Faith Lutheran Church Desboro
16 April 2017
St. Matthew 28:8 ESV
Fear And Great Joy
The Resurrection of Our Lord
Early Easter morning:
Fearsome events to see: a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven. He rolled back the stone covering the tomb of Jesus and sat on it (v.2). Just the sight of the angel was terrifying: bright as a flash of lightning; his clothes as white as fresh-fallen snow (v.3). This made the soldiers guarding the tomb afraid - they were filled with such fear that they "trembled and became like dead men" (v.4).
Great fear gripped the hearts of the women who went to see the tomb: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Although great joy filled their hearts to hear the angel's good news and to see the Lord, their emotions were mingled with fear.
That early-morning Easter fear carried over from the great and fearsome sights on Good Friday just three days earlier: awful images burned into the memories of the women and guards, and all who witnessed the Lord's crucifixion. "They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree" (Acts 10:39) preached the Apostle Peter in Acts. Who did? We did. Together with the sins of the world, we caused the death of the Innocent One, the very Lord of Life. Our sins are the root cause of all that makes us fear: sickness and shame, poverty and hunger, terminal illness and death, fear of hell and the final judgement. We know and feel great fears - the same fears pinned to the Righteous One, "Jesus who was crucified" (v.5). His death puts all our fears to death. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee, Lord Christ (cf. LSB 361:1).
"Do not be afraid" (v.5) said the angel to the women.
"Do not be afraid" (v.10) Jesus also told them.
Fears disappear with the good news announced by the angel: "I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay" (v.6).
The women peer into this empty, cavernous room for the dead. But, their worst fears do not appear! For, the tomb is empty! "He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay" (v.6).
The empty tomb proclaims that Jesus, once crucified and dead, is now risen from the grave and alive - great joy! The empty tomb proclaims that all He said is true: His death in our place kills our fears and forgives all our sins - great joy! The empty tomb proclaims that Jesus Christ now lives and gives life to us through His Holy Word and Blessed Sacraments - washing our sins and fears away in Baptism; feeding us with His living presence in the Sacrament of His body and blood - great joy! The empty tomb proclaims that Christ is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him, even though he dies and is buried will rise as Jesus has to live forever - great joy!
Martin Luther preached this joy in a sermon on Easter 1530: "Know ye, then - sin, death, devil, and everything that assails me - that you are missing the mark. I am not one of those who are afraid of you. For Christ, my dear Lord, has presented to me that triumph and victory of His by which you are laid low. And from this very gift of His I derive my name and am called Christian. There is no other reason. My sin and death hung about His neck on Good Friday, but on the day of Easter they had completely disappeared. This victory He has bestowed on me."
In the hearts of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, joy won out over fear the very moment their eyes beheld the risen and living Christ; the very moment their ears heard His joy-filled welcome, "Greetings!" (Χαιρετε). Easter joy flooded their hearts and dropped them to their knees before the living Lord: "they came up and took hold of His feet and worshipped Him" (v.9).
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
That same great joy from the resurrected Jesus brings us to worship Him on this holy day!
And, sends us out into the world to go to tell.
That's what the angel instructed the women to do: "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead..." (v.7). The same direction comes from the resurrected and living Lord Jesus; "Go and tell My brothers..." (v.10).
Don't give in to fear. Tell others the good news: Jesus is alive! His resurrection gives us great joy!
9 April 2017
Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV
Ever think about donkeys in the Bible: They are everywhere. Even at really important events, like Palm Sunday. What if they could talk? What would donkeys say?
Picture a donkey stabled at a certain bro in the little town of Bethlehem. The donkey sees that everything goes on as it always does, until one night:
"A young couple stayed with us that night. They were so tired from the long journey. And, she was going to have a Baby! Sure enough, later that night, the Baby was born, right where I was stabled with the other livestock. A baby Boy! His mother really loved Him: she wrapped her Child close with strips of cloth to keep Him warm and safe. Strange to say: she used a trough for His first cradle. Yep - she laid this Newborn in the manger I usually eat from. But, I'll tell you, something was different that night: special, holy!"
"God made me - donkey. But, God loves His other creatures, these human beings, so much that He came down from heaven and took on their flesh and blood. The Lord must have had to do something for these people - something that they can't do for themselves. I wonder, what will this Child grow up to do?"
Isaiah the Prophet saw Christmas as he started his book:
"The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:3).
Let's listen to another donkey's tale, thirty-three years later. Not in Bethlehem, but in Jerusalem.
"I was surprised when they came and untied me. Some strange men came along and told my master, 'The Lord needs it.' He just unhitched the rope and handed it over to them. Well, I can tell you, I wasn't ready for what happened next. The men saddled me with their own coats, and a gentle, kind Man sat down on my back. This was all new to me - I've never had anyone ride me before. But, what a day! Crowds gathered on both sides of the road. They put their cloaks down on the road for me to walk on. My hooves went silently into the city. But, the people weren't silent. 'Hosanna!' they cried out. 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!' Again and again, that excited crowd sang those words. I still can't get that worship song out of my thick donkey head. And, those joyful people kept waving palm branches to the right and to the left as we rode into Jerusalem. They really gave us the royal treatment. Everyone knows that waving palms and hosanna shouts are for kings as they return home victorious from winning a battle. In my donkey's mind, I could imagine this celebrating was all for me - after all, I was right in the middle of all this commotion. But no. This Man on my back was really the reason for this victory parade. Just like Zechariah the Prophet said:
"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 mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the war horse from Jerusalem;
And the battle bow shall be cut off,
And He shall speak peace to the nations;
His rule shall be from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth."
"'Hosanna!' I heard the crowds crying out that day. But things changed after they led me back to my master. Five days later, when I was tied up back home, I heard another cry rising again and again from inside the city: 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him!'
But why, I wondered to myself. What happened?"
Yet another donkey explains. This donkey lived a long time before the other two: more than 2000 years earlier, in the days of Abraham and Isaac.
God called Abraham and Isaac to go on journey - to travel to Mount Moriah, to the very place where Jerusalem and the temple would one day be built.
Listen to the donkey's account of events:
"My master Abraham started early in the morning. Something big was going to happen - I knew it because he put the saddle on me and a whole lot of gear: a heavy pile of wood, a sharp knife, and even fire. Two servants and his son Isaac came along on the journey - a long one - three day's travel. When we reached the base of the mountain, we stopped. How good it felt when Abraham took the load of wood off my back! But then, I didn't know why he loaded it onto Isaac, his only son. The servants waited with me while Abraham and Isaac climbed the mountain. It seemed like they were gone for a long time. But, I felt better because Abraham had said before he left, "Stay here with the donkey; and I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you" (Genesis 22:5). Something big happened up there on that mountain. But they both came back safe and sound. Abraham and Isaac kept on calling that place, 'The Lord will provide" (Genesis 22:14).
Stubborn as a mule. So the saying goes.
That's good when, for example, stiff-necked, German Lutherans will not budge from the truth in Sacred Scripture. Then, you want to be stubborn as a mule. But often, our stubbornness is just sin. We insist on our way instead of submitting to our Father in heaven to pray, "Thy will be done." No, it's my way or the highway. Stubborn as a mule. Or, as our Lutheran Confessions put it in the Formula of Concord, "The Old Adam, like an unruly, stubborn ass, is still part of them. It must be forced to obey Christ. It not only requires the teaching, admonition, force, and threatening of the Law, but it also often needs the club of punishments and troubles. This goes on until the body of sin is entirely put off and a person is perfectly renewed in the resurrection" (FC SD V1:24). The donkey of our sinful nature must repent.
God came down from heaven in human flesh at Christmas to rescue us from our sins - sins that make donkeys out of us. The God-Man Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday for us. Christ, our Saviour King defeated death and hell to win eternal peace for us. To save us, the innocent Lamb of God was treated worse than an animal - flogged, crowned with thorns, and hitched to the cross with iron nails. He died, so we live. Isaac was spared, but the only Son of God was sacrificed. In the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, the Lord has provided for us. Rebirth and renewal in Baptism. Free forgiveness by His Word of Absolution. A meal fit for a king in the Sacrament of the Altar. Grace and forgiveness. Freedom and joy. Eternal life and salvation.
Not for donkeys. Not even for angels.
But, for you and me and every baptized believer.
That's not just from the horse's mouth.
That's not even from the donkey's mouth.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
2 April 2017
Ezekiel 37:1-14 ESV
Made Alive by the Spirit
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
The scene was right out of a horror movie. Not skeletons, but a valley filled with human bones. Not lovingly buried by survivors left behind, but exposed to the elements, bleached under the harsh, merciless, Mesopotamian sun. Ezekiel's vision from the Lord showed him a nation without hope. Not the walking dead, but worse. "Our hope is are lost; we are indeed cut off" (v.11). Hope means you expect good things to come in the future. Israel was carried away from the promised land, wasting away in the foreign land of Babylon. No longer did they feel hope - they expected nothing good to come in the future - like bones long dead, parched and dried up of all vitality. "Can these bones live?" (v.3) God knows.
Like Mary and Martha bereaved of their dear brother Lazarus. They pleaded for Jesus to come and heal his deadly illness. But the Lord was not there. Lazarus died. They lost hope. Jesus told them, "I am the resurrection and the life" (St. John 11:25). That called forth a confession from Martha, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ" (St. John 11:27). But, the sisters weren't ready for the Lord's command: "Take away the stone" (St.John 11:39). Could they dare to hope? No. "Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days" (St.John 11:39). "Can these bones live?" (v.3). God knows.
Suddenly, death comes to us. The telephone rings - a call from the hospital; we gather at the funeral home; the weekday service at church; the funeral pall covers the body of our loved one - this is really happening! As we stand by the open grave for the committal service, we feel it in our bones. Death drains life, joy and hope from us. "Can these bones live?" (v.3). God knows.
The scene was horrible. The righteous One of God convicted by a great multitude. Whips tearing His flesh. Nails through His bones into the wood of the cross. His bones pulled apart on the awful rack of that execution. Dried to the bone with a deadly thirst under the Palestinian sun. The body of God reached its limit. Three o'clock Good Friday, Jesus breathed His last breath. "He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit" (St.John 19:30). Joseph took His breathless clay down from the cross to lay Christ's lifeless flesh and bones in his own tomb. "Can these bones live?" (v.3). God knows.
"[Christ] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit" (1Peter 3:18 NIV).
For our sins, which suck the life and hope right out of us, Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. Right there, in the dark silence of the grave, Christ's lifeless body broken by the sin of the world stirred to life again. Bones aligned. Lungs filled with air. Blood pumped through His veins. God breathed life into His Son, just like He gave the breath of life to the first man, Adam (Genesis 2:7). Christ Jesus left the tomb, the world of the dead, to walk the land of the living. Jesus is resurrected, never to die again. With joy, we confess, "we know that He is the Lord. He has done this" (v.14).
By His Holy Spirit, God restored the hope of His ancient people Israel: they were alive again. Ezekiel's vision makes it graphic: first, with a great rattling sound, the bones came together again to form human skeletons, sinews, flesh and skin attached to the bodies with the miraculous precision of God in creation. Then, this massive army was brought to life again by the Spirit of God, inspiring them with the breath of life. As great as it is to be alive, the Lord gave them more? a reason to live, hope for the future. "Behold, I will open your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel" (v.12). God's Holy Spirit gave them life. God's Holy Spirit gave them faith. God's Holy Spirit gave them hope. "Then, you shall know that I am Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it" (v.14).
The promise was fulfilled for lifeless Lazarus. The friend of Jesus, beyond all earthly hope, wrapped in linen burial shroud, locked within the stone chamber of the tomb, Lazarus responded to the voice of the Lord: "Lazarus, come out" (St.John 11:43). This dead man was made alive by the Spirit! Stumbling out of the open tomb still encumbered by the grave clothes, Jesus commands, "unbind him, and let him go" (St.John 11:44). The great crowd gathered at the tomb knew that this was not something you see everyday. Only God can give life to the dead!
In May of 1535, Dr. Martin Luther preached at the funeral of his dear protector, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. "That all human beings who have died and were buried, from the first to the last, are to be raised from death in one moment certainly sounds very strange, nay, seems to be impossible. Therefore reason cannot become reconciled to the teaching that this rising is to come about so quickly. For it sees that one is reduced to ashes by fire, another thrown into the water, a third torn by wild animals, a fourth devoted by ravens on the gallows, etc. In short, who can tell, nay, imagine the manifold and strange ways in which human beings perish throughout the world? And yet in one moment all these are to stand alive before the Last Judgement, etc. In the same manner as the others, who will then be alive and found at the table, in the house, on the field, in bed, drinking wine, working, etc., will be changed in a moment, so that they, too, together will the others, will stand there. Then, both groups will in a moment be swept up to the clouds to meet the coming Lord. If you ask reason to explain this, you will never believe it. But then God will prove His divine power and majesty. Thus He did when He created heaven and earth out of nothing. He spoke only one word, and immediately they stood there. So it will be at the time of the resurrection."
We also hold on tight to this hope: "You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people" (v.13). Thus, we confess our faith in "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." Faith worked by the Spirit of God. The great army revived before Ezekiel is a snapshot of the great assembly, that massive sea of people that the Lord will call out of their graves to stand on the earth before Christ when He returns in glory and triumph on the Last Day (St.John 5:28-29; Revelation 1:7). All people who have ever lived will rise to live again with their bodies. A terrible day of judgement for unbelievers! But, great joy for those who have been made alive by the Spirit through faith in Christ!
6 November 2016
St. Matthew 5:1-12 ESV
Feebly Struggle...In Glory Shine
The Festival of All Saints
"For all the saints, who from their labor rest..."
Are you a saint? Are you living the victorious life? Are you winning?
"We feebly struggle...they in glory shine."
That's quite a contrast--our struggles here on earth in the Church militant, here in this life--feeble! That is, weak, faltering, wrestling, not powerful, often discouraged, plagued by setbacks--this is our experience as baptized believers in Christ. Saints.
A dramatic difference from the saints in heaven--the eternally blessed who have left this life clinging to Christ in saving faith even while they are dying: they in glory shine--no more weakness, no more struggles, not feeble anymore. With joy, we commemorate the saints today.
So, what do they have to do with us? What good is it to ponder the blessed dead who are even now alive in Christ in His nearer presence in heaven? The hymn continues: "Yet, all are one in Thee, for all are Thine."
We are one with the blessed saints--one in Christ Jesus. He makes us saints--we all belong to Him.
As He begins His Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes, Jesus describes this contrast: we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.
We are poor in spirit. We mourn. We are meek. We hunger and thirst for righteousness. Far from being perfect saints, we enter this world and live our entire lives as sinners--those who fall short of God's saintly, holy, perfect will inscribed in His commandments. We disobey God. We hurt and harm our neighbours. This sin sends a leanness into our souls--we poor sinners are impoverished in our spirits. We mourn as we repent of our sins: we are not the perfect people God created us to be. Sin makes us hungry to draw near to God, thirsty with the desire to be in a properly-ordered relationship with Him. How's that working out for us? How well do we satisfy our hunger and thirst for God? We feebly struggle.
No saint lives for himself or herself alone. As God has helped us, we want to help others. So, we try to be merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. As we show mercy to those in need, the world's needs only seem to grow larger. We fear that we are not making any difference. The desire to help others springs from a heart that is pure--that really cares for others. Yet, our hearts are not pure--we are still tainted by selfish motives: we want others to recognize us, to thank and glorify us. Sometimes, when called on to help others in their time of need, our hearts are not in it. We feebly struggle.
Truly, the very best way to help others is to make peace: bringing together two people who are fighting so that they agree, forgive each other, and are reconciled as friends. But, peacemakers are not often thanked for their efforts. Sadly, they can wind up persecuted by the very people they are trying to help. Sin makes us refuse the efforts of those who would seek peace.
We feebly struggle.
So far, this is not good news for us on this All Saints day. The feeble struggles that we all go through cannot make us saints, the blessed children of God. But, listen to Jesus: "Blessed are you (v.11)," He tells us. Not because of our feeble struggles. We are blessed in Jesus. Because of His feeble struggles.
This is the confidence of the saints. God loves us. The Almight God lowered Himself to take on the feeble struggles that we face everyday. For us, Jesus struggled in poverty of spirit, mourning the grip that sin has on the people of the whole world. In meekness and with a pure heart, Himself free of the curse of any sin, Christ meekly offered His life for ours on the cross. His holy, saintly death was no feeble struggle--Jesus battled powerfully through His death and resurrection against all our enemies: defeating death and devil, sin and hell. The Son of God is our Peacemaker. In Jesus, we are blessed eternally. Apart from all our feeble struggles, we are blessed saints in Christ.
So, while we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Those dear Christians who have gone before us, and have departed this life in saving faith: "theirs is the kingdom of heaven; they are comforted; they have inherited the earth of the new creation; they are satisfied with eternal righteousness; the Lord has shown mercy to them. Face to face, the blessed sons of God now see the glorious face of the Father in His eternal kingdom. Yes, even while we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.
Saints on earth and in heaven come together here: in Holy Communion. Where the Lord Jesus feeds us with His true body and blood, that's where we have a blest communion with God's holy ones: "with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven." Where on earth are we closest to those dear friends and loved ones who have died? Right where Jesus promises to be present: here in His real presence in the Sacrament.
This comforts us so deeply on this glorious All Saints day because the saints in heaven are one with us still here on earth: joined in the one holy Christian Church on earth and in heaven.
Even while we feebly struggle; even while they in glory shine: Christ makes us one.
11 September 2016
St. Luke 15:1-10 ESV
I Once Was Lost
The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
How do you feel when you find that thing you've lost? The other earring? A sock? The car keys? After all that searching, what do you do when it suddenly shows up before your eyes and you're holding it in your hands? Do you shout out? Call your wife? High five the guy next to you? You feel good, right? Good enough to party.
Along with celebration, today's Gospel is filled with bad feelings. First, the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling. They had a habit of criticizing and fault-finding whenever they were around Jesus. "This man receives sinners and eats with them (v.2)," they complained. Who would do that? Doesn't He have any self-respect?
A shepherd loses a sheep. He feels sorrow, panic, desperate searching. He also feels shame. He's the shepherd: the one to care for the sheep, not lose them. Next, he leaves "the ninety-nine sheep in the open country (v.4)," that is, the desert, alone, unprotected. Anxiety fills his heart while he searches for that one stray sheep.
A woman loses a coin: a valuable silver coin, worth as much as a sheep. Again, she feels sorrow, panic, desperate searching. She drops everything to find that coin: all chores have to wait, nothing else in the house gets done until she has the coin in hand. Anxiety fills her heart.
At the centre of this Gospel, implicit in this teaching of our Lord, is this: what has been lost is valuable.
The woman's coin is worth her full attention until she finds it.
The lost sheep is worth risking the ninety-nine; worth the shepherd's perilous searching until he finds it.
The tax collectors and sinners are worth the efforts of the seeking Shepherd, Jesus Christ, worth all His attention, worth the teaching of His saving Word, worth all the shame and ridicule He suffers all so that He might welcome them and eat with them.
He loves them.
Just as the Pharisees and scribes are precious to the Lord. These grumbling, fault-finders are precious to God's Son, so worth the parables He tells them: the lost sheep and the lost coin.
He loves them.
Know that you are worth it to Him: valuable, precious. Jesus loves us. Lost in our sins, the Shepherd seeks out you and me--focussing all His attention, all of His skill, His life and strength, even sacrificing Himself on the cross for you and me--that's how much He cares, how much we mean to Jesus, how precious and valuable to Him.
I once was lost, but now am found. All because Christ searched until He found me. With His holy, precious blood, with His innocent suffering and death, He found us.
So, here is also a Gospel filled with good feelings. Tax collectors and sinners are drawing near to hear Jesus, literally crowding around. This was no boring sermon they had to sit through. They were excited, eager, crowding in to hear the Saviour speak.
Sunday School children, youth and adults all have a chance to draw near and hear the word of Jesus in our Christian education hour between services every Sunday. This is a time to hear Jesus speak: a time for the Bible. "Speak, O Lord, your servant listens." What joy!
Like the joy when the shepherd finds his lost sheep. Do you know that feeling? When you find what you've been looking for (earring, sock or keys)? Relief! Happiness! Excitement! The shepherd loads his sheep upon His shoulders, calls friends and neighbours together to share in his joy. The joy you feel when you find lost things is contagious. Others feel the joy with you.
Like the woman who finds the lost coin. When the silver coin finally glitters in the lamp's glow, her heart floods with gladness. 'Come and share my good fortune! Rejoice! I thought this coin was gone forever. But just look. Here it is!'
Heaven's joy is so much greater: not over coins nor sheep, but sinners who repent. A big celebration among the angels kicks off when just one person repents, is converted and is found by Jesus (FC SD V:7). That's each one of us. For no person is so righteous that he needs no repentance. Without the Good Shepherd, we are lost sheep: lost, alone, tangled in the thorny bramble bush of unbelief; helpless and unmoving, like a coin buried in the dust. Powerless to save ourselves, the Shepherd Jesus must find us, lead us to repent, hoist us up on His shoulders, carry us back into the fold of His flock, the Church. We are a burden He is glad to bear. Repentance starts the celebration. The angels sing whenever baptismal waters are poured over a child or adult. Heavenly trumpets blow when new members stand here and confess Christ before the world in Confirmation. The feast of heaven opens up a tiny table here at the altar: here, Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with us.
Heaven's joy is right here on earth!
I once was lost, but now, in Christ, am found.
Rejoice with me!
15 May 2016
St. John 14:23-31 ESV
Out of This World
The Feast of Pentecost
Last week, wildfires burned through Alberta destroying much of Fort McMurray. Who is not moved by the pictures of the devastation in the news? Fire in this world destroys.
Another fire appears in the Pentecost reading from Acts: flames that rest on the heads of the Apostles. Not a harmful, destructive fire: the disciples are made bold to speak in other tongues, to the delight of the visitors to Jerusalem who hear about God's mighty works in their own native languages. This fire comes from another world--a fire from heaven. This fire signals that the Holy Spirit has come to our world.
Jesus promised that this day, the great and awesome day of Pentecost, would come. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (v. 26-27)."
The Holy Spirit is like nothing in this world. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit fills us with God's love. The Holy Spirit teaches us. The Holy Spirit gives us peace.
"Love me and my wealth and all my treasure," the world says to us. "Work hard to buy the things you love. Eat, drink and be merry. Life is short. Have a good time," is the world's constant call to us; the world's allure, attraction, seduction. "The one who dies with the most toys wins," taunts the world. (But, still dies). "Do what you want. Please yourself. Love yourself."
God's love is different. The love of God points us in a different direction: away from ourselves to love others. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to fill us with Gold's love: the love expressed by His holy Ten Commandments. "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (v. 23)." Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. We should fear and love God. Love for God means we love others.
The world teaches us to use the commandments to save ourselves. "Only good people go to heaven. It's karma: an eye for an eye. You get what you give." That's what we experience in the world. That's the lesson we learn.
The Holy Spirit teaches us a lesson from out of this world: the Gospel, Salvation is freely given to us apart from our works solely through faith in Jesus Christ. "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (v. 26)." the Spirit's lesson is always the love of God for us in Jesus. His sacrificial, saving love restores us when our love for others falls short. The Lord raises us to life again after our sins put us to death. Christ seats us with Him in triumph in the world to come, even while we shoulder the cross of suffering in this world. The Holy Spirit teaches us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)."
Because in this world, we have fear and trouble, shaking up our hearts and agitating our bodies. In this world, moments of peace are shallow and short-lived. The world prescribes peace in a pill, peace by simply avoiding conflicts with others, peace by taking a vacation, going to a movie or watching T.V. "Just keep busy, and you will forget all your problems," counsels the world. But without peace, we lose sleep at night. Without peace, we lose friends, Guilt burns in our bones and saps our bodies of all their strength (Ps. 32:3-4). Without peace, life is cut short.
Jesus gives us the peace which the world cannot give: peace bought for us by His death on the cross; peace sealed for us by His resurrection from the grave. The Holy Spirit delivers this peace that surpasses all understanding into our hearts in His Word of Absolution:"I forgive you all your sins;" in the water and word of our Baptisms; in the real presence of Christ here in the Sacrament of the Altar. With His Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit gives us a deep calm inside, even while the world outside is quaking, shifting and falling down around us. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be trouble, neither let them be afraid (v. 27)."
Clearly, as I stand and look out from this pulpit, I see that you and I are still in this world. The Holy Spirit gives us faith in Christ to reach out in love and mercy to help others. "The ruler of this world is coming(v. 30)," Jesus warned His disciples. Satan orchestrated the world leaders to arrest, condemn and kill Jesus, the Lord of life. This world's ruler, the devil, will also work hard to destroy us and the people around us. The world teaches us to isolate ourselves from those in need, for our protection, to criticize, demonize and judge others, even those who are close to us in church and family. Obviously, we are still in the world. Those of us who believe and are baptized are here to help others. The Holy Spirit leads us pray for others, to talk too those in need and to help where we can. While we are in the world, we love, teach and give His peace to others.
For we are in this world for only a short while. The Spirit's longs for us to be with Him in the world to come. Jesus promised, "We will come to him and make our home with him (v. 23)." For now, we are here. When Christ comes back, Jesus will call us to heaven: "Rise, let us go from here (v.31)."
Out of this world!
1 May 2016
St. John 16:33 NIV
Victory Over Trouble
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The two boys were running through the house at top speed. Letting off steam, the brothers were having a blast. Tearing through the living room, Mom's favourite vase teetered, fell off the table and smashed on the floor in a million pieces. The boys stopped in their tracks to survey the damage.
"Oooh!" One said to the other. "Now you're in trouble!"
You don't want to hear that.
"In this world, you will have trouble (θλιψις), tribulation, distress," says Jesus. Trouble is not some little thing. But we say it a lot.
The car won't start--you have car trouble:.
The screen freezes up, you have a virus--computer trouble.
You have trouble with livestock breaking down fences and getting loose on the road.
Winter brings trouble when water freezes in the barn.
But, we have much bigger troubles: a world of troubles; when our world comes crashing down around us. Husband and wife fracture, split and divorce--that's trouble! Your co-workers, relatives or friends make fun of your faith in Jesus and pressure you to stop coming to church--that's trouble! The doctor's diagnosis is terminal: alzheimers disease, heart attack, cancer--that's trouble!
Have you managed to live life trouble free? Smooth sailing? An easy life? How can that be? In this world: living among unbelievers, how will it be for those who confess that faith in Jesus saves us? Ridicule, persecution, torment, sleepless nights, indigestion, stress, ulcers--trouble! "In this world, you will have trouble." In this world, trouble takes the life right out of you and me. In this world, trouble buries us.
"But, take heart!" [Christ has] overcome (νικαω) the world." That means "victory." Jesus doesn't fix just the little troubles. The Lord has overcome, vanquished, and conquered a whole world of trouble.
God loves us. God loves us too much to leave us alone in all our troubles. God loves us too much to let us go to hell--where trouble never ends.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die in our place, the death we deserve: the trouble of troubles. Even while nailed to the cross, God's Son gave our enemies some trouble: His death destroyed death. His resurrection showed hell who's boss. His life emptied the grave of its power. "Death has been swallowed up in victory (νικη),
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1Corinthians 15:55-57)."
Even when the cross presses down hard on your shoulders: have good courage! Even when troubles surround you in this world: take heart! Even in the face of death: don't be afraid! Christ has overcome the world. Jesus has conquered all our enemies: the sinful world, our wicked flesh, the craftiness of Satan. The Lord has the victory!
Nike is the name of a multi-billion dollar sports company. At first, the founders planned to use the name "Dimension 6." But, graphic design artist, Carolyn Davidson, who came up with the trademark Nike Swoosh logo on all their products also suggested that they call the company Nike. That's a Greek word. Nike means victory.
Jesus has won the victory for us by His cross and empty tomb. This gives us peace with God: peace in our hearts even while the world around us gives us trouble. Peace in Christ comes from sins forgiven, from a right standing with God, from His Word and Sacraments which guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In all our troubles, peace in Christ moves us to pray with confidence. We ask the Father for the things we need each day. Not on our own strength, merit or goodness do we pray to the heavenly Father, but in Jesus' name, under the authority of Him who has already overcome all our troubles by His death and resurrection. In the name of Jesus, the powerful, living, victorious one, we are moved to pray. "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (v.24)."
These are the Lord's last words to His disciple, His farewell before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, before His arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Before it all happened, Jesus comforted His followers, by telling them how it would all turn out: "I have overcome the world."
Don't be afraid!
28 February 2016
St. Luke 13:1-9 ESV
The Third Sunday in Lent
Can You Dig It?
Barnyard Roundup is the theme for Vacation Bible School coming up in July this summer. The lesson for Wednesday's class is the Parable of the Sower. You remember that teaching of Jesus: the good seed that is sown on good soil produces a good crop.
But, what about the other seed? Bird, rocks, and thorns made them fruitless. A spade to turn up the soil would have produced a very different outcome. What if the farmer had dug around that hard-packed path? What if his shovel had rooted out the rocks? What if the cultivator had first uprooted those thorny weeds? Then, good plants could take root, spring up and bear various yields.
"Sir," pleaded the vinedresser in Christ's parable today, "let [the fig tree] alone this year until I dig around it (v.8)." Like the seeds that never matured to produce crops, this fig tree had no figs on its branches for the past three years. How disappointed was the owner each time he came seeking fruit on this fig tree, but found none (v.7). "Cut it down" came his order. "Why should it use up the ground?" 'Be patient!' pleaded the farmer. 'Let me dig.'
Dig. Repent. Prepare the soil. Prepare the heart.
That's what the Lord does in us. So that we bear fruit.
Eighteen kiled in a tower collapse.
Worshippers killed during religious services. Human blood spilled into sacrificial blood.
Gunman kills 3, wounds 20 in a shooting spree in Kansas.
In Pickering, a girl in grade nine armed with knives runs through school stabbing students and teachers.
Sixteen-year-old girl dies in Hanover.
The tragic headlines flow from first century Palestine to last week's news. What is going on?
We seek an explanation. Why did this happen? By nature, we want to sort out and make sense of tragedies that touch our lives. Were they worse people than we are? Was God punishing them for their sins?
"No," Jesus, the Son of God says to us, "but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (v.5)."
Tragic events do not need us to explain them.
Tragic events teach us to repent.
Repent. Change. Turn around. Head in a new direction. A new mind. A new heart. Repent or perish.
The farmer digs the soil around the roots of the tree. Flips the dirt upside down: the same dirt that feeds, nourishes and keeps the tree alive. Digging hurts. Repentance hurts. We change.
"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
Tragedy doesn't just happen to others. Tragic events call us to repent because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23). Including you. Including me. In Adam, all die. (1Corinthians 15:22). No one is excepted. We are not comforted knowing the reason, the cause, the explanation. No. We are convicted. Guilty. The truth digs deep into our minds and hearts. Leading us to repent.
Nobody likes this. Nobody would choose this. Repentance is hard. The farmer doesn't just dig to produce fruit. He also spreads manure, fertilizer (NIV, NASB), dung (KJV). Along with tragedy, there's other things to stink up our lives. 'I can't deal with this stuff, right now.' 'Why is there so much stuff happened to me?' we might ask. So we repent. Grow. Bear fruit. God the Holy Spirit even uses the filth (κοπριον) in our lives to turn us from sin to faith, from death to life. The manure is a call to repent.
But, there's more. Repentance is turning from sin. Here, Jesus calls us to repent and live: that means trusting Him, turning to Him in confidence, believing in Christ for salvation. Here, repentance refers to "a person's entire conversion (FC SD v:7)." Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13)." Repentance and faith are His work in us, after all. Like the vigilant, conscientious and caring farmer, the Lord makes the changes: digging, fertilizing and causing the growth.
His patience saves us. "The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9)." Without the patient intercession of the Lord, as He pleads and works like a divine farmer, we would be cut off, like a fruitless tree. Without the Lord, we all "will likewise perish (v.5)."
He was cut off for us. The fig tree had no fruit on its branches for three years. On the other hand, the three years of Christ's earthly life were filled with the fruit of righteous obedience to the commands of the Heavenly Father: flawless in His integrity, honour and love. Jesus alone did not need to repent. He had no need to say sorry. Christ was the only human being whose life was headed in the right direction. Yet, He was cut off. The owner of the fig tree wanted to cut it down. At the tree of the cross, the life of Jesus was tragically cut short: ended at the tender age of thirty-three. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate: the same Pilate whose wicked brutality mixed the blood of worshippers with their sacrifices.
But the blood of Jesus counts for us. The tragedy of the cross spurs us on, moving us to change, to repent. Our sins put the Lord there. And as we repent, we trust in that sacred blood to wash all our sins away. His blood comes to us mingled under the wine of the Sacrament together with His body for us under this bread. By His Word, He declares that this Sacrament forgives our sins, and along with forgiveness, we also receive life and salvation. By God's grace in Christ, we do not remain in sin and so perish. The Lord leads us to repent, to believer and so be saved.
Dig. Repent. Prepare the soil. Prepare the heart.
It's what the Lord does in us. And, we bear fruit.
7 February 2016
St. Luke 9:28-36 ESV
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Seeing & Hearing
A hot-tempered, loud-talking, tough-minded CEO was on tour at his company. Walking through the shipping department, he spotted a young man doing nothing. Instead of working, this fellow was idly leaning against a filing cabinet, humming a tune, just watching the action going on around him. The CEO was furious. "How much do you get paid?" he asked. "About two hundred dollars a week." "Here's two weeks pay," the CEO said, stuffing four one hundred dollar bills into the man's shirt pocket. "Get our of here! Don't ever come back!"
As soon as the young man left, the CEO turned on the department manager. "Who hired that loafer?" he shouted. "We didn't hire him," the manager explained. He was just here from the courier company waiting to pick up a package."
You can't fault the CEO for his take-charge approach. He just didn't listen. The CEO acted on what he saw.
Transfiguration teaches us to understand what we see by listening to what we hear from God in His Word, the Bible. "This is My Son, My chosen One" the Heavenly Father says. "Listen to Him!"
Glorious, heavenly sights appear to us in the Gospel today. Jesus is transfigured: "the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white (v.29)." Radiant clothes and face are not the only celestial sights: Moses and Elijah stand with the Lord Jesus: two living saints from heaven. Can you believe it? This looks good: Peter wants to build three tents and make this sight before his eyes last. But, he doesn't know what he is talking about.
The glorious transfiguration is hard to preach on, hard for us to understand, hard to relate to--we weren't there, we didn't see it. Our eyes see other things. Often, things look bad. The church doesn't look so glorious. Many of us remember seeing days when more people filled the pews, the singing was louder, the church was seen as an authority in the community: the hub and centre of life for most. What we see discourages us: declining membership, apathy, indifference in doctrine, even an eagerness to compromise the teaching of God's Word to try and see successful days of the church. We see Christians persecuted, put to death, executed by radical extremists. What we see looks bad.
As the years pass, we lose friends and loved ones as they die, move away, or simply drift away--becoming cold, emotionally distant. Our strength fades as the years pass, and we know that the words spoken on Ash Wednesday are also true for us: "You are dust and to dust you shall return." Our eyes see what St. Paul means: "The form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31 NKJV)." We see it.
But, don't be led astray by what you see. Listen to what God says--believe His Word. "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)."
Transfiguration shows us glorious, heavenly sights: a preview of the wondrous sights of heaven. But, that's not all. Glorious words there are spoken. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. Moses and Elijah are not silent, but appear in the glory of heaven to hold a holy conversation with Jesus. The topic? Luke tells us that they "spoke about His departure (εξοσος) which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (v.31)." Listen!
As Israel left slavery in Egypt, passing through the Red Sea waters to enter the promised land, so Jesus would free us and all people from slavery to sin by passing through death, the grave, and hell itself to lead us to the promised land of heaven. Peter wanted to build tents to hold onto the heaven his eyes saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus had a grander vision. The Lord Christ opened heaven to all baptized believers. That exodus, the work of His Passion which lay ahead, was not much to see: a Man judged, condemned, crucified, dead and laid in a tomb. Nothing like the heavenly glory of this mountain. But, listen to Him: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved (St. Mark 16:16 NKJV)."
On his day off, a Pastor visited the local art gallery. As he stood ahead of a painting of the crucifixion, a little boy walked up and began staring at the picture, as well. Leaning over, the Pastor asked the boy, "Do you know who that is?" Without hesitation, the boy said, "Sure, that's Jesus. They're putting Him to death. And those guys standing around the bottom are soldiers. And the lady in the middle who's crying is His mother." Then, without saying "goodbye," the boy walked away to find his parents. The Pastor remained before the painting, smiling at the fact that this boy knew Jesus. A few minutes later, the boy was back. "Hey mister, I forgot to tell you the most important part." Pointing at the picture, he said, "You see, this isn't the way it ends. Jesus didn't stay dead. He came back to life again. And He's still alive today."
There's not much to see in the way Jesus works today: a handful of water and thirteen words; a circle of bread and a sip of wine as we hear His words; a regular guy dressed in a robe who speaks in the stead and by the command of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These means of grace are not much to see. But, listen to Him. Here, Christ Jesus promises:
forgiveness when we see only guilt;
heaven, when we see only this world;
life, when we see only death.
God the Father tells us, "This is My Son, My chosen One; listen to Him!"
Believers have always seen desperate times. Like the time in Israel's history when enemies had them surrounded. The King of Syria sent his armies to the city of Dothan, surrounding the prophet Elisha and his servant. The sight of so many horses and chariots threw the servant into a panic: "What shall we do (II Kings 6:15)?" Elisha's answer calmed his fears: "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them (II Kings 6:16)." The prophet prayed for God to open his servant's eyes. Then, the servant saw "the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (II Kings 6:17)."
Trust in the Lord. He protects His people.
At this stage in history, many things look bad.
Don't let your eyes lead you astray.
Listen to Jesus.
24 January 2016
St. Luke 4:16-30 ESV
The Third Sunday After The Epiphany
I know a man. He went to the Keady Beef Barbecue. Friendly faces greeted him, and gave him a plate which he loaded up with food spread on the table before him. The man dressed in the apron cut a slab of beef with an electric knife, and laid it on his plate with a smile. When he found a place to sit at the table and said grace, he dug into the delicious meal. Before long, another man came by with a plate of fresh-cut meat. "Would you like some more beef?" "Oh yes," said he, as the plate was refilled. Then a second time, the man came by with more meat. The diner accepted the offer: "yes, please." And who can resist pie for dessert to complete a roast beef supper?
When he got up from the table at the end of the meal, he knew he had overdone it. Everything tasted so good. And there was so much. But, he was full. So full.
It's not the Keady BBQ in today's Gospel. This morning, we hear Jesus return to His own Keady, His hometown of Nazareth. The Evangelist, St. Luke tells us that both Jesus and the people of Nazareth are full. So full.
Full of rage. Anger. Passion. Fury. When Jesus preached. At first, they "spoke well of Him and marvelled at the gracious words that were coming out of His mouth (v.22)." But, that initial flattery didn't last. The Lord's words got them riled up: in a murderous rage, "filled with wrath (v. 28)." They were full. So full. Ready to pitch the Saviour off the cliff.
We read this as a warning to us: turn from anger when it wants to fill us, flooding our minds and soaking into our hearts. God commands us, "You shall not murder." Hatred that fills our hearts is already murder, warns Jesus (St. Matthew 5:22). Even Christians get angry, filled with rage against our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then, there's no room for words which witness our faith in Christ to others. Filled with such angry passion, there's no room to open our hearts and forgive others. If we are so full of wrath, there's no room for love. God calls us to repent.
For this angry crowd at Nazareth, so full of wrath, was actually empty. Their hearts were filled with hatred, but devoid of faith. Their level of love: running on empty. What really riled them up was our Lord's sermon, telling them how much God loved others, the Gentiles, outsiders. They expected Jesus to put on a show for them. Here was the epiphany: God loves all the people of the world. They didn't want to hear it. They only cared about themselves. The people of Nazareth looked to death to silence their home boy Preacher. So filled with anger, they decided to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Of course, the Lord knew this would happen. He's God. Jesus is filled with all knowledge. He knows everything. Yet, knowing He would be hated, seeing how He would be rejected, fully aware that His homecoming welcome would end with the people of Nazareth driving Him out of town intending for Him to die, still Jesus came to them, reached out to them, and preached God's Word to them. Jesus is full of love. At His coming, Jesus fulfilled Sacred Scripture. The presence of Christ meant that God had fulfilled all His promises given through the prophets in the Old Testament. God said He would do this. Now, in Christ, the blind receive their sight, the lame get up and walk; the prisoners are sprung from their prison cells. Not just to Nazareth, but to a world that rejects Him, Jesus comes with arms wide open, filled with love, filled with life, filled with heaven.
At Nazareth, the Lord was spared: the murderous designs of the angry crowd were not fulfilled. Three years later, they would be. The one rejected in anger by the folk in Nazareth would suffer the full wrath of the whole world, rejected even by His Father in heaven. In body, mind and soul, Jesus was filled with the sins of the world. At the cross, Christ died under the full penalty of God's righteous wrath for every sin, of every one, ever. The cross is how Jesus deals with our sin. The cross is where we crucify our hate and every other offence against God and man. From the cross and empty tomb, we are forgiven. Jesus opens our sin-blinded eyes. He makes us walk when our consciences cripple us. He opens the doors of prison cells of our guilt, and sets us free. Today, in His Holy Word of absolution, in the water and Word of our Baptisms and in the bread, wine and Word of His Supper, we are filled with forgiveness, life and salvation. So full. "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (v. 21)." The biblical book of Ruth tells the sad story of a lady living in a time of famine, who leaves her home country, her fatherland, to live in a foreign country. Naomi, mother-in-law of Ruth, leaves her native Bethlehem to live as a foreigner, a refugee, in the land of Moab, where there was food to support her family. Tragically, while living in Moab, Naomi loses both her husband and her sons when all three men died (Ruth 1:1-5). Sadly, in her grief, Naomi becomes bitter: "I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty (Ruth 1:21)." Wiped out. Devastated. Exhausted. Sin does that to us.
Jesus comes to fill us. The Messiah who took away our sins by His death on the cross rose again to fill us with His Word and Sacraments: filling our hearts with forgiveness, life and salvation. With joy, the Holy Spirit enlightens us with faith to confess this day: we came in here empty and the Lord sends us from this place full. So full.