christ, and it should not be any surprise that it colors our life and practice in the Church. Six services tonight are all rolled into one. 1. the Service of Light, 2. the Service of Readings, 3. the Service of Holy Baptism, 4. the Service of Prayer, 5. the Service of the Word, and 6. the Service of the Sacrament.

Light, all light, reminds us of Christ, the light of the world. The paschal candle with it’s Alpha and Omega, it’s nails representing Christ and the washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, the cleansing of beginnings and endings, of time, and of His own death. Lamenting is over. It’s the time of excessive rejoicing, rejoicing that cannot contain itself or be contained. That’s what light does to darkness and that’s what life does to death. Darkness cannot get control and restrain light. Death cannot control or restrain life in Christ. Jesus has broken free of death’s chains. The bonds are shattered. He springs forth, leading the charge of all who have died in Him. Death could not contain him, it cannot contain any whom He clothes by Baptism.

Creation, the Flood, the Exodus, they all show the glory of God and His divine plan of salvation. Everything on earth is in the service of God and of His redemption of man. Daniel’s canticle, “All you works bless the Lord,” shows in an exuberant way that everything in this world was created for the praise of the Lord.

The Service of Baptism reminds us how we as children of God are united to Christ’s death and resurrection in the waters of Holy Baptism. Because He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too will live a new life.

The Litany is the voice of the Christian Church confessing that we are a new creation and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, joined together in Christ’s work with all saints. It is your prayer. It is an expansion of the petitions of the Prayer that your Lord taught you.

The Service of the Word exalts the glory of the Lord, in death and resurrection Jesus fulfills the Sabbath rest. The resurrection is proclaimed to all the world. He lives, no more to die. He lives for you to have life. Rejoice in the proclamation!

And finally, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the fulfillment of the Passover feast, the foretaste of the Feast to come, where we dine together with our Lord and the whole Christian Church on the true body and blood of our crucified and risen Savior. You eat in remembrance of what He has done, and we eat in anticipation of the time when you will dine with Him in eternity. He is your bread from heaven. You have life in yourselves because you feast on Him. The table is set. There is nothing more to do, nothing more to add. He has welcomed you not just as His guest, but as His precious, beloved Bride in whom He is well-pleased. Let none go forth hungry for righteousness. Let’s feast.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!  (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

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

Posted in easter vigil, Liturgy, resurrection

The Word Made Flesh, Suffers For You

12512231_10153974705452456_7549515280524312058_nJoseph bought a linen shroud, and with the help of Nicodemus prepared the body of our Lord. They were powerful, wealthy, and well educated men, they were members of the Sanheidrin, the very group that condemned Christ to death. They were hurriedly working for the evening beginning the Sabbath was at hand.

The working men and the women watching had gone home. Their sounds and movement in the garden and around the tomb also gone. Now the burial shroud binds the body of our Lord and a small piece of grave cloth enwraps His head.

And now a stone is rolled against the entrance of the tomb. All is quiet, there is no sound. All is black, there is no light. All is still, there is no life. There is only darkness, total darkness, and death.

This has been happening all day. Just hours before they could see His lifeless body hanging on the cross as a spear thrust through His side and a flow of water and blood came about. Just hours before there was not silence but jeers and cheers as they mocked Him and divided His garments.

As we remember the total darkness of the tomb we are reminded of the total darkness that came over the earth from the sixth hour until the ninth hour (from noon to 3pm) as the Son of God dies and hangs suspended in our place.

Lifeless and in total darkness within the tomb. Continue reading

Posted in Christmas, easter vigil, Holy Week, Life, sermon

Maundy Thursday

MaundyThursdayExodus 12:1-14, 1 Cor. 11:23-32, John 13:1-17, 31-35

The night before God’s people left Egypt was a horrific and bloody night. Children, cattle, and lambs died. They died because Pharaoh’s heart was hard; because Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. They joined the rebel angel armies of Satan. They took up the cause of death and plunged all creation into chaos and destruction. They invented slavery.

But the lambs were innocent. They had not rebelled or sinned. They had not enslaved their brothers. Yet they died that night. They were sacrificed in the place of guilty people. The lambs’ blood marked the doors of those who submitted to God’s Word through Moses, who in repentance pleaded for mercy to the only One who can give it. Thus while the angel of death took the firstborn of the Egyptians, those marked by the blood of the lambs were spared. That blood counted for them and the angel passed over them.

It was a bloody night because while God loves the world, He has no sympathy for those who reject Him, who attempt to worship Him by some other name, who like Pharaoh will not hear His Word, or who ask Him to share their devotion and prayers with false gods. They get what they desire, the inheritance of the fall, death. He has no sympathy either for the lambs. Their blood is the price of man’s rebellion. He is unflinching about the sacrifice. They have to die that men would again be His. And thus God loved the world by killing them. He hid His people under innocent blood. The killing angel passed over them. God spared them from death through death. Continue reading

Posted in Holy Week, Lord's Supper, Old Testament, sermon

Blessed is He Who Comes Rejected

cv_march14Lent 2C: Luke 13:31-35, Jer. 26:8-15, Phil. 3:17-4:1

If you listened closely to the appointed scripture readings for today, the 2nd Sunday in Lent, there is a line in each reading that intimately connects them together.  The prophet Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord and then it says, “All the people laid hold of him, saying, you shall die”.  Paul in the Epistle reading says, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”  And finally in the Gospel reading we have the Pharisees warn Jesus saying, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  The theme in these three readings is rejection and more specifically the rejection of God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s Son.

There was a Pastor who wanted to see if people gave notice when he repeated his sermon a few weeks in a row.  He preached the sermon for the first time and got the usual response as people exited the church, “good sermon Pastor, good sermon Pastor.”  The second week he preached the same sermon again.  The people where still kind and said “It’s still a good sermon, but it was the same as last week?”  The preacher did not respond to the inquiry.  Finally the third week in a row of the same sermon people started to get upset.  The people grumbled and complained to the Pastor on their way out and with a quick witted reply he said, “I will stop preaching the same sermon when you start adhering to the words that the Lord has given me to preach.”

If you ever think Worship is very similar Sunday after Sunday that’s because we keep falling into temptation and sin over and over.  Worship will change when we fully adhere to the Lord’s words.  We will skip over confession and absolution when we stop committing the same old sins.  We will start preaching something else besides Christ crucified when we perfectly receive His teachings and work.  We will find something different to do then all of us filing up to this altar every Sunday when the food and drink of this earth has the power to sustain us into eternity.  I think you get the point.  These things will never happen on this earth.  Thus, generations keep passing as God gives His word through prophets, apostles, and pastors, and through whom the incarnate Son of God speaks.  He continues that today, tomorrow, and the day following. Continue reading

Posted in Divine Service, Lent, Old Testament, Preaching, sermon

Suffering Before Glory

transfiguration-large-iconTransfiguration C: Also check out the Gospel reading accompanied by handbells!

The glory of the LORD is a frightful glory. Few have seen it, and even they caught only a glimpse of it. Moses saw it, or at least the backside of it, and he had to be hidden in a cave to endure it. Elijah caught a glimpse of it, but he had to be hidden in the cave too. Isaiah saw it in a vision, but was convinced he was a dead man and confessed his sinfulness. The shepherds saw it over Bethlehem’s fields the night of Jesus’ birth, and they were filled with fear. As do most, in the midst of unholy people, the Holy Lord’s fulness and glory is a frightful glory, thus the first word is often, “fear not.”

No one may look on God and live, except when God in His mercy permits it. Three of the Twelve saw Jesus in His divine glory – Peter, James, and John. Jesus was changed in appearance before the three. Metamorphosized, transfigured. He glowed with an unearthly glow, shining with the radiance of heaven. His clothes were whiter than any white on earth.

Jesus’ transfiguration sets Him apart from all the others – from Moses and the prophets, from every religious teacher to come along. No one ever appeared this way. We need to remember this mountain and the transfiguration when we think of Jesus. There is so much more to Jesus than meets the eye. The shepherds in Bethlehem saw a tiny baby wrapped in cloths. The disciples saw a rabbi, a carpenter from Nazareth. The healings and exorcisms He did were signs of something greater.

What sets Jesus apart is His shining face and bright clothing, this unearthly brilliance that would blind you to look at Him. Here is no ordinary man, not even an extraordinary man, or a super holy man. He is more than Moses, more the Elijah, more than any holy man who ever left a footprint in history. Greater than John and all who came before and all who would come after. No one ever appeared in this world shining with divinity but this Jesus in whom the fulness of God dwells bodily.

On this mountain He pulled back the veil- just a little!  God in the flesh is seen beaming like the sun – light bursting forth – dispelling darkness – stabbing eyes!  He is seen in the presence of Moses – who died 1500 years before on Mount Nebo.  He is seen in the presence of Elijah whose fiery departure from earth had occurred 900 years prior.

As we stand on the edge of Lent, a season of penitence and preparation for Holy Week, it seems as though we have stood here in glory by this mount of Transfiguration and now we must pass through the shadow death. It seems as though the Transfiguration, though it momentarily showed Jesus in glory merely prepares for the darkness which He must soon endure. Why must we leave this radiant season? Continue reading

Posted in sermon, Transfiguration, Trinity

Getting a Little Preachy

Epiphany 4C: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 4:31-44

images-4“Don’t preach to me,” we say when someone speaks definitively, especially if it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions.  Or when one speaks for a long period of time we say they are getting preachy. Or like the 4 men hunting, all see the same deer and shoot at the same time, and only one hit the deer. They called for an officer to assess the situation and he looked and asked if anyone was a preacher? One was. He said it’s the preacher’s. “How do you know?” they asked. Well, the bullet that hit went in one ear and out the other.

You see, preaching has a bad name, doesn’t it? Even the dictionary can’t help. To preach – to give advice or urge a course of action, especially in a meddlesome or tedious manner. Terrific. This is my chosen vocation. I’m a preacher. You don’t hear a carpenter saying, “Please excuse me for building.” Or a mechanic say, “I’m sorry for tuning this engine,” or an accountant say, “Pardon me for balancing these books.”  Yet we do apologize for being preachy.

The prophet Jeremiah was called to preach. The Lord set him aside and consecrated him before he was even born. Jeremiah is the prophet with the some of the biggest concerns as a prophet. This goes to show you that even if God hands you your vocation on a silver platter before you were even conceived or born, it still won’t be easy. In fact it may even be more difficult, since God already knew you wouldn’t have taken the assignment voluntarily. Jeremiah’s call was a tough one – preach to a people who don’t want to hear your message or have anything to do with you. Continue reading

Posted in Epiphany, Luther, Old Testament, Preaching, sermon

Two Hearings of the Word

Epiphany 3C: Nehemiah 8:1-10, Luke 4:16-30

There are but two hearings of the Word of God – faith and unbelief. There is no middle ground. No cool, detached critical view high up in the bleachers. It is either faith or unbelief. You either hear the Word of the Lord and rejoice in the goodness of God who has mercy on the sinner, or you deny the Word and despise the goodness of God and want to silence it.

This is why reading the Bible as literature ultimately fails. Yes, the Bible is literature. A wide variety of different kinds of literature, in fact. And the Bible certainly can be read for its literature and its history. But the Word of God is living and active. It kills and makes alive. It does not return empty but accomplishes the purposes for which it is spoken. The Word is a sharp two-edged sword of Law and Gospel that doesn’t sit idly. When you deal with the Word, you are dealing with some live wires, the power of God for salvation.

One of our problems in the church today is that the church has grown Word-weary. Complacent. Bored even. Our ears are dulled by all the noise of this world. We want to be entertained, amused, inspired. We seek relevance and meaning for our lives. We look for answers to all our questions. The competing voices are loud and strong. Media and movies and internet. We are bombarded by information and communication, but there is very little wisdom and communion. Dots are left unconnected. We think in little sound bytes. Our theology is reduced to bumper stickers and slogans and social media postings.

Luther warned his generation that the Word is like a local rain shower. It falls for a while in one place and the soil soaks it up. And then the soil becomes saturated and the water runs off and the rain moves on. Luther foresaw the day when the Gospel would move on from the land of the Reformation to other places, which in fact happened. And some would say it’s happening here. For all the religious fervor and the religious broadcasting and media, there is precious little in the way of the Word of God. Continue reading

Posted in Epiphany, Luther, sermon