Sunday, May 24, 2020

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)
May 24, 2020
Text: John 17:1-11
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven.  He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  And as He says here in our Holy Gospel, the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh” (John 17:2; ESV), the authority He already possesses as God now bestowed upon Him as Man, and this authority is for a purpose: “to give eternal life” to all whom the Father has given Him, all whom the Father has drawn to saving faith in Christ.  Jesus reigns.  He is the Ruler of all things.  He is our King.  And His rule always has as its aim the purpose of saving us and giving us eternal life. 
            What else is Jesus doing there at the right hand of the Father?  He is praying!  I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (v. 9).  Jesus has the Father’s ear.  He is interceding for His Church, for you!  And this morning we get a little glimpse of the content of His prayers.  Jesus bears our flesh.  He knows our need.  He is one of us.  And on that basis, He knows just what petitions to present to the Father on our behalf.  As He is removed from our sight (though very much still present with us in His Word and Sacraments), Jesus knows how challenging and difficult it will be for Christians living in a fallen world hostile to Christ and His people.  He knows that there are dangers, and He knows our frail nature.  So He prays that God would keep us.  Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me” (v. 11).  The Name, of course, is the Name placed upon you in Holy Baptism: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is the Name Jesus bears and reveals to us in His Holy Word.  It is the revelation of God as our God, our Father, who loves us and gave His only Son into death to make us His own. 
            And He prays that in that Name, we Christians would be one, just as Jesus and His Father are one.  Jesus and the Father (with the Holy Spirit) are one by nature.  Christians are one by grace.  Such unity is a gift from God.  It is not something we can create by brushing aside doctrinal differences or basing unity on superficial expressions of sentimentality.  It is a unity we discover with one another as we unite around the Word and gifts of Jesus, a unity we recognize as we mutually confess.  God has done it.  It is His work.  He has given it to us out of His own goodness on account of Jesus.     
            Thus King Jesus prays for us at the right hand of the Father, and what could the Father possibly say to His Son but an unqualified “Yes!”?  Yes, the Father will keep us.  Yes, the Father will make us one.  Yes, He will bring us into the unity of the blessed Trinity.  See how this High Priestly Prayer of Jesus flows out of His Ascension and drives us toward Pentecost and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and Trinity as God reveals His own essential unity in Three Persons.  Heady stuff these next few Sundays.  But the key point is this: The Father hears Jesus’ prayer and answers by sending you His Holy Spirit. 
            And why?  That you may have eternal life.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3).  Such knowledge is not simply an acquaintance with the persons or the facts.  It is an intimacy.  I can say I know President Trump, but I actually have never met him.  I simply know about him.  On the other hand, I can say I know my wife and children, and you understand that this is a different kind of knowing, a knowing in relationship, a knowing that binds me to them and that deepens and grows each day.  That is the knowledge Jesus means when He speaks of knowing the Father and the Son.  He is speaking of faith. 
            And notice, this knowledge is eternal life.  Eternal life is not just some future event when you die and go to heaven.  It is now, knowing the Father, knowing the Son.  Believing.  Trusting.  Yes, there will be eternal life in heaven, and we long for the full manifestation of our eternal life in the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.  But don’t think this life is all something to come later.  You have it now.  You know God now.  Through Christ.  And so you live in God now.  Through Christ.  Through His glorification, by which He means His suffering, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven.  His glory is His saving work by which He makes you His own. 
            Jesus prays for you that you may have life through His saving work.  And now you pray.  You pray through Jesus.  This is the incredible thing about your Baptism into Christ.  Now that you are in Christ, you have all that is Christ’s!  And that means you have the Father’s ear!  That is why Jesus teaches you to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” 
            You never pray independent of Jesus.  This is, by the way, what it means to pray “in Jesus’ Name.”  It is not just tacking on the magic words at the end of a prayer.  Those are fine words to say at the end, but they aren’t included in the Lord’s Prayer, and yet whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer we do so in Jesus’ Name.  It means that we pray to the Father through Jesus.  In fact, this is a whole Trinitarian action.  Remember what St. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).  So we pray our faltering prayers, marked as they are by the weakness of our flesh, but the Spirit takes up those prayers with groanings too deep for words, inexpressible in human language.  And He places them in the wounds of Christ, who speaks them before the Father on our behalf.  And the Father always hears and answers our prayers for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son. 
            When you are praying, you can form an image of it in this way: As you pray in the Spirit for a particular situation or a particular person, you are placing that situation or that person in the wounds of Christ, who is risen from the dead.  His sin-atoning blood covers all that is wrong and bad with the situation or the person.  And in that condition, covered by His blood and death, He presents the petition before His Father.  And the Father answers through the atonement and resurrection victory of the Son.  Our Lord’s resurrection life bestows all that is right and good upon the situation and the person.  Now, of course, this is all hidden.  It may not look like the good has happened when, for example, the person you prayed would be healed, dies.  But God is doing His thing.  His ultimate good.  And we know what that is by Jesus’ prayer this morning.  He is keeping His own unto eternal life.  And that, whether we realize it or not at the time, is ultimately what we’re praying for.
            But do you see what this does for your whole life now in Christ?  You can live confidently and faithfully now in the midst of a world hostile to Christ and His Christians, simply commending all things to the Father in the Name of the Son.  And you can know: He is keeping you.  He is keeping his Church.  He is giving you eternal life.  No one can take that away. 
            Yes, the world will try.  We learn that from St. Peter this morning in our Epistle (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11).  The world will mock you and reject you and throw all manner of roadblocks in the way of the life and mission of the Church.  We know from history and from the situation of our brothers and sisters today in many parts of the world, that the world may imprison you, torture you, or even kill you for the Name of Christ.  The devil will rage.  He prowls about like a roaring lion.  Your sinful flesh is weak.  But none of that changes the truth of it.  The Father keeps His own in Jesus, as Jesus prays this morning.  He keeps you through it all.  He gives you eternal life.  Beloved, pray.  And rejoice.  And live.  In Jesus.  For His life is yours.  And He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  He lives and He reigns.  And right now, this very moment at the right hand of the Father, Jesus prays for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Eve of the Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord (Observed)
May 20, 2020
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            And He has ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  But that doesn’t mean He is gone!  What kind of Savior would that be, who just abandons us to the chaos of a fallen world where the devil reigns, and leaves us to our own devices to cope?  That would be no kind of Savior for me!  And He wouldn’t be for you, either.!  The point of the Ascension is not that Jesus has left us.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Now that He sits at God’s right hand, St. Paul tells us in our Epistle that Jesus “fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23; ESV).  Remember the promise Jesus made to us in our Holy Gospel on Sunday: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).  This is not just a promise of His coming again on the Last Day.  It is a promise of His continual coming to us and among us in His gifts.  Is that not what He says in the last chapter of Matthew, right before His ascension, as He gives His disciples the gift of Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and the continual teaching of the faith?  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  I am with you always, this whole time, until the end of the age, when I come again among you visibly.  He says it, and He means it! 
            So Jesus is not stuck somewhere up there, as though heaven is a location however many gazillion miles away in outer space.  Heaven is wherever God is.  And where is God?  Everywhere.  And where is Jesus?  At God’s right hand.  So Jesus is wherever God is, which is everywhere, which means He is with you.
            That is actually the point of the cloud.  And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).  The cloud.  It didn’t take Him away.  It hid Him from their sight, from their earthly eyes.  Now Jesus’ mode of presence with His Church will be different than it was during His earthly ministry.  Now we are to see Him with the eyes and ears of faith in the things He has left us, His Means of Grace, the Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Holy Supper. 
            As an Old Testament believer, and frankly even as New Testament believers like we are, alarm bells ought be sounding with the appearance of the cloud.  Where do we see the cloud in connection with God in the Holy Scriptures?  Here we particularly think of the pillar of cloud that separated the Children of Israel from Pharaoh and the forces that would enslave them, that protected them as they were baptized in the Red Sea (Ex. 14).  The pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, which was the very Angel of the LORD (that is, the pre-incarnate Christ!), by which God led the Children of Israel through the wilderness.  The cloud that came down upon the Tabernacle (Num. 9), the cloud that descended to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting whenever Moses entered, that God might speak with Moses face to face (Ex. 33).  This is the cloud that filled the Temple at Solomon’s dedication as the LORD promised to dwell with His people and be their God (1 Kings 8; 1 Chron. 7). 
            And where does the cloud appear in the New Testament?  At the Transfiguration of our Lord!  There suddenly the glory of the Son of God shines through His humanity.  Heaven meets earth.  The Testaments are joined as Moses and Elijah gather with Peter, James, and John around the beatific vision and presence of Jesus.  And what happens?  A cloud overshadows them, and they hear the very voice of the Father: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).  Listen to Him, because that is how He will be present with you. 
            The cloud is not the absence of God.  It is His presence!  It is His presence with and for you.  The cloud is the Shekinah, the Kabod YHWH, the presence of the Glory of God, hidden from mortal sight, but very much with His people, for His people, leading His people, protecting His people, speaking to His people.
            So Jesus is with us, just as assuredly as he was with His disciples in His earthly ministry.  It is just that His glory is hidden.  To be hidden necessarily means that He is present!  You can’t be hidden somewhere if you’re gone! 
            Now, Jesus fills all in all as St. Paul says, so He is everywhere, what we call in theology the ubiquity of Jesus.  But He has promised to hide Himself, to locate Himself in specific places for you, so you can always know where to find Him for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Where does Jesus hide Himself today for you?  Don’t look up at the clouds.  That is the point the angels are making to the disciples in our reading from Acts: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11).  What are you hoping to see up there?  See, you don’t look for Him now in majestic clouds or glorious sunrises, as beautiful as those things may be, and as much as they lead us to thank and praise God.  He is in them, yes, but He is not in them for you, to give you His grace and mercy in the forgiveness of your sins.  He is in a sunrise, remember, the same way He is in a hurricane or a tornado (and by the way, congratulations on surviving the great Palouse Tornado of 2020!  You’re almost Midwesterners now!).
            Jesus is present for you now in preaching and in the Holy Scriptures.  He is with you in your Baptism into Him, in the Holy Absolution by which He pronounces all your sins forgiven, and in the Supper of His Body and Blood.  These things are like the cloud.  He is in them with all His glory, but it is hidden from your sight, under simple, ordinary elements: words and water, bread and wine.  This is where you are to look for Him, and where you will always find Him, with all the saving benefits of His death and resurrection, for you, to heal you, to forgive you, to restore you, to save you. 
            And by the way, when we say He is present in these things, we don’t just mean spiritually.  Ever since His incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary, you can’t have the Son of God apart from His human nature.  Wherever He is, He is there as God and as Man.  To say otherwise would be to separate His two natures, divine and human, and make Jesus into two persons.  This is a very ancient heresy the Church has had to battle since the time of the Apostles.  No, Jesus is one Person with two natures.  He is fully God, eternally begotten of the Father.  He is fully Man, born of the Virgin Mary.  So Jesus fills all in all, not just as God, but as a Man!  And He is with you in His Word and Sacraments, not just spiritually, but in all His fulness, as God and as Man!  That means, when you hear His Word, it is Jesus Himself speaking into your ear.  When your sins are forgiven in His stead and by His command, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you Himself, because He is dealing with you Himself.  You are baptized into Christ, and that means into His flesh and blood, so that you were really crucified with Him, dead and buried, and you were really raised to new life with Him in His resurrection.  And yes, when He gives you bread and says of it, “This is my body;” when He gives you wine and says of it, “This is my blood;” He means it.  He isn’t joking around.  He isn’t just painting you a picture.  He is giving you the real thing, Himself, in all His fulness, bodily, so that He Himself is in you with all the salvation and wholeness of His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.  Jesus is never just with you in spirit.  The Man from Nazareth who is God’s own Son is with you and for you, always, to the very end of the age.  And soon He will come visibly, and the cloud will once again unveil Him for all to see.
            In the meantime, stop looking up at the sky.  And stop acting as though Jesus is gone!  He isn’t.  He is with you.  With you right now.  You are hearing His voice this very moment, hidden under preaching.  You are in Him in Baptism and He is in you in His Supper.  Heaven comes to earth where Jesus is present in these gifts.  And, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, here is the real kicker.  He reigns.  Seated at the right hand of the Father, ever interceding for you, Jesus rules all things in heaven and on earth and even under the earth.  He is the King.  So do not fear.  He who died for you, lives for you.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  He fills all in all.  And all things, bad and good, are in His pierced hands, redeemed and worked by Him for your good and for your salvation.  Blessed Ascension Day.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)
May 17, 2020
Text: John 14:15-21
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Because I live, you also will live,” Jesus says (John 14:19; ESV).  Now, this is certainly a promise of our bodily resurrection on the Last Day.  As Jesus is risen, bodily, so He will raise us, bodily, and give eternal life to you and me and all believers in Christ.  But this is also a promise concerning the life we have right now in Christ.  Baptized into Christ, who died, and who is risen from the dead, you have eternal life now.  Yes, now!  It is hidden.  You cannot see it, and certainly others cannot see it.  But you have it, because you are in Christ, who lives.  That is to say, you have already been raised from the dead spiritually.
            What does this mean?  In Holy Baptism, you died with Christ, and you have now been raised with Christ.  His death is your death.  His resurrection is your life.  Furthermore, in Holy Baptism, the Father has given you another Helper, as Jesus has asked Him.  The word, actually, is “Paraclete.”  “Helper,” certainly, but it could also be translated “Counselor,” or “Advocate,” or “Comforter.”  All of the above are part of the concept.  Literally, Paraclete means one “called to the side,” as in the one you call to your side in a time of trouble.  As a child calls to his mother for comfort and help when he falls off his bicycle, for physical assistance, for help with homework, or advice when times are difficult and confusing.  This helps us understand the role of the Paraclete.  He is the One we call to our side in every time of need.
            We confess the Spirit as nothing less than the Lord and Giver of life.  As God breathed into Adam… breathes into you… the breath of life, so He spirits into you the Spirit of life when you are born from above in Holy Baptism.  The Spirit gives you life.  He gives you the life of the risen Christ.  That is to say, He brings you to faith in Christ.  Living faith.  Saving faith.  And this changes everything for you, as you can imagine it would, going from a state of being dead in your trespasses and sins, to being alive… with life full and free in Christ, life eternal and abundant.
            So now by the Spirit’s work of enlivening you, you are able to do what you previously could not do in the death of your sins.  Now you live in Jesus, and you love Jesus, and you keep His Word.  When Jesus says in our text, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (v. 15), He doesn’t just mean keeping the rules, the ethical guidelines, the Ten Commandments.  He means the entirety of His Word, Law and Gospel.  And the word “keep” doesn’t only mean “obey.”  It certainly does mean that, but it also means “guard,” perhaps even “treasure.”  It is really a faith Word.  The one who has been brought to resurrection life in Jesus lives by every Word of Jesus! 
            Now, of course, in this earthly life, while you still have to contend with your fallen flesh and while you still live in a fallen world, you don’t always keep the Commandments.  You will, in heaven, and in the resurrection on the Last Day, but not yet.  Now you still have to drown Old Adam every day.  You sin.  You break faith with Jesus’ Word.  You know that about yourself.  The point isn’t that now that you live in Jesus, you can perfectly keep the Law and never sin.  No, it means you strive against your sinful nature, because that isn’t you anymore.  It means you strive to keep the Law, not to earn salvation or merit before God, but because you love Jesus.  And when you fail to keep the Law, you repent.  You confess it.  You are sorry.  You seek amendment of life.  Because you love Jesus.  You know that His Word and His will for you are good for you.  And you know that Jesus is ever faithful to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.  That is what this Christian life looks like in this world.  The continual pattern of repentance and faith in Christ, living by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. 
            And that is the Spirit in you.  That is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ does in your life at this very moment.  Because Jesus lives, you live. 
            Now, the world doesn’t see this.  The world saw Jesus during His earthly ministry when He appeared as any other man.  The world saw as Jesus was put to an ignominious death on the cross, the death of a common criminal.  The world saw Him dead and buried.  But that is as far as worldly sight goes. 
            When the Holy Spirit gives you the resurrection life of Jesus, so that you believe in Him, He opens your eyes to the new reality the world cannot see.  That Jesus didn’t stay dead.  He is risen.  He lives.  He reigns.  This is what Jesus is getting at when He says, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me” (v. 19).  In the 40 days following His resurrection, our Lord appeared, not to the world, but to His disciples.  It was the disciples who ate and drank with Him and poked around in His wounds.  It was the disciples who watched Him ascend into heaven.  And it is still the disciples who see Him.  You… not with your fleshly eyes, but with the eyes of faith that have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  You see Him as He comes to you with His gifts, in His Church, in His Word and in His Sacraments. 
            This is the fulfillment of the Promise that whoever loves Jesus will be loved by the Father and by Jesus, and that Jesus will manifest Himself to him (v. 21).  He will not leave us as orphans, He promises (v. 18).  He has given His Holy Spirit who continually cares for us, doing His work of preserving us in the holy faith of Jesus.  And Jesus Himself comes to us, as He promises.  He comes and He dwells with us under otherwise ordinary words and water, bread and wine.
            And the beautiful thing is, as Jesus is in the Father, and as we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us, we also are in the Father.  We are safely tucked into God!  That is Jesus’ and John’s roundabout way of saying that, baptized into Christ, we, too, like Jesus, are God’s own sons and daughters.  We are brought into the unity of God Himself, into His perfect love.  Jesus is in the Father, one substance with the Father, God of God.  And we are in Jesus, being baptized into Him.  And Jesus is in us, putting His Words in our ears and His Body and Blood in our mouths.  This is not just a theoretical image, this being in Jesus, and Jesus in us, and so being in the Father.  This is the Sacramental reality.  Really, we are immersed in Christ in the baptismal water.  Really, Christ is taken into our bodies as we eat and drink Him in the Supper.  When we say God is with us, that is what we mean.  It is a union in truth, and much more concrete than the usual pious assertions that everything will turn out all right because the Big Man in the Sky is looking down on us.  We mean He is right here, in the ear and in the mouth, and we are right there in His heavenly presence.  Heaven and earth overlap one another where God meets man in His Means of Grace. 
            Did you hear that?  You have one foot in heaven!  Heaven has a hold on you.  You are already alive!  Sight just has to catch up with the reality.  And it will when Jesus comes again. 
            Now you can live confidently in that reality in spite of all appearances.  This is why you don’t have to be afraid of this pandemic or its aftermath.  I’m not saying you won’t get sick or lose your job, or even die.  I’m saying it cannot rob you of the true resurrection life you have in Jesus.  Because He lives, you live.  That is the long and the short of it.  The Spirit gives you life.  You live in Jesus.  You love Jesus.  You keep His Commandments, His Words.  The Paraclete is with you now in every trouble, reminding you that things are not as they appear.  Jesus Himself is with you and in you, with His forgiveness, life, salvation, and all His gifts.  And in Jesus, you are in the Father, who is your Father, who loves you as His own, and answers your every prayer.  Because I live, you also will live,” says Jesus.  It will be manifest on the Last Day, but it is true for you right now.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  Jesus is your life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 5

Wednesday of Easter 5 (A)
May 13, 2020
Text: 1 Peter 2:2-10
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            In Christ, a great exchange has taken place.  Jesus has taken all our sin, death, and condemnation into Himself and put it to death in His Body on the cross.  In exchange, He has given us His righteousness, salvation, and life.  He is risen from the dead, and that life is now ours.  The exchange takes place in Baptism.  He was baptized into us at the River Jordan.  We are baptized into Him at the font.  It is a royal wedding.  Christ is the Bridegroom.  The Church is His Bride.  By the wedding ring of faith, we possess all His riches.  It is this reality that St. Peter unpacks in our text.
            Just as the situation of a husband is the situation of his bride, so it is with Christ and the Church.  As it is with Christ, so it is with us.  Jesus is a Living Stone, the Cornerstone, chosen by God and precious.  So you, beloved, are living stones built upon Him as a spiritual house, a people chosen as His own possession.  As He is our great High Priest who offered the once-for-all sacrifice of atonement for our sins, to save us, so you are a royal priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices of love, and good works, and even suffering, that are acceptable to God through Jesus.  As He was rejected by men, so you will be rejected and scorned and maybe even put to death.  But what happened to Jesus?  The Stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone!  He is risen!  And so whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.  You, too, shall rise. 
            As a man, our Lord had to grow up into this Priestly Office.  He was a Babe in arms at the Virgin’s breast, and so also, from His earliest days, He drank the pure spiritual milk of the Word.  He grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with man (Luke 2:40, 52).  And so you.  As newborn babes you long for the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word.  You taste and see that the Lord is good.  And so you grow up into your spiritual priesthood, into the Christian God would have you be, doing the work God would have you do, the spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God by the blood of Christ.
            You grow in repentance and faith.  You learn to bemoan your sins and the harm they do to you and to your neighbor.  You learn to confess your sins, and turn to Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and divine rescue.  You grow in the Word as you hear and learn it and meditate upon it, as you attend the Divine Service and Bible study.  You grow in love for your neighbor.  His need becomes your need, and your abundance becomes his abundance, because this is what Christ has done for you.  You forgive his sins against you.  You pray for him and encourage him in his life in Christ.  You become, in this way, a little Christ to your neighbor.  You grow in sacrifice for him.  As Christ sacrificed Himself for you for the forgiveness of your sins, so you sacrifice yourself for your neighbor’s sake.  You give yourself and of all that is yours, that your neighbor may hear the Gospel, and be well-provided in body and soul. 
            This growth all happens through the Word.  That is where the Spirit does His sanctifying work.  It begins with the simple and nourishing milk of the Gospel, and it grows into partaking of the solid food of the Lord’s Body and Blood and an ever-deepening understanding of all that the Lord teaches. 
            And then there is this: The Holy Spirit exercises your faith in what Luther calls “the school of experience.”  That is, you suffer.  As Jesus learned obedience by suffering, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it (Heb. 5:8), so you learn to cast yourself wholly and completely on God’s mercy and follow Him through every affliction as you bear the precious and holy cross.  Whether it is the suffering of pain or disease, of grief or loss, or any affliction, as God sustains you by His Word and Spirit, He is teaching you patience and trust. 
            In this pandemic, we Christians are learning a patience we may well otherwise have lost here in the American Church, swallowed up by our affluence and our perceived invulnerability.  We really have been putting our faith in the wrong gods: wealth; unprecedented healthcare, medical knowledge, and technology; military might; scientific advancement; and freedom.  Turns out all of these are fleeting and cannot protect us in the end.  Repent.  God is growing you.  This is the school of experience.  Back to the milk of the Gospel!  That is what sustains us.  That is Who sustains us, our gracious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
            Those who do not have the Word stumble and fall on this Cornerstone.  To them, Jesus becomes a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense.  Peter tells us, “They stumble because they disobey the word” (1 Peter 2:8; ESV).  The difference between them and you is not one of moral superiority or inferiority.  It is not that you are more righteous than they, or a person of better quality.  It is simply this: By grace, you have been given to hear and believe the Gospel.  They have rejected it, and face an eternal future apart from Christ.  They rejected the Bridegroom!  They rejected the exchange!  Lord, have mercy!
            Some will yet be rescued when they hear this life-giving Word, and that is why God leaves you here as priests.  To love them and serve them.  To suffer here, with and for them.  To be a Church in this place.  To proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  You know what it is to walk in their darkness.  Apart from Christ, that is you.  You know what it is not to be a people, as they are not, each one living for himself.  Now, in Christ, you are God’s people.  You know what it is not to receive mercy, as they deny even their need for it.  But now, in Christ, you have received mercy.  And you can show it to them, and you can give it to them.  You speak the Gospel to them.  You bring them to the Church, to hear the preaching, to come and see Jesus.  And you need not be afraid of their rejection.  For as it is with Christ, so it is with you.  They may kill you for it.  But Christ will raise you.  Then again, the Holy Spirit works through His Word.  They might just hear and believe and another living stone will be added to the spiritual house whose Cornerstone is Jesus Christ.  That is all up to God.  You just confess and suffer and trust and live in Jesus. 
            For His life is yours.  By virtue of your Baptism, you died with Christ, and you now live with Christ, and He will raise you bodily on the Last Day.  So whatever you suffer, it is simply growth toward that Day.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who suffered for you, to make you His own.  Drink the milk.  Feed on the solid food.  Commend everything to God in prayer.  You are safe in Jesus.  Your sins are forgiven.  He is coming soon.  The spiritual house is about to be revealed for all to see.  Just wait.  Keep trusting.  The Bridegroom soon shall call us.  As He is, so we are, and shall be.  Risen, living, alive in the House of our Father forever.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
May 10, 2020
Text: John 14:1-14
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says (John 14:1; ESV).  These are troubling times.  All our hearts are troubled these days in some way.  Over the virus and those suffering and dying.  Over those who have lost their livelihoods and the possibilities of epidemic hunger and homelessness throughout the world, and right here at home.  Over the proper government response to all of this.  Over the Church, which has been prohibited from gathering and receiving the Lord’s gifts.  Our hearts have been troubled by what our friends think about all of this, with which we may or may not agree.  And we’re troubled by what our friends may think about what we think.  And, of course, the greatest trouble is, we cannot predict the future, and all of this is beyond any possibility of our control.  Nevertheless, it is this very reality into which Jesus speaks: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
            Our Lord first spoke these words on the night in which He was betrayed.  The disciples didn’t realize it, but they were on the cusp of very troubled times with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus about to take place.  Like we were at Christmas time, barely aware of a thing in China called coronavirus.  The disciples were vaguely aware of Jesus’ passion predictions, and maybe a little troubled, but they didn’t want to let it get in the way of celebrating the Passover.  Nevertheless, these words were extremely important for them in the reality they were about to experience, as they are to us.  Because there is a Promise implicit in them.  “I will defeat all that troubles your hearts by my death and resurrection.  I will be with you in every trouble.  You can trust me.  And in the end, I will deliver you.  You can carry that Promise with you all the way to the grave, and out again.”
            Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me” (v. 1).  “Look, things are gonna get really rough, and it will appear as though all is lost.  But keep your eyes on our Father who art in heaven.  How?  By keeping your eyes on me.  For I am preparing a place for you, a home with the Father in His house, as His dear child, in fact, I am preparing a whole new creation.  And I will come back for you to rescue you out of every trouble, so that you can be with me there, forever.  And you know the way, because you know me.”  I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6).  “But in me, as you come through me, my Father becomes your Father, and you become His royal child.”
            How do we keep our eyes on Jesus, and so upon the Father?  We keep our eyes on Jesus by keeping our ears on Jesus.  And when we keep our ears on Jesus, we hear the very voice of the Father.  Jesus, God’s Son, is the very revelation of the Father.  He shows us the Father by showing us Himself.  He reveals God to us as our God, who is not out to get us, but who loves us.  Who is not against us, but for us.  Who redeemed us rebellious sinners for His own by giving His only-begotten beloved Son into death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Our Lord Jesus, who is now risen from the dead, His saving work complete, is the Word of our Father, now in flesh appearing.  And it is that saving reality of His atonement and resurrection that He speaks from the Father into your ears.  He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him.  Whatever Jesus speaks, that is the Father’s unchangeable decree.  And what He says is that your sins are forgiven.  You belong to the Father, baptized into His Son.  You have a place at His Table, the Supper of Jesus’ crucified and risen Body and Blood.  That is the reality.  Believe it.  Believe the One who speaks it.  Let not your hearts be troubled.”
            You keep your ears on Jesus’ Word, and your eyes on Jesus’ works.  The miracles, yes, recorded for our learning and comfort in the Holy Gospels.  But so also His continuing work among you today in the Holy Church.  We keep our ears on Jesus’ Word in the preaching, and in Scripture, and in Holy Absolution.  We keep our eyes on Jesus’ works in the water of the font and the bread and wine of the Supper, under which Jesus Himself comes to us in all our afflictions, at the High Altar, and even in a garage chapel.  And it is all a down payment of the Promise, a firstfruit, a beginning of the rescue He will accomplish when He comes again in glory to raise you from the dead.
            Now this reality permeates our whole life, in joy and in sorrow, in good and in ill.  It is the life of faith toward God (“Believe in God; believe also in me”), and of fervent love toward one another.  And we need that fervent love especially in times like this.  Because you know that God will take care of you, take care of those who are in need.  Because you know your life is eternally secure in Jesus, care for the sick and protect the vulnerable.  Because you know you have no need to fear, comfort those suffering any sadness or anxiety.  We all have our ups and downs with this.  As much as we need to comfort others, we ourselves need to be comforted.  This Gospel is the true remedy, the only real comfort.  We are redeemed in Jesus.  We belong to the Father.  And our home is with Him.
            Now we are away from that home for a time.  God has set us as strangers in a strange land.  Our citizenship is in heaven, and by that citizenship we are truly free.  But God has placed us in the world to be His emissaries, to serve our neighbor in love, and to preach the Gospel.  There are two very difficult Words Jesus speaks in our Holy Gospel, and they both have to do with this.  The first is: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (v. 12).  This bothers a lot of people, because it sounds like the disciples will do even better works than Jesus, as if they could do things of a nobler quality than raising Lazarus from the dead, paying for the sins of the world on the cross, or our Lord’s own resurrection of Himself from the dead on the Third Day.  But in this case, that is not what the word “greater” means.  Jesus is here saying that because He goes to the Father (His ascension into heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty), He will continue the work He began in His earthly ministry.  He will do it through His disciples, and it will be done to the ends of the earth.  We get a taste of how this all works out in the Book of Acts.  But it is not just the preaching and miraculous signs of the Apostles and the Early Church.  This greater work goes on today, here and now, among you, as the risen Lord is present in His Church in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, and in your own witness and works of love as you live your Christian life in your daily vocations. 
            And it is in connection with this that we get the second difficult Word: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (vv. 13-14).  This bothers a lot of people, because I asked for help finding my keys and they are still lost.  Or more crassly, I asked for a ’65 Mustang to appear in my driveway, but it never happened.  Or more seriously, I asked that my loved one would not die, but they did.  But again, that isn’t what Jesus is telling you in this Promise.  He is not a genie whose purpose is to grant your every wish.  He says this in connection with these greater works.  “Because I now sit at the right hand of the Father, and because I live and reign, you will address your prayers to me.  And whatever you ask me in my Name concerning these works, my presence with you in Word and Sacrament, my presence with you in every affliction, your witness to the world, the things by which the Gospel is proclaimed and propagated, these I will do.”  And the purpose is, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  That we, and many more, come to the Father, through the Son.  That we have a home and a place with Him.  That we be His very own.
            Let not your hearts be troubled.”  Trust in God.  Trust in His Son, Jesus Christ.  The work and the Word remain.  No virus and no government mandate can touch them.  And nothing and no one can rob you of the life you have in Jesus.  Do you see?  You’re free!  You belong to another Kingdom and you have another home.  Jesus died for you.  And He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And He is coming back for you, to bring you home.  Until then we wait, and we work, and we trust.  We pray and let Jesus answer as He will.  For we know He is working all things for our good.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 4

Wednesday of Easter 4 (A)
May 6, 2020
Text: 1 Peter 2:19-25
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            St. Peter says it is a gracious thing when one endures sorrows while suffering, being mindful of God.  A gracious thing.  Not only gracious on the part of the sufferer, but a gift of grace from God. 
            Now, Peter is not talking about suffering we bring upon ourselves by bad behavior, like civil penalties for breaking just laws, or discipline administered by a parent, a teacher, or a boss.  We should also receive that kind of suffering with patient endurance, and learn from it.  But that is not what St. Peter is talking about.  He means suffering while doing good.  To endure that is a gracious gift of God, and it is gracious in God’s sight. 
            He writes this to Christians who faced very real persecution for the Name of Jesus.  Many had already lost their homes and been exiled from their homeland.  Many had lost possessions, suffered the rejection of friends and family, been imprisoned, and many had even shed their blood.  That is the kind of suffering St. Peter encourages us to endure patiently.  That is the kind of suffering he calls “a gracious thing” (1 Peter 2:19-20; ESV). 
            Of course, the ultimate example of this is our Lord Jesus Christ.  He not only suffered while doing good, He suffered while doing the ultimate good for us, bleeding and dying as the Sacrifice of Atonement for our sins.  He had no sins of His own.  Perfectly righteous, sinless, blameless before God and man, He became our Substitute.  He suffered our punishment.  He died our death.  He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world and put them to death in His body on the tree.  There really is only One who has ever suffered in perfect innocence.  That is Jesus Himself.  And in so suffering, He has not only redeemed us from sin, death, and hell, He also teaches us how to bear suffering. 
            When reviled, He did not revile in return.  He did not threaten.  He continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly, to His heavenly Father.  He continued trusting the Father all the way through the forsaken hell of the cross, knowing His suffering and death was precious in the Father’s sight, knowing that by His finished work He was redeeming for Himself a people, knowing that in the end, God would vindicate Him and glorify Him by raising Him from the dead.  And so it is.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Now, He did all this for us, not so that we would go on in sin, seeking vengeance, retribution against our enemies, but so that we, baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection, would die to sin and arise to live in righteousness.  That is to say, that when we suffer for doing good, we, too, would not revile in return, or make threats, but endure, mindful of God, entrusting ourselves continually to Him who judges justly, our Father who art in heaven.
            What does that mean?  That means when you suffer for doing good… when you are persecuted or rejected or wrongly accused… when someone hurts you by their words or deeds…  when you are slandered or maligned… even if they put you to death… you can do as Jesus did.  Pray: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
            I always pray before I work on a sermon that God would grant me His Holy Spirit and the wisdom from above, so that I preach what you, His people, need to hear.  Little did I know how the Spirit would teach me this text!  So, some of you may know what I’m talking about, though the details don’t really matter…  Let’s just say, turns out, perhaps, I spoke a little too loudly in public on matters we’re currently facing in our society, at least in the minds of some.  Or, some of you may argue I didn’t speak loudly enough!  This is one of those you can’t win.  Perhaps you know the feeling.  I know some of you know the feeling, because I’ve watched you on social media.  In any case, I spoke what I believe is right and true and good and faithful to Christ (and He will be the Judge of whether it is or isn’t), and now that may bring me some suffering, at least in terms of unwanted attention and derision.  This is certainly not on the level of suffering experienced by Peter’s original audience.  Far from it.  But it will and does hurt.  So be it.  Let the Lord do with it what seems best to Him.
            So now I need to look at this text and see in it Christ crucified for sinners, Christ crucified for me, and for my sins.  And so also I need to see in it Christ risen from the dead, Christ, whose victory is complete, and the new reality this brings, into which I am baptized.  And then I can see that all is ultimately set right in Him.  By His wounds I have been healed!  There is sorrow and suffering to be endured, but always with the end in view, that Christ is coming again in glory to raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.  I live in the sure and certain hope of that reality. 
            So reviling those who revile me does nothing but spew the demonic venom of hatred and death on myself and on those around me.  But patiently enduring and forgiving in the Name of Jesus swallows up that poison and buries it in Christ’s tomb.  Making threats against those who threaten me does nothing but drive more wedges between me and the neighbor for whom Christ died.  But speaking instead, words of grace first spoken to me by Jesus, has great potential to remove, not only the wedges that separate me from my neighbor, but the wedges that separate my neighbor from Christ.  As Christ died for me, and for my neighbor, and for all, so I can, in this sense, die to myself for the sake of my neighbor, in forgiveness of his sins against me.  See how this is a gracious thing?
            Christians are called to do the good, and then suffer.  Even death, if necessary.  But always trusting in Him who judges justly, that is, in our heavenly Father, and in Jesus Christ, His Son.  The day may come when we, here and now, face real persecution for the Name of Jesus, as our brothers and sisters have in the past, and do today in many parts of the world.  Should that happen, this is our text, and this is what we do: Endure.  Mindful of God.  Entrusting ourselves to Him.  That is a gracious thing.  That is a gift of the Holy Spirit who is in you.
            And we already know the outcome of it all.  Jesus wins!  And we win in Jesus.  For Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.