Friday, May 31, 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)
May 26, 2019
Text: John 16:23-33

            He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33; ESV).  Jesus promises it.  Is this supposed to be comforting?  Here “the world,” of course, is not the planet earth or everyone who dwells on it, but “the world” as in unbelievers, particularly unbelievers whose focus is on this life, now, in this place, without regard to God or things eternal.  This is “the world” as in the second of our three main enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, enemies that would deceive us and mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice so that we tear ourselves away from our Lord and join the world in its determined leap into the abyss of death and hell.  Against “the world” in this sense, along with the devil and our sinful flesh, we pray that our Father would “lead us not into temptation.”  But it will be hard.  We will be attacked by these things.  Our enemies will not give us up without a fight.  In the world you will have tribulation.”  That is the promise. 
            And it is comforting, believe it or not, for this reason.  Our Lord is not unaware of our suffering in this life.  He knows the great temptations with which we struggle.  He knows the fears within and fightings without, the seductions of the evil one, the great pressures exerted by our peers who sneer at the goody-two-shoes Christians with their heads in the clouds, who cannot bear the Christian voice of conscience in the public arena against a culture of death and hedonistic promiscuity and perversion, who cannot handle the Christian assault on the world’s precious idols, all that the world worships as salvation and the path to heaven under the guise of self-esteem and self-actualization.  Which is exposes the real idol, the sinful flesh itself, the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.  Our three main enemies always work as a team.  But our Lord knows.  And He isn’t just a disinterested observer.  He acts.  He’s in it with us, in the battle, in the tribulation, in the flesh.  And He saves us from it.  Already in our text, on the night in which He would be betrayed, on the threshold of His sin-atoning death and victorious resurrection for us, Jesus promises, “take heart; I have overcome the world” (v. 33).
            So here we are, in the world, and the world hates us, as it hated Jesus and killed Him, and there is tribulation, persecution, hardships, but we are assured that our Lord knows and has already claimed the victory.  It’s a rather strange position to be in.  We are like the Israelites in Egypt.  Pharaoh says we’re slaves, but God says we’re free.  Each claims that we belong to him, and not to the other.  It is a struggle, an all-out war between the gods of this world and the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And you and I are the territory in dispute, the battlefield, and war always leaves scars.  It’s enough to scatter disciples, which is always a very real and present danger, and our Lord warns us as He warned the Apostles in our text.  Just as the Twelve were scattered when Jesus was arrested in the garden, so our temptation is to scatter, to apostatize, at the first sign of suffering for the sake of Jesus.  Don’t let that be you, beloved.  Whenever you are tempted in this way, pray for God’s help.  Ask for grace.  Ask for His Spirit to fortify you by His Word.  And wherever you have been silent when you should have spoken, when you should have confessed Christ and His Word, whenever your courage has failed you and you have shied away from confessing the truth for fear of blowback from the world, repent.  And return to Christ.  For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He forgives.  He restores.  He strengthens you to persevere in this present tribulation. 
            As a matter of fact, our Lord has given us a great gift to sustain us in times of trial, and it is a gift we too often neglect.  That is the gift of prayer in Jesus’ Name.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you… Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (vv. 23-24).  Now there is a passage we have difficulty understanding.  The reason is, we hear it with the ears of the world rather than the ears of the Spirit given us in Baptism.  We hear that the Father will give us whatever we ask for as long as we remember to say “in Jesus’ Name.”  Wolves in sheep’s clothing specialize in the proclamation of precisely this gospel.  So I hear this verse, and I pray that I would win the lottery, and I remember to say the magic words, “in Jesus’ Name,” and for good measure I even promise to be generous to the Church and the poor.  And I sit back and wait for God to live up to His end of the bargain, like Jesus said He would.  But nothing materializes.  Did Jesus lie to me, or did I just not do it right? 
            But do you see how the very request is Old Adam seeking to exploit God’s gift of prayer for ends that are precisely the opposite of faith?  And do you see how short sighted that kind of thinking is?  Here we are in a war zone, in the heat of battle, with eternal life and death at stake, and we’re worried about a few extra bucks in the bank to buy us a few more toys to play with (because, after all, Jesus said!), as the razor sharp talons of the evil one pierce our hearts and his fangs sink into our necks.  Oh, beloved.  Repent.  That’s not what the verse is about. 
            It’s about screaming for help when the enemy is overrunning the trenches.  It’s crying to the Father for salvation and rescue in the Name of Jesus who died for you and is risen from the dead.  It is God making good on His promise through the Psalmist: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15).  It’s not about asking for more stuff, you Americans.  It’s you drowning, desperately flailing, gasping for breath in tribulation, and Jesus grasping you in His pierced hand and pulling you up into the safety of His embrace.  Ask for that.  And you get it.  Jesus Christ, risen form the dead, healing you and enlivening you with the medicine of His Word, His Body, His Blood, Himself.
            Jesus is the Father’s answer to your prayer.  The Father gives you Jesus.  The Father provides for your every need in and through Jesus.  In Jesus, the Father Himself loves you.  Jesus is the revelation of the Father as our Father, to whom we should pray, upon whom we should call, and from whom we can always expect an answer as a dear Father always does for His beloved children.  God is no deadbeat dad.  You can trust Him.  You can always rely on Him.  He will never forsake you.  The proof of it is Jesus. 
            Knowing all of this, we have peace.  Which doesn’t mean we aren’t in the midst of tribulation.  Oh, there is plenty of tribulation.  The eye sees death and destruction, war and bloodshed, the hostility of the world toward Christ and His Christians, and it appears as though the evil one has conquered.  But just the opposite is true, as is evident to the eyes of faith.  Jesus has overcome the world.  Jesus has conquered Satan.  Death had to give Jesus up.  It could not digest the Lord of life.  The eye of the body sees the pain and the suffering, but the eye of faith knows things are not as they appear.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            Peace is to know that.  Peace is to know your sins are forgiven because of Jesus.  God has nothing against you.  He is not out to get you.  He is for you.  He loves you.  Peace is to know that whatever tribulation the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature may throw at you, they ultimately cannot harm you.  Because you are safe in Jesus.  Your end, your goal, is Jesus.  It is life in Jesus.  To live forevermore with Jesus.  Your enemies have been conquered.  Jesus leads captivity captive.  He bound them by His death.  And you?  You are free.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Friday, May 24, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
May 19, 2019
Text: John 16:12-22

            He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            And because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, no one can take your joy from you.  Because you know how this ends.  You know where this all leads.  The resurrection of the body.  Eternal life.  New Creation.  A new heavens and a new earth.  All that is wrong made right… Perfectly right.  The Holy City, New Jerusalem, Holy Church, prepared as a Bride adorned for Her Husband.  The Wedding Feast.  God Himself dwelling with His people, wiping away their tears.  No more death or mourning or crying or pain.  For the old order of things has passed away.  He who is seated on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5; ESV).  That is the reality in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  That is our eternal destiny.  So no one can take your joy from you.  Not a chance.  Not with you in Christ, and Christ in you. 
            Though your three main enemies, the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature, will certainly try.  Christian joy, in this world, does not mean the absence of sorrow.  You suffer your heartaches and you shed your tears in this earthly life.  Of course you do.  Even though you believe in Christ and His salvation, you know that things in this fallen world are not how they ought to be, how they were created to be.  All people, believers and unbelievers alike, know instinctually that something is dreadfully wrong.  This is why depression is an epidemic.  Unbelievers assign the blame to meaningless evolutionary chance, or bad karma, vindictive gods, or powerless ones, anyway.  Believers know precisely what went wrong all the way back at the beginning with Adam and Eve and their serpentine rebellion.  And we know what continues to go wrong in our own rebellion.  Our flesh is fallen.  Creation itself has been subjected to our fall.  And so, there is injustice.  There is war.  Terrorism.  Vandalism.  Poverty.  Oppression.  Broken relationships.  In fact, we need look no further than our own bodies for the brokenness.  We die.  The wages of sin is death.  We deteriorate.  All things decay.  We decay.  There is no evolution, only devolution.  You know that if you keep anything at all for any length of time.  It all falls to pot.  Including your own body.  Your friends and loved ones get sick and die all around you.  You mourn.  You get sick.  You are dying.  You mourn.  You have real tears for God to wipe away.  But you do not mourn as those who have no hope (Cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18).  You know your Savior, and you know what He is doing about it in the end, though, to be honest, the specifics of it may leave you wondering.  Still, you mourn as those who long for that Day when your mourning will be at an end.  Therefore the deep and abiding joy of the Christian, far from being an absence of sorrow, is a joy that looks through the tears to fix itself on Jesus, who is risen from the dead. 
            A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me,” Jesus says to His disciples (John 16:16).  They do not know what He is talking about, but they will.  They are with Him in the upper room on the night in which He was betrayed, and He is telling them about His death on the cross for the sins of the world… “you will see me no longer”… and His triumph over death and hell in His bodily resurrection… “again… you will see me.” 
            His death, of course, will cause them unimaginable sorrow.  They will grieve, as one does in the face of death.  But they will not grieve as those who have hope.  Because all their hope was in Jesus, and now He is dead, and they have never understood this talk about Him rising from the dead on the Third Day.  As far as they are concerned, when Jesus is nailed to the cross, suffers, and dies, that’s the end of it.  All their hopes are dashed.  Three years wasted.  And they’ll probably come for us, next.  The world, and the devil himself… all hell rejoices when the Son of God is killed.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful…”
            BUT!  but your sorrow will turn into joy” (v. 20).  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  He appears to them.  Eye witnesses.  They touch Him.  He eats in front of them.  This is no ghost.  This is the Body that was crucified, dead, and buried, now animated with life and breath, beating heart and coursing blood.  And sorrow is put to flight.  There can be no more sorrow where death no longer holds its prey.  In fact, the very sorrow of Jesus’ death is what is turned to joy.  For His death is the sacrifice of atonement for your sins, my sins, for the sins of the disciples, for the sins of the whole world.  And death didn’t win.  It couldn’t keep Jesus down.  He killed it.  By dying.  And now Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, never to die again.  And He will raise you from the dead and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. 
            All your sorrows, whatever they may be (and they are very real sorrows), are the death throes of death itself.  All that is wrong in this world and in your life, all that causes you to mourn, is the handiwork of sin, and has the fingerprints of death all over it.  But it is precisely sin and death that is defeated in the death and resurrection of Christ.  The very event that turns the disciples’ sorrow into joy that cannot be taken away, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is what turns your sorrow into joy that no one can rob from you.  God’s answer to your sorrow is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
            Now, the disciples find this all so confusing, and who can blame them?  Frankly, so do we.  Because we know the sorrow by sight.  It is plain to the eyes and to our very nerve endings.  But the joy?  That is by faith.  Sure, we get little glimpses of it in this life.  Beautiful music.  The splendor of the setting sun.  As Jesus says, the joy we have at the birth of a child.  In fact, even unbelievers can be happy… which is not the same thing as joy… not in the biblical sense.  Happiness is a surface emotion.  It doesn't mix with sorrow.  Joy… Christian joy, again, fixes its gaze through the sorrow on Jesus, the risen One.  And that is what sustains it.  Jesus.  Risen from the dead.
            If you want to see this in action, just go to a couple of funerals.  Watch how unbelievers deal with death.  There will be one of two things, or a combination of them.  There will either be denial manifested in all the silly things people say to one another in order to cope: He lives on in our hearts.  We scattered his ashes around that tree, and now he gives life to that tree, so we can always think of him in the spring when the tree turns green.  He’s that star up there, shining down on us.  He’s playing that great golf course in the sky.  I could go on.  Or there is utter hopelessness.  Everybody dressed in black, sitting around silently, staring off into space.  I’ve been around those situations.  It’s devastating.  And the couple times that I’ve been given a chance to say a prayer or a few words into the hopelessness, all I do is talk about the resurrection of Christ, and you can almost see the darkness fleeing the light.  Do that, if you’re ever at one of those affairs.  Speak the risen Christ into the darkness.
            Then go to a Christian funeral, especially a good, old-fashioned Lutheran one.  Of course, there are tears and there is sadness.  Death is always a tragedy.  We were created to live forever.  Sin messed all that up.  And unlike the funerals of unbelievers, we stare that reality right in the eye.  He died because he’s a sinner.  The wages of sin is death.  Death is ugly and cruel.  Here it is, in the casket.  Don’t look away. 
            BUT!  But… this body will rise.  Because Christ is risen from the dead.  He died to redeem this body, and He rose to raise this body and give it eternal life.  So at the Christian funeral, we sing.  And not dirges, but Easter hymns.  Alleluias.  Praise and thanksgiving for the Lord’s faithfulness to us and to the one who has died, but lives, and will arise on that Day.  We look death in the face, only to spit in its eye and proclaim the everlasting Easter Gospel.  “Death, you can go to hell, because Jesus has defeated you.  He is risen from the dead and He’s taking me with Him.”  Then, of all things, we go into the fellowship hall and have a feast.  Lutheran ladies know how to set a table, and there is no lack.  We eat and drink and laugh… and cry, but not only cry.  It’s a joyous affair.  Almost irreverent in the eyes of unbelieving mourners.  But see… Our sorrow has been turned to joy.  Because Jesus died, and He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia! 
            Now, we’ve spent so much time on the second half of our text, that we’ve virtually ignored the first half.  I guess you can’t do everything.  But suffice it to say, our sorrow turning into joy depends on this first part; that is, the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Himself didn’t say everything there is to say to the disciples that night.  They couldn’t bear it then.  But there is the Promise of the Spirit.  He will be poured out on Pentecost.  Then they will understand, after Jesus is risen from the dead, after Pentecost.  The Spirit will guide them into all the truth.  Which is to say, the Spirit will give the apostles to write the truth down.  The Holy Scriptures.  And in this way, He will guide us into all the truth.  This is an inspiration of the Scriptures text.  The Spirit speaks to the apostles all that He hears from the Father and the Son.  The Spirit takes all that belongs to the Son, which He has received from the Father, and declares it to the apostles, and they write it down.  That is what we read and preach in the Church, through which the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us faith in Jesus, who reconciles us to the Father by His death and resurrection.  It is only in this way, by the Spirit coming to us in the Scriptures, that we know the death and resurrection of Christ for us.  It is only in this way that we know how all this ends, where all this is going.  Resurrection.  New Creation.  Eternal life.  God wiping away our tears.  All things new.  That turns all our sorrow into joy.  Because He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 12, 2019
Text: John 10:22-30

            He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            It is an astonishing claim: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; ESV).  What our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is saying about Himself, is that He is God.  He is not another God than the Father… Though the Persons of Father and Son are distinct, they are, with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  In fact, this language of unity, “I and the Father are one,” echoes the Shema, the great Creed of the Old Testament, “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4).  So while the Son is not the Father, and the Father is not the Son, Father and Son and Holy Spirit are one God.  Jesus is taking us into the wondrous mystery of the Holy Trinity.  This flesh and blood Son of Mary, born in time, is the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father.  He is God.  And if you don’t believe it, look at His works.  That is what He says to the Jews who do not believe in Him (John 10:25).  The works He does in the Name of His Father bear witness to this truth.  He does what only God can do.  He heals the sick.  Gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.  He casts out demons.  He raises the dead.  He is YHWH.  He is the LORD.
            And He is the Shepherd.  The good One.  And when His sheep hear His voice, they know it is the voice of the living God.  And they follow Him.
            Here we have the mystery of faith vs. unbelief.  The Jews do not believe in Him.  They surround Him as He is walking in the Colonnade of Solomon, the great pillared porch on the eastern side of the Temple’s outer courtyard.  It is winter.  Jesus is celebrating Hanukkah with His disciples.  That is the Feast of Dedication commemorating the cleansing and rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers and the priests after Antiochus had profaned and plundered the Temple, set up an altar to Zeus in the Most Holy Place, and sacrificed swine on the altar of burnt offering. 
            Now this is the true cleansing and rededication of the Temple.  Jesus has come to it.  The LORD is in it, YHWH, in the flesh.  In fact, His flesh is the true Temple, the place, the location, of God’s dwelling with His people.  And the great irony is that, in their unbelief, these Jews will commit the abomination of Antiochus.  They will plunder the Temple that is our Lord’s Body.  They will offer His Body on the altar of the cross to their false god.  For any god who is not the Father of Jesus is no God!  It is important for you to understand that it is not the case that the Jews worship the Father even though they deny Jesus.  You can’t have the Father without the Son.  If you have the Son, you have the Father.  There is no other God than the One who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And the Son became flesh to be the sacrifice for our sins.
            The Jews don’t believe because they are not part of Jesus’ flock.  They are not of Jesus’ flock because they do not hear His voice.  Because they do not hear His voice, they do not follow Him.  What is it that makes the difference between faith and unbelief?  It is the voice of Jesus.  Which is to say, His Word.  Jesus calls us by the Gospel.  He calls us to follow Him.  The Gospel gives us sheep, ears to hear and the will to follow. 
            It is an amazing thing that sheep know the voice of their shepherd.  At night, shepherds often pen their sheep in a common sheep-fold with the flocks of other shepherds.  The sheep intermix.  The flocks are not kept distinct.  But in the morning, when it is time to lead the flock back out to pasture, each shepherd will call.  And those sheep, as dumb as they may be otherwise, know exactly which voice to follow.  They don’t follow the voice of a stranger.  They don’t follow the voice of any other shepherd.  They know their shepherd’s voice.  They follow their shepherd and go where he calls them. 
            Jesus is our Shepherd, and we are His sheep.  And here we are in His sheep-fold that is the holy Christian Church, and on earth, we’re in the world and all mixed together with unbelievers, those who follow other shepherds and other voices.  But we know the voice of our Shepherd.  He calls us to follow Him.  He calls us together, congregates us to his side, so He can do the 23rd Psalm for us.  He makes us to lie down here in the green pastures of His Word.  Here we are immersed in the lush pastures of the Holy Scriptures and the preaching.  He leads us beside the quiet waters of our Baptism into Him.  Our thirst for righteousness is quenched by His own righteousness given to us as a gift, applied in the Absolution, which is always a return to the water.  He restores our souls and leads us in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.  Now it happens sometimes that we wander a little too far from the rest of the flock.  What does He do?  He calls us back.  He preaches His Word.  The rod of His Law may have to give us a rap on the behind or hook us around the neck and drag us back to the safety of the flock and the protection of the Shepherd.  But His staff, the Gospel, also comforts us and gives us to believe that He is good, that all He does is for our good and for our salvation (even the things that are painful to us or contrary to our will), that we are safe with Him. 
            Sometimes we stray far away.  Our Good Shepherd leaves the 99 and goes to find and rescue His lost sheep.  He frees us from the snare or from the jaws of the wolf, to His own hurt and injury.  No one can snatch you out of His hand.  He hoists us onto His shoulders and brings us back to the fold.  Sometimes we kick and bite along the way, but He does not put us down.  He applies the medicine of His Word and the salve of the Holy Gospel.  He binds our wounds.  He heals us and makes us whole.
            And how can He do that?  Or to phrase the question the way the unbelieving Jews often phrased it, who gives Him this authority to do these things?  To bind up wounds?  To take away hurts?  To discipline with His rod?  To forgive sins and restore sheep to the Father?  He is God.  I and the Father are one.”  He is God who is a Man who straps on His sandals, picks up His staff, and plods out to the field to tend and feed us, His sheep.  Who gives Him this authority?  His Father.  Who does He think He is?  He doesn’t just think it, He is… God.  He is… the Good Shepherd.
            And if, after all the works He does in His Father’s Name, the works that testify that He is who He says He is, you still do not believe, behold now the greatest of the works.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  The Jews killed Him for who He claimed to be: one with the Father, God.  The Romans killed Him for treason, claiming to be a King.  You killed Him by your sins.  I killed Him by my sins.  But the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He goes to the cross willingly, and for you.  He pursues you, and me, and the Romans, and the Jews, all the way through the valley of the shadow of death, deep down into it.  He dies.  He is buried.  Three days of the most terrible and wonderful event in history.  And on the Third Day, He blows a hole through the tomb so big and wide a flock of sheep can stampede through it to life again.
            Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and now you don’t have to fear death.  You need fear no evil.  He leads you through the valley of the shadow and out the other side, alive.  Risen.  Forever.  He gives you eternal life, and you will never perish.  Only God could do that.  And He does.  For you.  He is your Good Shepherd.  He does not leave you or forsake you.  Not even in death. 
            In fact, what He does is prepare a Table before you, right here in the presence of your enemies.  His crucified and risen Body.  The very Blood poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  You don’t have die and go to heaven to taste the Feast He lays out for you.  You don’t have to wait for the resurrection on the Last Day.  Right here and now, in the world, in the sheep-fold of your congregation, there is the Table.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  He anoints your head with oil.  Before the whole world He attests that you are His royal priest, sons and daughters of His Father, the King.  Your cup runneth over.  His goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life, and there is no doubt.  You will dwell in the House of the LORD forever. 
            Because He calls you.  He calls you to be His own.  You hear His voice, and you know it.  That is faith.  Jesus and the Father are one.  Safe in Jesus’ hands, you are safely in the hands of the Father.  Having Jesus, you have the Father.  Hearing Jesus, you hear the Father.  You hear Jesus in the preaching of the Gospel and the eating of it at His Table.  Listen.  Your Good Shepherd is calling.  You know you can follow Him.  You know you can trust Him.  You know you can believe every Word He says.  For you have objective proof of it, and the proof of it is this: He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (C)
May 5, 2019
Text: John 21:1-19
            He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            There is no magic formula for growing the Church.  Now, don’t go telling the District President I said that.  But it’s true.  If there was a magic pill, a sure-fire method, a money-back guarantee of success, don’t you think I’d have tried it?  After all, just humanly speaking, my livelihood depends on the success of this place.  And you’d have tried it, too, because you love your Church, and you want this to work out.  And beyond any selfish reasons we may want to bring in a large catch of new believers (the prestige of big numbers, the ego boost, the bottom line in the offering plate), insofar as we are a New Creation in Christ, we love the lost.  We love people and we want them to have this gift.  We want them to know what we know, the peace that passes all understanding, salvation in Christ who was crucified and is risen from the dead, sins forgiven, eternal life, our own resurrection from the dead.  If there was a magic way to pull in a large catch, easily and quickly, every congregation would do that thing.  And it’s amazing, every single pastors conference I’ve ever attended promises to reveal the easy fix.  Instead what it ends up being is a week of all of us beating one another up for not loving the lost enough, because surely if you loved the lost enough, you’d do that magic thing (which usually, for them, means open Communion and contemporary worship), and your Church would grow like gangbusters, but it’s not, so you mustn’t really love the lost, you rotten so and so.  And yet, their congregations aren’t growing all that much, either, and the magic trick remains an enigma.  What it is, is a whole lot of blabber and bluster about human ideas, innovative methods, sociological and psychological mumbo-jumbo, and not a lot of trusting in the Word of the Lord.
            Peter is going fishing.  He’s confused and afraid, and probably downright tired after the events of Holy Week and now the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  He doesn’t quite know what to make of it.  Nor does he know what to do with himself  So he returns to his old occupation.  He returns to the familiar, to what he knows and can count on.  Peter goes fishing, and the others go with him.  They fish all night and they catch nothing.  Not a thing.  Their best efforts.  All their expertise.  Hard work.  Persistence.  Not one fish.
            Until this Stranger appears on shore at the rising of the sun.  They do not recognize Him.  And yet, He is so familiar.  And He says to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” (John 21:5; ESV).  What an odd greeting.  Children?  We’re grown men, here!  But He’s right.  We don’t.  In spite of everything, the nets are empty.  Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (v. 6).  And what happens?  They’re not able to haul it in for the quantity of fish!  And they know.  They’ve seen this episode before, when Jesus first called them to catch men alive (Luke 5:1-11).
            In both cases, what made the difference between their previous efforts and their sudden great success?  I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t open Communion or contemporary worship.  It wasn’t their efforts at all.  It was the Word of Jesus.  And here’s the thing… They weren’t doing anything wrong as they fished all night and caught nothing.  Nor were they missing something right that they should have been doing.  It wasn’t lack of love for the fish.  It is simply the mystery that sometimes you fish all night and (at least seemingly) come up with nothing for your efforts.  And then Jesus speaks and you haul in more than you can handle.  But it’s not the fisherman who control the catch.  It’s not those in the boat.  It’s Jesus.  By His Word. 
            And so the Church.  The Church is the boat, the great ark of our salvation.  And the fisherman, the pastors and those in the boat, you, cast out the net of the Gospel.  We work hard.  We’re persistent.  And so we should be.  That is the mission of the Church, to cast the net of the Gospel into the chaotic sea of this world and haul men into the boat with us, into the Church, and bring them with us to that bright shore where Jesus is. 
            Now, it’s a mystery, but sometimes we can fish all night and catch nothing.  We witness.  We confess the faith.  We pray.  We invite people to Church.  We hold special services and special events.  We’re involved in the community.  Pretty soon we’ll have t-shirts we can wear, and not just t-shirts that advertise, but t-shirts that have the Gospel on them, t-shirts that preach.  It’s very exciting to be part of a mission congregation.  At least for a while.  But then, I’ll be honest, sometimes I feel like Peter must have felt by about 4 that morning.  Hard work, all night, for what?  I’ll bet you feel that way sometimes, too.  If only there was something we could do, some magic, sure-fire trick that would fill this place to capacity, and then some. 
            Beloved, there isn’t.  That’s the Law.  Repent.  Repent of thinking that the success of the Church depends upon our efforts.  Repent for measuring success by the number of posteriors in the pew and dollars in the plate.  Repent of worrying about the future, which is securely in our Lord’s hands.  Get to work, yes.  Repent of not fishing at all.  Repent for not supporting the Church’s mission with your prayers and your dollars and your own efforts.  Get busy and be generous.  But don’t think the mission of the Church depends on that.  It depends on one thing, and one thing only: Jesus’ Promise.  Do you have any fish?  Cast the net and you will find some.  Preach the Word.  The Word, the Word, the Word.  In all its forms.  In Scripture.  In preaching.  In confession of the faith.  In Baptism.  In Absolution.  In Supper.  It all comes down to the Word. 
            This is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.  For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:10-11).  A sower went out to sow his seed… The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:5, 11).  Most of the seed, as you know from the parable, was trampled, or picked off by the birds, or withered, or choked.  But some fell onto good soil and grew up and yielded a hundredfold (vv. 7-8).  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  I always thought Paul got the preposition wrong in that second phrase.  Faith comes from hearing, I get.  But then He says hearing through the Word of Christ.  Surely he must mean hearing of the Word of Christ…  No, this is a lesson we always have to learn, again and again.  Whenever there’s something we don’t agree with in Scripture, or rubs us the wrong way, or we don’t understand, the problem isn’t Scripture, it’s us!  Paul is right.  Faith comes from hearing, and hearing itself is a gift bestowed by the Word of Christ as it is preached.  That’s what Jesus means when He says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (e.g. Luke 8:8).  He’s opening the ears of the spiritually deaf with that statement.  We hear through the Word of Christ.  The Word gives us ears to hear and faith to believe in Christ.
            And so this is the teaching of our Confessions.  I would draw your attention to the Book of Concord reading printed in your bulletin this morning.  It’s beautiful.  “The preacher’s planting and watering and the hearer’s running and hearing would both be in vain and no conversion would follow it if the power and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit were not added.  The Spirit enlightens and converts hearts through the Word preached and heard.  So people believe this Word and agree with it.  Neither preacher nor hearer is to doubt this grace and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit.  They should be certain that when God’s Word is preached purely and truly, according to God’s command and will, and people listen attentively and seriously and meditate on it, God is certainly present with His grace.  He grants, as has been said, what otherwise a person can neither accept nor give by his own powers.  For we should not and cannot always judge from feeling about the presence, work, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as to how and when they are experienced in the heart.  They are often covered and happen in great weakness.  Therefore, we should be certain about and agree with the promise that God’s Word preached and heard is truly an office and work of the Holy Spirit.  He is certainly effective and works in our hearts by them (2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 3:5-6).”[1]
            This is what Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel this morning.  The Holy Spirit works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V).  There is no magic bullet.  But there is the Word of Christ, and that has all the power of God in it to bring the sinner to repentance, the unbeliever to faith, to haul the fish into the boat and bring them to Jesus on the shore.
            And this is why God gave the Office of the Ministry.  Peter is restored with the command to “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).  It is a three-fold restoration for his three-fold denial.  But that is what the pastor is to do.  Feed and tend the sheep and the lambs in the stead and by the command of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Peter is to suffer and die for the sheep.  John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is to suffer and live for them.  The pastor is to feed and tend, suffer, and live or die by the will of the Lord for the sake of the sheep.  And you, the sheep, are to graze in the green pastures, beside the still waters, that the Lord may restore your soul.  By the Word.  Don’t run off.  But if you do, here comes Jesus.  I will warn you, He’ll use His shepherd’s crook to yank you back, and it may not be pleasant.  But He’ll do it because He loves you.  But that is an image for another day… Next Sunday, as it happens. 
            So the pastor and the people are out in the boat that is the Christian Church, casting the net of the Gospel into the chaotic sea of the unbelieving world.  And at the Word of Jesus, there is a catch.  And we’re so impressed with the magnificent haul that we miss a very important point in the text.  How many fish are there?  John doesn’t say there are about 150 give or take.  There is no estimation.  Every single fish is counted.  153.  On the nose.  Precise.  Because every single one matters to Christ.  Every single one was brought into the boat by His Word.  Every single one was hauled to shore at the command of Christ: “Bring… the fish” (v. 10).  So how do you measure success in the Church?  God counts His people one at a time, and calls them each by name. 
            And then He says, “Come and have breakfast” (v. 12).  He has fish and He has bread, and these are not the fish the disciples caught.  Jesus provides this meal Himself.  See… God provides.  While we’re out fishing all night, seemingly to no avail, Jesus provides what we need.  In the offering.  In the pews.  In the pantry and the bank account.  Our daily bread.  Just go fish and wait on His Word and don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or put on.  And then also, this is the feeding of the 5,000 on a smaller scale, isn’t it?  Jesus is the one who feeds His sheep.  Not just bread and fish, but bread and wine.  Not just bread and wine, but Body and Blood.  His, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  His, risen and alive.  He’s not dead anymore.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And He reveals Himself to His disciples, to you, in His Word.  Now, come and have breakfast.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

[1] FC SD II:55-56 (McCain).

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Vigil, Easter Day, and Second Sunday of Easter

Three sermons in one post!

The Vigil of Easter: “Behold the Man! God Buried”[1]
April 20, 2019
Text: John 19:38-42 (ESV): 38 sAfter these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly tfor fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 uNicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus5 by night, came vbringing a mixture of wmyrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds6 in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and xbound it in ylinen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a zgarden, and ain the garden a new tomb bin which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish cday of Preparation, dsince the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
            He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            But first He was buried.  That is the other object of our meditation on Holy Saturday, and first chronologically.  And it is no mere side detail in the recounting of our Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection.  Jesus’ death and burial go hand in hand, and they are both proof positive of the incarnation, that our God has a Body.  For His death necessitates His burial in the tomb.  You can’t have a corpse lying around.  And His burial proves His death.  You don’t bury a body that is still living.
            So it is that Jesus takes His rest in the tomb, and becomes Himself our Sabbath.  Jesus is the end of the Old Testament Law.  He is the goal.  He is the fulfillment.  The Last Supper is the final Passover Seder.  Now the greater Passover will be accomplished as the Lamb of God is slaughtered once and for all, and we eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Sacrament.  His blood marks, not our doors, but our hearts, our bodies and souls, and death cannot harm us.  Jesus is the final Sacrifice, the Lamb to which all the blood of sheep and bulls and goats has pointed all along.  He is the atonement for our sin.  And now, this Holy Saturday Jesus spends in the tomb is the last Sabbath, for He Himself is our rest, not on one day of the week, but every day, as we rest from desperately trying save ourselves by our works, and simply trust in the salvation He has accomplished.  As on the Seventh Day God rested from His work of Creation in that primal week, so on the Seventh Day of Holy Week God rests in the flesh, in the tomb, having completed the work of redemption and New Creation.  All that is left is for Him to arise from His slumber and live, the Firstfruit of the New Creation, in His resurrection from the dead on the Eighth Day.
            The Eighth Day, the New Day, the eternal Day in which we live and move and rest and rejoice.  Because the old has passed away in the death of Jesus, and the New has come in His bodily resurrection from the dead.  He goes into the tomb to bury the old forever.  Hear now Dr. Luther: “Just as He took all our sins with Him to the cross and bore them in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2[:24]), so also He took all our sins with Him into the tomb; indeed, we are buried with Him through Baptism (Romans 6[:4]; Colossians 2[:12]).  He took into the tomb with Him not only the cloths and linen shroud in which His body was wrapped but also the whole world’s sin, damnation, misery, fear, affliction, and peril, and He covered and buried it all so that it might not harm those who believe in Him.”[2]  Jesus is our Sabbath rest from all of that.  The Sabbath is for us no longer a day of the week, but a Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, into whom we are baptized.
            The details are important.  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two members of the Council who had not consented to the injustice carried out against Jesus, take our Lord down from the cross and lay Him in Joseph’s own tomb.  As it is written in the Prophet Isaiah, “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death” (Is. 53:9).
            They take great care of His Body.  This we should note well.  The Body is holy, because it is Jesus’ Body.  And your body is holy, because Jesus gave His Body into death to redeem you, body and soul.  And the water of Baptism was poured on your body, now wrapped up into His Body.  And He feeds your body with His very Body.  His Body is now in you.  And because of all of this, He will raise your body from the dead on the Last Day. 
            The definition of physical death is the separation of body and soul.  This separation is unnatural and is always tragic.  This is never how it was meant to be.  Death is the wages of sin.  So the body is buried and the soul of the believer is immediately with Jesus in heaven, and the soul of the unbeliever is immediately in hell.  When you die, your body sleeps in the ground and your soul rests with Jesus.  On the Last Day Jesus will raise all the dead and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.  He puts your body and soul back together again, to live with Him eternally in the New Creation.
            Since this is true, it matters what we do with the body, both in life and in death.  In life, we should treat our bodies as sacred.  We should not abuse them.  We should take care of them.  We should not put substances into ourselves that harm our bodies or cause our bodies to suffer addiction.  We should not unite our bodies sexually to anyone who is not our spouse, united to us in Holy Marriage.  We should not be reckless with the safety of our bodies, thus tempting the Lord our God.  Yes, we should exercise, and even eat our vegetables.  And though ice cream is good, and to be received with thanksgiving as God’s holy gift to us, we should not be gluttons.  We should not be drunkards.  We must not murder others.  We must not murder ourselves, whether intentionally and quickly in suicide, or unintentionally and slowly by neglect and abuse.  God help us in this.  Clearly I have my challenges here, as we all do in one way or another.  But life is sacred.  And that means the body is sacred.  For the believer, it is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).  It is that for which Jesus died and that which Jesus will raise from the dead.  It is the gift of the Father who created you and loves you, body and soul. 
            And that also means we should treat our bodies as sacred in death.  Our burial practice should confess the resurrection of the dead.  We should not scatter our ashes.  We should not speak of the body as some sort of husk that concealed the real person, as though the soul is more you than your body.  Though we are speaking of the body as though it is a separate “thing” even now, we must not misunderstand.  The body is not a separate “thing” than you.  It is you.  You are your body, even as you are your soul.  Remember, the whole you is body and soul.  It is telling that our text doesn’t only say they laid Jesus’ Body in the tomb, but that they laid Jesus there (John 19:42).  Even in death, the Body is Jesus.  So no more saying things like, “That isn’t really Grandpa.  It’s just a shell,” when you’re standing before the open casket.  That’s false doctrine.  It is Grandpa.  But instead, say this: Grandpa’s soul is with Jesus, even as we lay his body in the grave.  But Jesus will wake Him up on the Day of Resurrection, when He reunites Grandpa’s body and soul to live forever with him.  And so we will see Grandpa again, and even hug him again.
            And stop saying it doesn’t matter what you do with your body when you die, because you won’t need it anymore.  That is false doctrine.  Put your hand now to your flesh, and hear this: The body you are touching will rise from the dead.  Sure, it will be glorified.  Probably no wrinkles or acne.  Certainly no heart disease or cancer.  Or glasses.  But the body you now have, which is you, will be raised.  It will live forever.  You will live forever.  So what we do with your body when you die matters, not because God can’t raise it if we do the wrong thing.  He will.  But because of the confession we make by what we do.  The body matters.  Jesus redeemed the body.  The body is you.  This body will rise from the dead. 
            So Joseph and Nicodemus bring this ridiculous amount of myrrh and aloes, a hundred litras, about 75 pounds, to anoint the Body of Jesus.  Think how much that is!  Make no mistake, it is to cover the stench of death.  Joseph and Nicodemus are not expecting Jesus to rise.  At least not any time soon.  They want to cover up the smell of rot.  But they also spare no expense.  The body is important, and especially this One, worth every penny.  This is to fulfill the Psalm which praises the King: “your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia” (Ps. 45:8).  It was only six days prior that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, had anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume.  Jesus said it was for His burial (John 12:1-8).  Among the gifts of the wise men was myrrh (Matt. 2:11), a prophecy of the Lord’s death and burial.  From all eternity it has mattered what we do with this Body, for this Body is the Body of God.
            So they lay Jesus in Joseph’s brand new tomb, in which no one has ever yet been laid.  From virgin womb, to virgin tomb.  But He won’t need this burial plot for long.  He’s just borrowing it.  For we know the sun has set, and it is now the Third Day, and we know what Jesus said would happen on this Day.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            And so you.  We speak of the grave as our “final resting place,” and what a silly thing for a Christian to say!  You won’t need your grave for long.  On that Day, Jesus will raise you from the dead.  In the flesh.  In your body.  As we confess in the funeral service, by His rest in the tomb our Lord Jesus has hallowed the graves of all who believe in Him, promising resurrection to our mortal bodies.  So we need not fear death.  We know the end.  We rest in that.  We rest in the sure and certain hope of resurrection.  We rest in the Promise, holding the Word of God sacred and gladly hearing and learning it, which is the whole point of the Sabbath for New Testament Christians.  We rest in Jesus, who rested in the tomb for us.  Jesus is our Sabbath.
            And He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia! 
            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

[1] Based on Jeffrey Hemmer, Behold the Man! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).
[2] LW 69:276, quoted in Hemmer.

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day

“Behold the Man! A God Who Rises”[1]
April 21, 2019
Text: Luke 24:1-12
            He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            The contrast is simple, yet unimaginably profound.  There are two ways: The way of life, and the way of death. 
            God had given life to Adam and Eve, and provided them with the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden, the Tree from which they could eat and live forever.  But there was also the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The Tree itself was good.  But God had forbidden to eat its fruit.  To eat its fruit was, for Adam and Eve, and for us all, the way of death: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17; ESV).  For the taking and eating of what is forbidden is rejection of God.  It is the way of rebellion, and the way of rebellion is the way of death.  The culture of death in which we find ourselves began in that moment.  Forevermore, man has been inclined toward death.  Our lives are hurtling toward death, do what we may to avoid it.  We “kill, fight, and destroy both the Creator and His creation” (Hemmer) in an effort to save ourselves, but it never works.  Death boasts that it has the last word.  It is coming for every one of us.  You will die.
            The Didache, a word that means “teaching,” was a very early Christian Catechism, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.  Whoever wrote it, it may well have been in circulation while some of the Apostles were still alive and the New Testament was still being written.  The Didache speaks of the way of death in words that describe our own time and place: “And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners.”  Such are the results of our first parents’ careening off the path of life onto the highway of death.  The Didache simply admonishes us, “Be delivered, children, from all these.”[2]
            But you can’t be delivered by fleeing from God and hiding from Him, like Adam and Eve tried to do, and man has been doing ever since.  Man, who is spiritually dead, is forever fleeing from God, who is Life.  No, since man took the exit from the way of life in the Garden, there is no getting off the way of death.  Unless God comes to you where you are.  God came seeking Adam and Eve immediately after the fall.  God comes seeking you in your sin and death.  He comes in the flesh of Jesus Christ. 
            Jesus is the Way of Life.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He says (John 14:6).  The first Christian Church was known simply as “The Way” (Acts 9:2).  And here is what our Lord does to transfer us from the way of death to the Way of Life.  He goes down into death Himself.  He dies the gruesome death of the cross.  It is the only way.  It is why He became Man and took on flesh.  To undo all that Adam has done and all that we have done ever since by dying for our sins, our death, in our place.  The wood.  The spikes.  The bitter pain.  The struggle for every breath.  The bleeding.  The sighing.  The praying.  The dying.  All for us in the way of death.  To commend His spirit to the Father.  To breathe His last.  To take up residence in our tomb.  To burst forth again, triumphant and alive, on Easter morn. 
            Jesus is the Way of Life because He is the Living One.  He is the new Adam, the faithful Man.  He went the way of death to rescue us from it.  And now He stands, risen from the dead, never to die again.  His lungs are filled air again.  The blood pumps from His heart and courses through His veins again.  His eyes take in the sights, His ears, the sounds.  His senses are heightened, for they are glorified in His resurrection.  His fingers spread and bend to neatly fold His grave-cloths.  He still bears the mortal wounds in His hands, His feet, His side, but they no longer hurt Him.  They are trophies of victory from His one-Man war against sin, death, and the devil.  His skin, once cold with death, now radiates warmth.  He no longer hungers, but He’s ready to eat.  His brain is alive with electrical impulses.  His very real, flesh and blood human body, once dead, is alive!  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            And He takes us with Him.  That is the good news of Easter.  The Living One who was dead imparts Himself to the dead, that we might live!  That is what He does in Holy Baptism.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:3-5).  His death and life are preached into your ears.  His sin-atoning blood cleanses you in Absolution.  You eat and drink His Body and Blood, His death and His life, in the Holy Supper, which enlivens you.  He is in you.  You are in Him.  All that is death is buried forever in His tomb.  All that is life is yours in Christ Jesus, who lives. 
            So wherever the way of death touches you in your life in this world, repent.  And rejoice.  That’s not you anymore.  That is the old way, which is passing away.  You are in Jesus.  And Jesus is the Way of Life.  The Didache describes it this way: “The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.”[3]  This is simply a repetition of the Two Great Commands given by our Lord (Matt. 22:37-39).  On these depend all the Law and the Prophets (v. 40).  Jesus frees you from the way of death, to do this very thing.  He puts you on the Way of Life by grace, that you may begin to do the works of the Way of Life, which is love toward God and neighbor.
            And in the end, He will raise you, bodily, from the dead.  He will reunite your body and soul, pull you up out of the grave, and your lungs, too, will be filled with air.  Your heart will beat, the blood will course through your veins.  Your eyes will see.  Your ears will hear.  Your hands will grasp and you’ll stand on your own two feet.  You’ll be really alive.  And though you will not hunger, you’ll be ready to eat.  Ready to Feast with Jesus.  You get a little foretaste of it right here at the Altar.  Your brain will be alive with electrical impulses.  It will be your body, the one you have now, only glorified, made into what it was always meant to be, in the image of the risen Lord Jesus.  You will raised from the dead, alive, with vim and vigor.  That is the Promise and the reality in the risen Christ.
            And it all hinges on that early dawn when the women brought spices to the tomb to finish giving Jesus a proper burial.  Him they did not find, but two men in dazzling apparel, angels, standing before the open tomb.  And the angels preach the message that breathes life into the women and into us.  There is no rotting corpse to anoint.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:5-7).  Remember?  This has always been God’s plan.  To transfer you from death to life by dying and rising.  God comes in the flesh, Jesus, to bring you out of hiding and restore you to Himself.
            There are two ways: The way of death, and the Way of Life.  The Way of Life is Jesus.  He is yours and you are His.  Death does not have the last word, and indeed, you will not surely die.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And so that is the verdict.  You live.  Because He lives.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

[1] Based on Jeffrey Hemmer, Behold the Man! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).
[2] The Didache, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation, .
[3] Ibid.

Second Sunday of Easter (C)
April 28, 2019
Text: John 20:19-31

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            And that is precisely why you can believe Him when He says your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the evidence and substance of His authority to give you these gifts.  For if Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then He is who He says He is; namely, the Son of God, God in human flesh, your Savior, who died for your sins, and who has won the victory over death by His resurrection on the third day.  And if Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then all that He says is true.  You can believe His Word.  If He’s right about this, that after being crucified, He would be raised, then He’s right about everything else.  And we know on the basis of eyewitness testimony, and more importantly, on the basis of the Holy Spirit’s testimony recorded in Holy Scripture by these same eyewitnesses, that it is absolutely true: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
            It is the night of His resurrection.  The disciples are confused and afraid.  The Lord Jesus has been crucified.  But now some claim to have seen Him, risen and alive.  There are the women.  There are the disciples from Emmaus.  And even Peter claims to have seen the risen Christ.  Now the Ten are together.  Judas has departed to go to his own place (Acts 1:25).  Thomas also is not present.  And they are afraid.  They are afraid of the Jews.  They are afraid of the Romans.  They are afraid of imprisonment and persecution.  They are afraid of God’s judgment.  They are afraid of death.  Most of all, they are afraid because they had placed all their trust in their Teacher, Jesus, and now He’s dead.  Or is He?  It’s all so confusing.  But one thing is for sure: Their world has been turned upside down. 
            Suddenly, Jesus is standing among them.  The doors are still locked.  He didn’t sneak in through an open window.  He didn’t make a hole in the ceiling and repel down the wall.  He just appears in their midst.  He appears out of thin air, because (and note this very carefully) He’s been with them the whole time!  They couldn’t see Him to begin with.  But now they can.  Either way, seen or unseen, He is with them.  The risen Lord Jesus Christ now always and fully uses His divine powers.  He is present everywhere as God and as Man.  He is with His people at all times, wherever they go, as God and as Man.  He is hidden most of the time, but now in our text He is visible, and can be so whenever and wherever He wills.  But the fact never changes, He is with them
            And where Jesus is, there He speaks.  “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV).  And when He speaks, it is so.  It’s not just a sentimental wish that the disciples would enjoy peace.  He speaks the reality into their midst to address their fear.  Jesus’ peace dispels fear because it imparts forgiveness of sins and life.  This is Absolution!  This is the Hebrew idea of Shalom, peace with God, wellness, life, on the grand scale of Jesus’ resurrection victory over death.  Sin is done.  Death is done.  No more need for fear.  And so that this Shalom, this peace, doesn’t stay locked up with the disciples, Jesus ordains them to go and proclaim it in the forgiveness of sins.  He creates an office, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the preaching office.  Look at your bulletin cover as I read you this next verse: Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’” (vv. 22-23).  Now, understand what is happening here.  Jesus breathes on His disciples.  We use breath to speak.  Jesus opens His mouth and breathes out His Words upon the apostles.  But this isn’t just any breath.  These aren’t just any words.  This is the Holy Spirit.  In Hebrew and Greek, the same word can mean spirit, wind, or breath.  We have this somewhat in English, too; for example, you can hear the word “spirit” in “respiration.”  Jesus respires, spirates, spirits upon the Ten as He speaks, and in this way, through His breathing, in His Word, He imparts the Holy Spirit.  It’s the same thing He did, by the way, in the Garden of Eden when He breathed the breath of life into Adam.  Here He is accomplishing the New Creation as He breathes His Spirit into the disciples.  And He gives them a charge.  Go forgive sins.  Go pronounce Absolution.  Go spread the peace that I have pronounced upon you in this room.  This is something all Christians are to do as you confess the risen Lord Jesus in your daily vocation.  But here the Lord charges the disciples to do this in a special sense, as holders of a divinely instituted office, the Office of the Holy Ministry. 
            The apostles, literally the “sent ones,” are sent to go and preach the peace of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life won by His death and resurrection, what we call the Gospel.  And as they do so, Jesus is with them the whole time.  They don’t speak their own words, they speak Jesus’ Word.  Whether it be in Absolution, or in preaching, the apostles as the first Christian pastors are sent to speak the peace of Jesus Christ in the forgiveness of sins to all people.  Now, the apostles themselves have died.  They are with Christ, in heaven, awaiting their own resurrection of the dead.  But their office lives on.  God sends you pastors to continue His speaking of the peace.  Look again at your bulletin cover.  When your pastor pronounces Absolution or preaches God’s Word, what is happening?  Remember, it’s not my words that I am to preach.  It is the Word of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  So what happens in preaching is that Jesus Christ really speaks to you in His own Word.  And in that speaking He breathes out upon you the Holy Spirit to create and sustain in you saving faith in Jesus Christ.  The pastor absolves you: “I forgive you all your sins,” but it’s not really the pastor absolving you, it’s Jesus, and as He speaks you receive the Spirit who proceeds from the mouth of your Savior so that you believe the forgiveness He gives to you.  The pastor preaches, expounding Holy Scripture, and the content is Jesus Christ Himself.  He is really the One preaching to you.  He opens His mouth and imparts His Spirit so that you believe the preaching, so that you believe in Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  We often talk about the real presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar, His true body and blood under the bread and wine.  We need to talk more about His real presence in the preaching of His Word, His true voice under the weak speaking of His called and ordained servants.  When the pastor preaches God’s Word, it is really Christ, your Savior, who speaks to you.  Or, as you learned in the Catechism: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”[1]
            But maybe you still have your doubts.  After all, you know me, and you know my sins and weaknesses.  How could God use a loser like that to do such majestic things as forgive sins and speak forth the reality of eternal life?  Thomas had his doubts, too.  He wasn’t with the Ten the first time Jesus appeared in their midst.  Now, a week later, they are together again behind locked doors, and this time Thomas is with them.  And once again, Jesus is with them, and He proves it by appearing again in their midst.  Again, the same words, “Peace be with you” (v. 26), Absolution, forgiveness.  And now the casting out of doubt.  How can these things be true?  What is the authority for this proclamation of resurrection and forgiveness?  Jesus says, “Poke around in my wounds.  Thrust your fingers in my hands.  Thrust your hand into my side.  It’s really me.  I was crucified for you.  I died.  But behold, I live.”  The authority for this proclamation doesn’t rest with me, a weak and sinful human being.  The authority is the risen Lord Jesus.  He’s the One speaking.  “The one who hears you hears me,” Jesus says (Luke 10:16).  He’s hidden in the Words, and in the water, and in the bread and wine.  He’s hidden, but He’s with you the whole time!  As God and as Man, Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior is with you, speaking His peace in Absolution and preaching.  And as He speaks His peace, you receive His Spirit so that you believe Him.  Look again at the picture.  As a matter of fact, all of Holy Scripture is written for this purpose, that Jesus might speak His Spirit into you: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).  So receiving the Spirit in the Word of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, you are led to confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  And you are led to confess with the whole Christian Church on earth and in heaven, “He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).