Jesus Calls the Odd – A Sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8

June 15, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [Jesus] said to His disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers out into His harvest.” Ask a guy who goes out and recruits for the seminary which text he quotes most often. It’s this one. Because here’s Jesus Himself is saying that we can always use more pastors.

And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority. Authority to do the exact same thing that Jesus Himself was doing. Drive out the unclean spirits. Heal diseases and afflictions. Proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is at hand. Why did Jesus pick them, of all people? Is it because they were such great people? Obviously not. Four are fishermen with little formal or theological training. One is a traitor to his own people, making a living collecting taxes for Caesar from them. And all of them just followed Jesus around wherever He went instead of having jobs and providing for their families.

Is it because God knew how great they would become? Although, perhaps Judas would not become so great. And how much do we really know about some of these disciples, except who they’re not. Simon, not called Peter. James, not the son of Zebedee. Judas, who so didn’t want to be associated with Judas Iscariot, that he went by Thaddeus instead. Jesus calls those who go and proclaim His Word not because they will be great some day. But rather because there is a need for them. Jesus sees the helpless crowds that is humanity, and has compassion on us. And He does not leave us a sheep without a shepherd. But sends His under shepherds to care for us.

And the under-shepherds God sends aren’t always as good as we want them to be. Maybe some of them don’t have the best attitude. Maybe some of them don’t have good social graces. Maybe some of them rub us the wrong way. Maybe some of them are too petrified of failure to even try some things. Maybe some of them a broken in ways that are extremely inconvenient. Maybe some of them have no clue what they’re supposed to do next. And I can guarantee that all of them will fail in some way. All of them have their own sins. And all of them are just a little too odd.

But that’s not what God looks at when He calls a man into the Office of the Holy Ministry. Because it’s not about him at all. It’s about the need that Christ’s sheep have. Because we all need death to end. That’s why disease is a problem, right? Disease brings us closer to dying. For the worse the disease, the closer to that ledge we get. And so Christ gives a shepherd in order to show that death has been destroyed by Christ’s cross.

Likewise we need an end to all our affliction. An end to all our sin. And Christ sends a shepherd to proclaim that our sins have indeed been forgiven. The sacrifice of Christ’s body and Christ’s blood is a ransom worth more than any silver or gold. That Jesus took our every sin, and all the sins of humanity, put them on His shoulders, and died with them on the cross. So even the afflictions we bring on ourselves. The afflictions we face because of the sin of someone else. Jesus has answered them all.

That’s what it means to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. That’s what it means to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is here. Because Jesus is here. Through His Word. Through His forgiveness. Through His cleaning baptism. Through His Holy Supper. Here is Christ for you. Right now. Today. Jesus has called you. And God calls pastors a lot the same way he calls people to be part of His Church. As Paul says in our Epistle lesson, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Congregations, Jesus’ Church in a particular place, call shepherds to serve them by giving out that Gospel. Delivering the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Delivering the good news that sin is forgiven, evident in the washing of regeneration that is baptism. Delivering the good news that death has been undone through the very body and blood of Christ.

You see, that’s what calling a pastor is. Saying to a man, “You’re going to deliver Jesus’ promises through Word and Sacrament to Christ’s bride the Church here in this location.” And even though that call comes from God’s people gathered in a particular place, our Lord also puts His name on that call as well. And that is all it takes. Now, we might come together and agree that we want our pastor to know about this or that. To have these tools or those at his disposal. But it’s not a level of education that makes a pastor. It’s not whether everyone from the other churches got together and laid hands on the guy. But because we often do those very things, we sometimes forget that those aren’t the parts that Jesus insists on. And when we forget, we get synodical bureaucrats arguing with each other endlessly about what to do next. It’s not any fun whatsoever.

But we often to the same things when it comes to whether this person or that person is a member of the whole Church. We ask if they have enough education. went through the right steps.  Or are worthy of such an honor. When all Jesus does is see people whom He has compassion on. Harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Who’re afflicted with sin. Who’re doomed to death. Who need the kingdom.

And that’s who Jesus goes to. That’s who Jesus sends His under shepherds to serve. Not the ones who are already righteous. Not the ones who are good. Not the ones who have all their problems under control. Jesus goes to the ungodly. To the ones who wonder whether or not anyone cares. To the ones who are too weak to handle their problems on their own. Jesus goes to the sinners. To the ones who have made the wrong decisions in their lives. To the ones who ruined their own chances. Jesus goes to His enemies. To the ones who hate him more than anything else in the whole world. To the ones who insist that He die. And Jesus dies for them all. And, as much as you may not want to admit it, this means that Jesus dies for you too.

The harvest that Jesus has his disciples pray that laborers will be sent out into? That harvest is you. It does not matter how many laborers it takes. It doesn’t matter how much Jesus has to pay. There is no price too high. What matters is bringing you home. This is the free gift of God. This is what grace is. This is why Jesus was born. Why Jesus went through all the cities and villages in that place. Why Jesus went to Jerusalem. Why Jesus went to the cross. Why Jesus died. Because the harvest is plentiful. You are important. Even with your colossal mistakes. Even with your grievous sin. Even with your sickness. Even when you die. Jesus has compassion on you. And He is your shepherd forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

I With You Am, A Trinity Sunday Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20

June 10, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s Trinity Sunday today. The day we remember our Lord is Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. And although the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Holy Spirit, nor the Holy Spirit the Father, all three are one God. Kind of the same way that your body is not your soul, nor is your soul your body, but both are fully you.

But why does that matter so much that the Church has historically made the remembrance of the Trinity one of the highest feast days of the year? After all, we don’t often talk about the Trinitarian nature of God, except on this day. However, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair to say. Because God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is so foundational to our faith, that this fact is part of everything that is done in the Church. Just like we don’t always talk about the concrete foundation that your house is built on, without it, you would have no house.

The early Church fought to keep that foundation. That’s why we have the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and, yes, even the Athanasian Creed. Those battles have been fought and won through God’s Word proclaimed. Proclaimed as in our texts today. Now, granted, the Athanasian Creed was written before we had the battle of the reformation. And as a Church of the Reformation, we sometimes come across things in the Athanasian Creed worded in such a way that it makes us a bit nervous. But we know the difference between big “C” and little “c” catholicism. We know that works flow from faith, and not the other way around. Because those battles were fought after the Creed was written. But just because later those words were misused doesn’t mean that there was never a proper use for them. And we see that proper use proclaimed to us throughout history, and in these words we confessed today.

But our historic Creeds don’t stand on their own They point us to the God revealed in Scripture. They point us to texts like today’s. Because these texts are the foundation of the Church, both Old Testament, and New. In Genesis, we have the Spirit over the face of the deep, pointing us to our baptism. We have the the Son, the Word of God proclaimed, creating the very thing He says. We have the Father, sending that very Word into the world. All three working together to show the oneness of God. And yet, we also hear the Lord say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” to remind us that God is also not just one.

In Acts, Peter points to Christ as the promised Messiah, and quotes Psalm 110. “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”” Showing us that God is both one and more than one at the same time. And in Matthew 28, where we are used to hearing about the Great Commission, we also hear that we are to be baptized not into the names of, but the name singular. The one name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And even though we translate that name as LORD throughout Scripture, the divine name that is written down for our God is Yahweh, Hebrew for “He Is.” Or, as when He says it Himself, “I Am.” The Father has the name “I Am.” The Son has the name “I Am.” The Holy Spirit has the name “I Am.” And yet there are not three names, but one name. And when Jesus uses that name, it means something. In Greek, it is εγω ειμι. When Jesus stands in the crowd and says, “Before Abraham was, εγω ειμι, I Am,” they pick up stones to put Him to death for blasphemy. When they come to arrest Him, He asks, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “εγω ειμι, I Am.” And they fall down in fear at Him using the the name of God in the first person.

This is Jesus’ name. And He proved that by rising from the dead, just as He said He would. And yet when the eleven remaining disciples came to Galilee, to the mountain that Jesus had directed them to, and worshipped Him, they still had doubts. Now, I know our English translation says that some doubted, which we often take to mean that some were sure, and others weren’t. But it might be better translated that there was some doubt. Because none of them were quite sure that worshipping a human being who looked just like them was quite the right thing to do. And you know what? Even though we worship today, we have doubts as well.

Those doubts come up when things aren’t going as well as they used to. They come up when we ask for the thorns in our sides to be removed, and yet there they remain. They come up when we’re hurting, and the pain isn’t stopping. We worship, but we wonder if God even hears us, or cares even if He does. And this is where God being a trinity matters. This is where the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit having one name matters.

Because the great comfort of today’s text is the promise Jesus gives us. “I am with you always.” I Am with you. There is the name of Yahweh. There is the Word of God. The εγω ειμι, with you. And that promise is so important, that in Greek, Jesus places them in the middle of His own name. ’Eγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμὶ. I–with you–am. To let you know just how far Jesus will go to keep His promise.

Everything you endure, Jesus endures. Your troubles. Your thorns. Your pains. Your fears. Your doubts. Your sin. He is there with you through it all. Right by your side. bearing it on His shoulders. Wearing it on His head. Feeling in His hands, feet, and side.  Because where you are, He is also. Your crosses are His cross. And He dies on it for you. Not taking you around all those things, but straight through them. For Jesus has overcome the cross and the grave, which is where our every problem leads.

But not only is Christ where you are, you are where Jesus is. You are a part of His body. A part of His Church. You are where His Word is proclaimed. You are where His sacraments are administered. Because where Jesus’ name is, there He is also. And His divine name has been placed on you. You are baptized into the Father, and the Son,  and the Holy Spirit. You receive Jesus body and Jesus’ blood. Which He has, because He took your humanity, and made it part of the great divinity of Yahweh, εγω ειμι, I Am.

So you see, the Trinity is not some small little detail that we remember once per year. The Trinity is the foundation upon which your very salvation rests. The Trinity is why your sins are forgiven through Christ and His cross. The Trinity is why we have the hope of the resurrection he Jesus gives. That is why today is special. Why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a great feast in honor of who our God is. Because with this revelation of God’s own nature, we have the assurance that our Lord will never abandon us, but will be with us no matter what. I with you Am, unto the ages, forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Cross, Better Than Glory – A Sermon on John 17:1-11

May 27, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

What does the glory of God look like? Maybe Moses might say it’s seeing God face to face in all His power. Maybe Elijah would say that it was the fire of God coming down from heaven upon the altar. Maybe Isaiah would say that it was seeing the seraphim flying about God’s throne, singing Holy, Holy, Holy. Maybe Peter would say that it was seeing Jesus transfigured by light on the mountain. And maybe John would say that it was seeing Jesus in heaven, victorious over sin, death and the devil. Or maybe we might say that it’s Jesus ascending up to heaven, and being covered with a cloud. With two angels telling the eleven gawking disciples that he’s going to come back in the same impressive way that He just left.

But usually when we think of Jesus in His glory, it’s an image of power, or victory. Something positive that we can grab ahold of. Something that will pick us up when life knocks us down. When we don’t know how we’re going to make ends meet, maybe we’ll remember Jesus gloriously telling Peter to catch a fish, reach into its mouth, and take the coins he finds in there to pay the temple tax. When our children stray, maybe we remember Jesus gloriously calling Samaritans, tax collectors and sinners from all over, and they came to Him. When our health is not looking so good, maybe we remember Jesus gloriously cleansing ten lepers by speaking His Word. When our loved ones die, maybe we remember Jesus gloriously raising so many people from the dead.

And if Jesus can do those things there, why shouldn’t we believe that He can do those things right here as well? Shouldn’t we have a Theology of Glory? A theology that centers on Jesus’ power, and victory, and sovereignty? After all, that’s what Jesus is calling for from the Father in our text today, isn’t it? “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed”? And that’s exactly what happened. Jesus has indeed been seated at the right hand of the Father in all glory and might in heaven. That’s what ascension is all about, right?

The problem is that that’s where we’re looking for Jesus, then things are going to come up short. Maybe we get our prayers answered the way we want, and maybe we don’t. Maybe things turn around and get better, and maybe they don’t. Maybe Jesus comes through with His power and victory, and maybe He don’t. And when He don’t, there are only two people we can blame: Jesus, or me. And doing either is damaging to our faith. So maybe we should step back, take a look at our Theology of Glory, and learn what Jesus meant by glory in our Gospel lesson today.

Our text begins, When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son. And it was this time that they would leave the upper room for the garden of Gethsemane. This was the night when Jesus would betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, handed over, and crucified. This is when Jesus does not use His power, but we see Him in only weakness. This is when we do not see Jesus in victory, but only defeat. This is where we see Jesus, not as sovereign, but enslaved to the will of sinful men. This is the last place we would ever speak the word “glory.” And yet, this is the very moment that the Father glorifies the Son in the greatest way imaginable.

Because it looks like nothing we would call glory, we reject a Theology of Glory. Instead, we understand everything the God has given to us throughout Scripture by looking through the lens of this very moment. We build our entire lives here, with the cross of Jesus at the heart. Our whole theology, is a Theology of the Cross. Because it’s on this cross, apart from all His glory, that Jesus did the most important work of all.

On the cross, Jesus bore our sin. He endured the eternal consequence of everything we ever did wrong. Those things we did that we can’t ever quite forget, no matter how badly we want to. Our every failure. The ones we relive at night, hoping no one will ever know. The ones that we can never make right. And even those times that our hearts are so calloused that we don’t even think the very sin that kills us and others isn’t that big a deal. Jesus dies for them all. There is no stain so dark that the blood of Christ cannot wash it clean. And there is no sin so bad that the blood of Christ cannot blot it out.

And Jesus does even more at the cross. Jesus enters into death. Walks in the front door, and crushes the serpent’s head. Jesus cripples death, so that it’s grip on you is lost. So that just as Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day, you too have a resurrection coming. And there’s nothing death, the world, or the devil can do about it. Jesus’ work at the cross is far more glorious than all the glory we can imagine. So much that we rightly call the cross Jesus’ highest glory. Bigger than when Moses saw God face to face. More awesome than when He rained fire down from heaven for Elijah. More overwhelming than Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on His throne. Brighter than when Peter saw Jesus transfigured. More impressive than John’s revelation. And More powerful than Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

And that’s the kind of glory Jesus promises for your life. Because in our text today, Jesus says to the Father, All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And maybe that’s not as exciting of news for us right now. Because we know it isn’t the glory we’re looking for. It’s the glory of the cross. The glory of sorrow. The glory of betrayal. The glory of being attacked with no means with which to fight back. The glory of being mocked, and ridiculed. The glory of bleeding, suffering, and dying. And, quite frankly, that doesn’t sound glorious at all right now. In fact, those are the very things we want Jesus to take away.

But this is the very thing Peter lets us know about in today’s Epistle lesson. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

These things should not be unexpected, nor come as a surprise to us. And yes, they aren’t any fun to go through. But the day is coming when we be able to see these things that happened to us in this life, and recognize them as glorious. Not glory the way we see it today. But the same glory as Christ’s own cross. He shares that glory with us. Just as He shares His death and His resurrection. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Categories: Sermon

I Will Not Leave You As Orphans – A Sermon on John 14.15-21

May 21, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The year was 203 AD. The Roman Empire was still strong, but in that time the economy was beginning to flounder. And the great economic indicator of the day was how well the temples to the gods were doing. Each of those temples represented part of the civic life of every Roman citizen. And if the temples weren’t doing well, then nobody was doing well.

Ordinarily, the Romans didn’t care what the Christians believed. As long as they did what they did in their own homes, and it didn’t threaten the Empire, they were completely free to worship any way they wished. But in order to bolster the economy, the Romans passed laws requiring everyone in the empire to make sacrifices at the temples. Hardly anybody believed in the Roman gods. But everyone went anyways, for the good of the nation. But what truly flabbergasted the Romans was that the Christians refused to participate. Because nobody was asking them to change their beliefs, only to take part in the community, just like everyone else. Eventually came the arrests and the trials. And these bizarre Christians were more than happy to confess their guilt. And even more than happy to be executed over this.

One day, the Romans found a group in what we might call today a new member’s class. They were a group of all ages, learning about the faith. They were being instructed in order to eventually receive Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And while gathered together, they were arrested. In the group was a young woman, who had just given birth a few months ago, named Perpetua. And there was another young woman who was pregnant, named Felicitas.

Perpetua came from a wealthy household. But the arrest was an embarrassment to her husband, who refused to have anything to do with her anymore. However, her father came by every day, pleading with her to make the sacrifices. From his perspective, nobody was asking her to give up her faith. Just go through the motions,. Save your life. Don’t leave your child an orphan. Don’t break your father’s heart. Perpetua asked her father to raise her child. He refused, hoping that her motherly love would kick in, and she would give up this silly religion. She did not.

Felicitas, in contrast, was poor. She didn’t have any family come to see her at all. So Felicitas gave birth while in prison, with only her fellow prisoners to care for her. The guards taunted her birth pains, telling her that it would hurt even more when the lions tore her to pieces. And all she had to do was make a sacrifice to the Roman gods, whether she meant it or not. And then she would be free. Her child would not be an orphan. She could live an ordinary life. She did not.

Why? Because they took seriously Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel lesson.“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Perpetua and Felicitas believed Jesus’ Word. Even if they didn’t know that much of it just yet. They knew that Jesus was the only God. They knew that they were not supposed to bow down to any other god. And they knew that Jesus loved them. Died for them. Rose for them. They knew that Jesus overcame death for their sakes. And that was enough. That is faith. For even the simplest faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, was enough to confidently stare death in the eye, and be confident that no matter what it did, Christ had already won.

The world does not understand. The world cannot receive this kind of faith. The world hears Jesus’ words, “I will not leave you as orphans,” and points to the children of Perpetua and Felicitas, who were adopted by the members of their church. And even our old sinful flesh, still inside of us, wonders if Jesus really means what He says. Because the world really hasn’t changed all that much out there since 203 AD. The world still cannot understand why you will not bow down at their meaningless idols. Our families don’t always understand why we don’t just go along to get along. Even those closest to us might see our faith as either stupidity or insanity. Because even though history doesn’t always repeat itself, it does always rhyme.

Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. Of course the Romans wouldn’t understand why Christians would need to make a stand for Christ. And we should not be surprised either when the world cannot understand when we make a stand for Christ as well. Because we can see in the account of Perpetua and Felicitas, that Christ did not leave them as orphans in their need. Nor did He leave His disciples as orphans in our text. Nor does He leave us as orphans today.

The whole adult instruction class continued, even from prison. Perpetua and Felicitas were baptized behind bars. And the night before they were to enter the colosseum, they received the body and blood of Christ. Jesus was there with them, in the flesh. And in what should have been their darkest hour, they were honored to bear His Name. This is what Jesus with us looks like. This is how that day was written down: “The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheater joyfully, as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than with fear.

Likewise, the disciples themselves, after Jesus ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit came to them. They were not afraid of death. Or of dying. Or of anything else that the world could do. Because Christ did not leave them as orphans either. He was with them as they stood before sanhedrins and councils, before kings and governors, before even their executioners. Jesus gave them faith in something real. Jesus was by their side. What could anyone do to them that Jesus had not already overcome?

Because they killed Jesus too. We in our sin, killed Jesus too. We put Him on that cross. We drove the nails into His hands and feet. We betrayed Him. We gloated over Him. And Jesus in fact died. But on the third day, He rose from the dead. And instead of coming to us and claiming a vengeance that would have rightfully been His, Jesus proclaimed to us that our every sin has been forgiven. That His death paid for them all. Jesus overcame every sin in the world. Jesus overcame the death of everyone and everything. Jesus overcame it all. And He did it for the disciples. He did it for Perpetua and Felicitas. And He did it for you. And if He has already done that? What can possibly be done to us to take that away? After all, Jesus doesn’t ask us to go through anything that He Himself hasn’t been through already. There is nothing new the world can do. And Jesus Christ is with you today.

When Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans,” He also said, “I will come to you.” But it’s even better than our English translation puts it. I will come to you is future tense, meaning that it hasn’t happened yet. But the original isn’t in future tense. It’s in present tense. It’s not, I will come to you sometime. But rather, I come to you now. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. And that’s exactly what happened for the disciples the night Jesus spoke those words. Because it was the same night when He was betrayed. When He took bread, broke it and said to His disciples, “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.” When He took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying, “Take and drink, this is my blood, shed for your forgiveness.”

Jesus likewise was with Perpetua and Felictas. Not in the future tense, but the present tense. He was with them through His Word proclaimed. He was with them in their baptism. He was with them in His body and blood. And that hasn’t changed for you and me either. Jesus is here with us right now in the exact same way. Giving us the exact same faith. Refusing to leave us as orphans in this world filled with death. But being with us every step of the way. Adopting us as children of God. Making us heirs of His kingdom. Giving us life forever.

So does that mean the disciples didn’t have to suffer anything? Does that mean that Perpetua and Felicitas were let out of prison? Does that mean that we’re free from all the things in this world that could ever hurt us? Not at all. The disciples died for their faith. Perpetua and Felicitas died in the colosseum. We too will face the wrath of the world. But we do not face it alone. Jesus Christ does not leave us as orphans. He is here right now with us in the midst of it all. Jesus is here, forgiving our sins, bearing our pain, and raising us from the dead. That’s what Jesus does. That’s what Jesus gives. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Anything in My Name, A Mother’s Prayer – (Sermon on John 14:1-14)

May 12, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For being Mother’s Day, Jesus sure talks about the Father a lot in our Gospel lesson, doesn’t He? There is so much to unpack in today’s text, that there’s no way we can get to it all. We have Jesus telling us that He is indeed God. We have Jesus telling us that there is a place that He prepares for us. We have Jesus as the only path to salvation. We have Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. And we have the promise, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

As important as all of these are, I think the most pressing one for most of us today is this last one. Not because we’re going out and asking for things like a million dollars, or some other selfish desire. We know that asking in Jesus’ name is to ask what Jesus would ask for. We already know that our Lord will not give us temporary things that are detrimental to our faith. But that’s not our prayer. This Mother’s Day we pray for something infinitely more important. And it’s the prayer of both mothers and fathers. It’s the prayer of sisters and brothers. It’s the prayer of children, godparents, aunts and uncles. It’s the prayer of friends and family. “Lord, please. Please bring this child back to your Church.”

If there’s anything worth praying about, it’s this. If there’s anything we want to ask in Jesus’ name, it’s this. If we were to only ever get one thing for all the Mother’s days, or any day for that matter, we hope it would be this. And every day that Christ Jesus delays in answering this prayer with a yes is another day that our hearts are troubled. Because the most frightening things we can imagine is them falling away from the faith. And every day they’re not here receiving Christ’s gifts, is a one day closer to that being a reality.

But in our text today, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Easy for Him to say. Yet we must remember the context in which Jesus says these words. John chapter fourteen doesn’t start with Jesus in some random town, teaching His disciples just like any other time. No, this is right after chapter thirteen. Jesus in the upper room with His disciples, right before he goes to the cross. And the last verse of that chapter is Jesus telling those disciples that they are all going to fall away from the faith that night. Even Peter, who boldly proclaims that he would happily die with Jesus, is told that he will himself deny Jesus three times. The very thing we fear most for our loved ones.

And yet Jesus’ very next words to them all are, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Despite knowing that they will for a time not believe, Jesus commands them that very night, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Why? Because Jesus is going to the Father in order to prepare a place for the disciples. A place for you. A place for them. And for some reason, we assume that this place must be heaven. And therefore Jesus going to His Father happens after the resurrection, when He ascends into heaven.

But perhaps we should instead remember that Jesus is going to His Father that very morning. The place that Jesus readies is right here. For Jesus meets His Father at the cross. And He meets Him while carrying our every sin. There, the Father pours out His entire wrath over that sin. And that includes all the times when the disciples turn away. That includes all the times we turn away. And that includes all the times when our loved ones turn away. Jesus carries every single one to His cross in order to forgive us of our every sin.

In that death and resurrection, Jesus shows us what being the way, the truth, and the life means. Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” As if Jesus were at the end of the path, just waiting for us and our loved ones to walk down and finally reach Him. But Jesus corrects Thomas. “I am the way.” Jesus is the road. Jesus is the path. It’s not that we finally decide to get up, and eventually make our way to Him. Instead, Jesus comes to us. Jesus comes to our loved ones. And Jesus does not let any of us go so easily. No matter how loudly any of us protest about it.

Jesus is even going to be with those we love who we want to come to His Church by coming through you. Yes, we remember to pray. But Christ does also speak through you. Though remember, faith, trust, and belief don’t come by the Law. They don’t come by demands and threats. Faith comes through the Gospel. Faith comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus proclaimed. And you don’t need to know any more than you already know to do that. When they’re scared, remind them that Christ faced those fears at His cross on their behalf. When they’re hurting, remind them that Jesus died for that. When they’re wondering how to make it through this life, remind them that our Lord is by their side even now. And to remind them where Jesus does this the most clearly: In His Church, where He has promised to be for you. You know, the very same things Jesus tells us in His Word, when those things overwhelm us.

So, okay, when are we going to get that answer of yes from Him? Because we want what we want, and we want it now. And that’s the part that’s hard. Our Lord never does things on our timeline. He is far more patient than we are. After all, he gave the kingdom of Judah 150 years of time to turn back to Him before the Exile. And when they didn’t come back, He used the Exile itself to bring them back to Him.

Jesus has that same patience with our children, and those we love. Jesus has that same patience with us as well. He knows when the right time is. And until then, we must rely on His promises. That a bruised reed he will not break, nor a smoldering wick will He put out. That there’s a reason why Jesus tells us to not let our hearts be troubled. Because Jesus does keep His promises. Every last one of them. In His time, and in His way. Not ours.

But we also know the way in which Jesus will bring them back. And we confess that way in the explanation of the Third Article. “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. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth.” This is what Jesus goes to the Father to do. This is why Jesus goes to His cross. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the very Gospel by which we are all saved. The very good news that forgives our every sin. The Word that creates faith in us all.

And so, it is right to say that the only thing we have to hold onto is the promises of Christ. But of all the things in this world to hold on to, these promises, anchored in Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the only things that last forever. And these are the promises that hold onto to the disciples. These are the promises that hold onto you. And these are the promises that hold on to your children, and the ones you love. We are all in His hands. And there is no better place to possibly be. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Jesus Is the Door – A Sermon on John 10:1-10

May 6, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Fourth Sunday of Easter is historically remembered as Good Shepherd Sunday. Because it’s on this Sunday that we read John, chapter 10, where Jesus talks about shepherd’s, sheep, and who He is. However, since going to the three year series a few decades back, we have broken up John chapter 10 into three sections. And this year our section doesn’t actually include the part where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” But rather the part where Jesus says, “I am the door.

Jesus also spends all of today’s text warning us to beware of false teachers. Beware of those who climb in the sheepfold without using the gate, who is Christ. There is only one reason that they’re there. And that is to steal away your faith. But how seriously do we actually take Jesus’ warning? Do we know what a false teacher sounds like? Can we spot a wolf in shepherd’s clothing?

I dare say, and perhaps I’m wrong, that we already know how to keep a look out for those in wolves’ clothing. They’re the ones who are obviously enemies of God. The ones who hate everything about Jesus. The ones who take every opportunity to revile His name. We do a really good job of staying away from those people. Which is a shame, because those aren’t the ones that Jesus tells us to flee. Those are the ones Jesus tells us to go to. To minister to. To give the glass of cold water to. Because those are the ones who are hurting, and need Christ the most. Those are sheep trapped inside of wolves’ clothing, and they need the death and resurrection of Jesus to set them free.

But I also dare say that we are actually nearly ignorant of wolves in sheep’s clothing. We can spot a few here and there when they’re particularly wolf-like. We know a few false teachers by name, and I’ll bet that you can even name a couple of them yourself. But why are they false teachers? Why are they wolves in sheep’s clothing? Do we know? Well, that’s what today’s gospel lesson deals with. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep.” And we know that Jesus is that door.

If someone comes to you claiming the name of Christian, and yet does not speak of Christ, they have not entered the sheepfold by the Door. If instead of hearing what Jesus has done for you, you hear what they did for Jesus, they have not entered the sheepfold by the Door. If instead of hearing that in His great love, Jesus suffered and died for your sake, you hear how much they love Jesus, they have not entered the sheepfold by the door. If I as your pastor do not proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus to you each and every time I step into this pulpit, then I have not entered the sheepfold by the Door, and you need to let me know that.

You see, to enter the sheepfold as a thief and a robber is not necessarily something that happens on purpose. Many wolves in sheep’s clothing have the very best of intentions. And yet, in the hope of reaching more people. In the attempt to make the message relatable. In listening to our own preferences and to the desires of our own hearts, we forget to use the door. We forget to preach the Word of Christ. Or use only enough Word out of context to say what we want to say, rather than what Christ would have us say. And we forget that the sheep will not listen to any other voice.

Here’s a Law moment. Whose voice do you listen to? That question makes me uncomfortable. Because too often I’ve listened to those voices that didn’t belong to Christ. Too often I have followed where they have led. Too often I have failed to flee like Christ says His sheep will. And it makes me wonder, just how much have the thieves and robbers taken away? Am I actually a member of Christ’s fold? Or have I been fooling myself all this time?

And that’s where we absolutely must cling to the promise that Jesus Himself gives to us in today’s text. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” You have already entered the sheepfold by means of Christ. You are baptized. You have come inside His Church through the door that is Jesus. When the water and the Word sealed you on the day of your baptism, Jesus joined you to His cross, His death. And that includes all the times where we have listened to the wrong word, followed the wrong way, and failed to flee when we were supposed to. Every time we have sinned, in fact every sin has died with Christ.

But “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Have we strayed? Without a doubt. And yet our Shepherd continually brings us back in. As St. Peter says in our Epistle lesson, “By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now been returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

You see, we know Jesus’ voice. Because His voice is there in every Word in Scripture. And every Word is there to give us the comfort of Jesus’ cross and grave, His death and resurrection. So that no matter what happens, no matter how far we stray, no matter how badly we have sinned, Jesus bears it all. Even when we stumble into death itself, that isn’t too far for Christ to reach us. Even there, He’s right by our side.

So yes, we do still need to be aware of thieves, robbers and enemies of the Gospel. We need to know that any word that claims to be Christian, and leaves out Christ is given only to steal us away, empty our cup, destroy our faith. And yet with great confidence, Jesus promises to you that they will not succeed. For Yahweh is my shepherd, I will not lack anything. In pastures of green He causes me to lie down, over waters of rest He leads me. My soul He restores. He leads me in the righteous course for the sake of His name. Also as I walk in the valley of death’s shadow, I do not fear evil, because you stand with me. Your rod and your staff, these comfort me. You set in order before me a table conspicuous to my adversaries. You make my head fat in oil, my cup is saturated. Surely good and lovingkindness will pursue me all the days of my life and I will rest in the house of Yahweh for long days.

Christ Jesus is both our Shepherd and our Door. He is the one who closes out the thieves, robbers and wolves. He is the one who closes our sin behind Him in His grave. And He is the one who opens eternal life to us through His resurrection from the dead. This is His promise. And He sealed that promise through water and His Word in your baptism. So this promise is sure. This promise is real. This promise is yours. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Suddenly Walking in Sorrow – A Sermon on Luke 24:13-35

April 28, 2017 1 comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What was it like for those two disciples on the road to Emmaus? One week earlier, they had just seen Jesus ride into Jerusalem. The palm branches of victory were waving. People were lining the road with their cloaks. They were shouting Hosanna for Him. Even as late as Thursday, things looked to be going great. In fact, they couldn’t be better. This is what they always wanted.

And, suddenly, in one evening, Jesus was taken away from them. They woke up Friday morning to find that Jesus had already been tried and convicted. And was now in front of Pilate in order to be executed. And before they knew it, it was all over. The palm branches had dried out. The cloaks had been picked up. The hosannas now only a memory. And the only thing that was left was shock and grief. How were they supposed to know that it was the last time they were going to see Jesus? They hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye. When death comes suddenly, we’re left with an emptiness that never feels like it can ever be recovered.

Last week, a friend of mine lost his wife just as suddenly. I remember what it felt like to find out about my own children during miscarriages. Some of you know this kind of loss up close and personal. And you’re never prepared. There’s never a good time for it to happen. Things can never be the way they used to be ever again. And it feels so very lonely. Death doesn’t always warn us when it’s coming. And perhaps that’s the most frightening thing about it all. You never know. But the one question that inevitably comes up in the midst of all this is, “Where is God?” Because isn’t He supposed to be here for times like this?

On the road to Emmaus, I imagine Cleopas and the other disciple had been asking that same question since Friday. Where is God when we need Him most? Can’t He see that Jesus’ life was in danger? Couldn’t He have done something, so that Jesus would live? Why now? Why did it have to happen like this? Isn’t He supposed to be here for times like this? …But what was there now left to do? Death changed everything. And the only place left to go was home. Can’t begin the journey on the Sabbath, so first thing Sunday morning, we’ll just get everything around for our trip, and go. We should make Emmaus by sundown.

Who are you who walk in sorrow – Down Emmaus’ barren road. Hearts distraught and hope defeated – Bent beneath grief’s crushing load. Nameless mourners, we will join you – We who also mourn our dead. We have stood by graves unyielding – Eaten death’s bare, bitter bread.” [Lutheran Service Book 476 v.1]

“What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then… Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”

In the middle of our grief, we have a tough time seeing Jesus too. Even though there’s no one we would like to see more. We want Him to show us something, anything, to reassure us that He’s there. Even when He’s right there at our side the whole time. That’s just how lonely death makes us feel.

But Jesus doesn’t wave His arms up and down, and say, “Hey guys, it’s me. Can’t you see me?” He doesn’t say, “Death’s not really that big of deal, get over it already.” Jesus instead opens up the Scriptures, and shows them that all of it points forward to the death and resurrection of the Christ. Because it was more important for them to see what Jesus did at the cross on their behalf than it was to see Jesus in person. And it’s actually more important for us as well.

But that’s not how it feels. Not to us when we’re going through all of this. The Scripture part seems like it’s not what should matter at all. We’d love at least to get a glimpse of Jesus to tide us over until that last day. But even more, we would give everything, do anything, in order to see those we lost just one more time.

But it’s the Word of God that tells us that we don’t have to do anything at all in order to see them again. It’s what Christ Jesus did on the cross that gives us not just one more time, but resurrection from the dead with them forever. Which is far better than even what we wish for with all our hearts. That Word of God sustained the two on their journey all the way to Emmaus. And that same Word of God sustains us in our grief, and in our loss.

“Who is this who joins our journey – Walking with us side by side? Unknown Stranger can you fathom – Depths of grief for one who died? Then the wonder when we told You – How our dreams to dust have turned. Then You opened wide the Scriptures – Till our hearts within us burned.” [Lutheran Service Book 476 v.2]

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them.

Is there even any question at all what this is? You want to see Jesus. You want to know that He is here with you. They recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They recognized Jesus at the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus gives us His body, and His blood. At the supper, the veil of death is finally pulled back. The mask is broken. Death’s hold is shattered. And there is Jesus for you, and with you.

You want to see your loved one who died in the faith again? Come to the Lord’s Supper. There’s a reason that ancient communion rails were make in a half circle. There’s a reason ours curves around. Because this is the place where heaven and earth meet. There is only one altar, and Jesus presides at it. And around on the other side kneels the entire church of God, waiting for the day of resurrection to come. It’s in the supper that we are all together again. Receiving the death and resurrection of Christ. Receiving the forgiveness of sins. Receiving life everlasting. Receiving the promise of the last day, the promise of a new heavens, the promise of a new earth.

The suddenness of death takes away a lot of things. It takes away the people we hold dear. It takes away those we love. And that hurts beyond belief. But death cannot take them away forever. Nor even for very long at all. Because death cannot take away being a member of the body of Christ. And therefore, death cannot truly take them away from us. Just as death could never truly take away Christ Jesus. Being around this altar is our comfort. Being around this altar is our hope. Being around this altar is where we see Jesus. And He’s here for you.

Who are You? Our hearts are opened – In the breaking of the bread Christ the victim, Christ the victor – Living, risen from the dead! Great Companion on our journey – Still surprise us with Your grace! Make each day a new Emmaus – On our hearts Your Image trace.” [Lutheran Service Book 476 v.3]

Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon