Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 3

Wednesday of Easter 3 (A)
April 29, 2020
Text: 1 Peter 1:17-25
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            In this world of continual change and decay, what are the things that really last?  We know what does not last.  Riches, perishable things such as silver or gold.  These slip through our fingers like sand.  You can spend a lifetime amassing money and possessions, and these can be wiped out in a month of pandemic.  The old ways, the ways of the flesh inherited from your fathers, are futile.  Things fall apart.  Moth and rust destroy.  Thieves break in and steal.  Governments corrupt and fail.  Societies break apart.  Our own bodies deteriorate.  Creation groans.  In this fallen world, subjected to futility by our sin, nature itself decays.  The grass withers.  The flower falls.  St. Peter, echoing the Prophet Isaiah, says our flesh is like that (1 Peter 1:24; cf. Is. 40-6-8).  It withers and falls.  It dies.  Life in this world does not last.  That cannot be our hope.
            What does last is the Word of the Lord, and Jesus Christ, who comes to us in that Word.  That is our hope.  That… He… Jesus alone is our hope.  Unlike all that withers and falls, Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, foreknown before the foundation of the world, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that is God.  And it is He who was made manifest in these last times for your sake.  Without beginning, without end, God’s Son is everlasting.  Jesus lasts.  And the things of Jesus last. 
            His sin-atoning blood and death.  That is your hope.  As you confess with Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism, echoing St. Peter in our text, He “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”[1]  Why?  “(T)hat I may live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.” 
            Yes, His resurrection.  That is your hope.  That is life that lasts.  Jesus lives, forever.  Not only as God, but as Man, with a body, His body that was crucified for your sins, dead, and buried, now risen, living and reigning.  Peter says that through Him, the Lord Jesus, you are now believers in God, who raised Him from the dead!  The resurrection of Jesus lasts forever.  He died once.  Death can never take Him again.  He is no longer subject to its cruel grasp.
            And you are included in His death and in His resurrection life, baptized into Christ.  That is what it means to be born again, not of perishable seed, the seed of the flesh, but of imperishable, God’s own child.  Holy Baptism is your rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit, by water and the Word.  The old you has died with Christ, drowned in Baptism, and that old you daily dies with Christ in repentance.  The new you has been raised with Christ, a new creation arising from the baptismal waters, nourished by His body and blood, forgiven all sin for Jesus’ sake, spiritually alive and marked for the resurrection of the flesh on the Last Day.  This life you’ve been given, is the life of faith and hope in God through Christ, the Crucified, who is risen from the dead.  Faith and hope are the things that last. 
            And love.  Christian love.  Love that flows from Christ to you, and through you toward your neighbor.  Sincere brotherly love from a heart that has been purified by the blood of Jesus (both philadelphian and agape are indicated in the text, by the way, for you Greek scholars).  This love is not simply warm and fuzzy feelings or the emotion of a burning affection.  It is decision!  It is concrete action!  It is self-sacrifice.  Jesus on the cross is the picture of this kind of love, giving Himself into death for the unworthy and ungrateful, both in solidarity with those who would become His brothers, and for those who would continue to hate and despise Him all the way to their eternal death.  You, dear Christian, love with that love, the love of Christ poured out on you as a gift, given to you to give away to your neighbor.  That love is a thing that lasts. 
            And you, in and of yourself?  You do not last.  Yes, unless Jesus returns first, you will suffer a bodily death.  Maybe it will be from coronavirus.  Quite probably it will be something else.  But in Christ, you do not die.  You live.  For the Christian, death is but a peaceful sleep.  The soul lives with Christ in heaven in peace and in joy.  And on the Last Day, bodily resurrection.  As Christ is risen, so you will arise.  He will make it so. 
            For that is what He says.  That is His Word.  And the Word of the Lord remains forever.  That, by the way, is the great motto of the Reformation.  Perhaps you’ve seen it: VDMA (If you have one of our Augustana t-shirts or sweatshirts, you know it is right there on our logo).  Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum, the Word of the Lord remains forever.  What He says lasts.  And what has He said?  Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  You are redeemed for Him by His blood and death.  You live now because He lives.  You will arise from the grave as He is risen.  This Promise is unchangeable.  It is not subject to corruption.  Pandemic is no match for the saving declaration of the One who has defeated death forever. 
            In this world of change and decay, what are the things that really last?  Jesus and His Word.  Jesus and His salvation.  Jesus, and thanks to Jesus, you.  Me.  We last.  In Him.  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.                 

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

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (A)
April 26, 2020
Text: Luke 24:13-35
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25; ESV).  There is no way to know, but I wonder if Jesus spoke this rebuke with a grin on His face.  Though He is making a very serious point, there is a certain humor about it all.  “Guys, wake up!  Are you still so dense?  Is this not what the Scriptures say?”  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (v. 26).  It is time to catch up with the Easter reality that Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And the victory remains with life! 
            At the very least, this is not the stern rebuke of indignation.  It is a loving admonition for dear children of God, bought and paid for by this same Jesus’ blood, this same Jesus who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns, for them, and for all, and walks with them on a country road to Emmaus.  And their eyes are kept from recognizing Him, but their hearts burn within them as He interprets to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (v. 27). 
            This line has never before struck me so vividly as in these days of pandemic and uncertainty, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe.”  Because that is me these days!  And it is you, too.  None of us knows how all of this is going to go in the coming days.  Did we flatten the curve?  Are the hospitals up to speed?  Are we through the worst of this pandemic, or are there darker days to come?  Will the economy open and people get back on their feet and back to work?  Will it close again?  What will the government do?  Will our nation and way of life survive?  Am I safe?  Am I secure?  How can I make sure my family members are taken care of and provided for?  So many questions, all unanswered and unanswerable.  And behind them is the illusion that any of this can be controlled.  It can’t!  Life is dangerous.  This is a fallen world.  Nature can be hostile to life.  Human beings don’t know everything and we can’t do everything.  There are forces in Creation, visible and invisible, that are beyond our ability to comprehend or control.
            Well, it’s enough to drive you to despair if you don’t keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and the things of salvation, if you can’t or won’t catch up to the new Easter reality.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we’re tempted to think our present circumstances mean the end of the world.  And actually, they may, and when you think about it, for Christians, that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all… Come, Lord Jesus!  But we think it’s the end of the world, as in all is hopeless, all is lost!  That is how Cleopas and his companion felt after Jesus had died, and now the rumors of resurrection were too good to be true.  No, when a man dies, he stays dead.  We know that.  All their hopes were dashed.  That’s where we so easily find ourselves apart from Christ.  Hopeless.  If we get sick, if we lose our house, if we can’t buy groceries, then what?  All is lost, that’s what.  If we aren’t careful, we may even say dreadful and faithless things about Jesus, like “We had hoped He was the One who would redeem us, but I guess He’s no match for coronavirus or another great depression.”
            But it is just here that our Lord… who incidentally is walking with us on the way, though our eyes are kept from recognizing Him… it is just here that He opens the Scriptures to us, and our hearts burn within us as He interprets to us the things concerning Himself.  O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe…”  Did I not tell you this is how it would be?  That the whole creation is broken by your sin, but I have come to make all things new?  To redeem you for myself by my holy, precious blood and my innocent suffering and death?  To bring you life and hope and joy by my resurrection on the Third Day?  And didn’t I promise you that this earthly life would not be easy?  That there is a cost to being my disciple?  That the world will hate you, the devil will continually stalk you, and your own flesh will so often fail you?  And yet I told you, that just as I died and now I am risen, so your sorrow would be turned to joy, your mourning into dancing, your wailing into singing, and that God Himself would wipe away every tear from your eyes?  First comes the darkness, and then the light.  First comes Good Friday, but then Easter Sunday.  First comes sadness, but then everlasting joy and consolation.
            You know this to be true.  Your heart is burning within your right now as you hear it.  Because it is the voice of Jesus, whom your eyes are kept from seeing.  Keep your eyes and your ears on His Scriptures as He opens them up to you.  Keep a focus on His voice in the preaching and the Holy Absolution.  Remember that you are baptized into Christ.  Do you know what that means?  You have died with Christ.  In spite of all appearances to the contrary, death really cannot touch you now, because you got your death over with at the font.  And you have been raised with Christ to new resurrection life, spiritually already now, bodily on that Day when He comes again in glory.  Your sins are washed away.  You are God’s own child!  Don’t let apparent circumstance deceive you.  Don’t let the devil lie to you.  And don’t look to the world or your own flesh for solutions to creation’s brokenness.  Christ is your deliverance.  He has saved you.  It is an accomplished fact.  It is finished, as He said from the cross.  And His tomb is empty, the first of many.  All the graves will be emptied on that Day.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
            Now as they drew near the village of Emmaus, the disciples urged the Lord strongly, though they still did not recognize Him, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (v. 29).  There was something about this Stranger who opened the Scriptures to them.  They instinctively knew they needed Him as the light began to fade and the darkness came upon them.  That is where we are.  This is a darkness to be felt, is it not?  If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is hard to see.  But there is a Light that scatters all darkness, and it is Jesus Himself.  We beg Him, stay with us!  We need You!  And what does He do?  He comes into our homes.  He abides with us.  “Come, Lord Jesus,” we Lutherans love to pray at table, and it’s more than just a blessing of the food.  It is a reflection on this Holy Gospel.  It is a request that Jesus dwell with us, make His home with us, that He never leave us or forsake us, and that He finally come with His holy angels to deliver us, to raise the dead and heal all ills.
            It is remarkable how Jesus answers the prayer of the Emmaus disciples.  He comes into their home, Luke says, “to stay with them” (v. 29).  And “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (v. 30).  And that was when it happened.  Their eyes were opened.  They recognized Him.  They knew that it is all true.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  And then He vanished from their sight.  Not that He was gone.  No, beloved, from now on Jesus is never gone!  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  He is ever and always walking with us on the way and dwelling in our homes.  We don’t see Him with our eyes.  But now we recognize Him in a new way.  In the Breaking of the Bread.  In the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood.  That is where we are to look for Him.  In the opening up of the Scriptures, and in the Breaking of the Bread.  In the Word and in the Holy Sacrament.
            We have been prevented for a time from participating in that blessed Meal.  It is certainly a time for Christians to raise a cry of lament and to pray, “Stay with us, Lord, for it is toward evening.  The day is far spent.  The darkness is advancing.  Don’t leave us.  Don’t forsake us.”  We beg the Lord to restore the Holy Sacrament to us soon. 
            But this is also a time to know the Savior’s voice and gracious presence as He walks with us along the way in His Word, in Scripture and in preaching.  Oh, how we long for the Supper and the gracious presence of Jesus with His true Body and Blood under the bread and wine.  But don’t think for a minute our inability to have Him this way keeps Him from abiding with us.  That’s a trick of the devil, the lying serpent!  It’s the world’s pipe dream.  He is with us.  Just as He was with the Emmaus disciples.  He is not just somewhere up there in heaven looking down, or only with us in spirit.  He is with us here, now, in this place, bodily, the Crucified who is risen.  Even as we look for Him in the Sacrament, we know by our ears that He is with us as He speaks His Word.  And we are with Him, and in Him, in the life-giving baptismal waters, baptized into Christ. 
            O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe…”  “O children, what am I to do with you?!  I know what I will do with you.  I will come to you and I will raise you from the dead.”
            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.          

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 2

Wednesday of Easter 2 (A)
April 22, 2020
Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            But God never promises you won’t have to suffer.  Did you think you are immune because you are an American, and you have a right not to suffer?  Did you think you are immune because you are a Christian, and therefore God should shield you from all unpleasantness?  Having just walked the road of Lent and Holy Week, hearing again of our Lord’s betrayal, suffering, and death for your sins, surely you know now that God does not work His salvation and glory though any other means than suffering and death.  You cannot arrive at Easter by going around Good Friday and the cross.  There is no resurrection unless there has been death.  Jesus, who died, and who is risen from the dead, bids you now take up your cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24).  Follow Him the way He has gone.  The only way to the other side of suffering and death is through it.  With Jesus, who knows the way and will not abandon you in the valley of the shadow.
            Christians are not immune from suffering.  But in Christ, suffering always has its purpose, and it always has its end.  St. Peter is writing to a people suffering greatly for the sake of the Gospel.  It is the persecuted Church of the diaspora, the dispersion of Christians driven from their homes to leaven the whole world.  Peter begins his discussion of their suffering with praise.  Yes, praise!  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3).  Even in great suffering, the Christian praises God.  Why?  Not because of some pie in the sky hope that everything will turn out alright.  But because Jesus, who died, is risen from the dead!  That is what makes all the difference.  Jesus is risen.  Resurrection is where all this leads.  And through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are born into, baptized into, a living hope.  This is not the kind of hope that is uncertain, as in, “I hope it doesn’t rain,” or “I hope I don’t get sick.”  This is resurrection hope, as in, “I know that Christ is risen, and therefore I know that whatever happens to me now, He will raise me from the dead when He comes again in glory.  I am safe and secure in Him.”  The inheritance… that is heaven, the resurrection, the new creation, eternal life and salvation… this is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  That is, nothing and no one can take it from you, kill it, spoil it, or diminish it.  You don’t see it now.  But it is awaiting you.  It is coming.  It is being kept in heaven for you.  And you are being kept for it, by God’s power guarded through faith for all of this to be revealed on that Day.
            So that is the end of suffering, as in its goal, its fulfillment, its culmination.  And in this you rejoice.  But what is the purpose of it all?  On the one hand, you have to know that you cannot discern the hidden will of God in suffering or in anything.  Stop trying to guess.  You may not know the why of some particular trial or tribulation until you can ask Jesus face to face.  That doesn’t mean He didn’t accomplish His purpose in it, but it does mean that His thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are His ways your ways. 
            We can also know that all suffering is evidence that we are fallen and sinful people living in a fallen world.  Thus all suffering is a call to repentance.  Not in the sense that a particular individual’s suffering is a result of some particular sin they’ve committed, but in the sense that any suffering of any individual or group is a call for all of us, without exception, to examine ourselves and repent of our sins.  Remember those whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, or those eighteen on whom the Tower in Siloam fell?  Jesus asks whether these were worse sinners than all the others because they suffered in this way.  No,” He says, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).  All suffering, every disaster, every tragedy, is a call to me personally to repent.  And to you personally to repent.  Turn from sin.  Turn from yourself and your own resources.  Turn from your idols.  To the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To Christ, who alone is your help salvation.
            This is how it is for Christians, Peter says.  It is like gold refined in the fire.  The gold is melted down into liquid, and all that is not gold floats to the top to be skimmed off.  When you suffer, God is melting you down.  As you can imagine, it hurts to be melted into liquid.  But He is doing this so that all that is not faith, all that is not Christ, may come to the surface and be removed. 
            That is to say, your idols are being stripped away.  That is always painful.  As the economy crashes, society disintegrates, and so many we know and love are suffering in so many ways… As we ourselves fear for our health and our livelihoods and wonder about the future… God is ripping the idols out of our hands.  See, when we are brought to the end of ourselves, and all we fear, love, and trust more than God has been exposed as nothing but wood and stone, what are we left with?
            Christ.  Only Christ.  And Christ is all we need.  He is our salvation.  He died for our sins.  He is our life.  He is risen from the dead. 
            So this is what it is to live by faith.  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.  Though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him, and are filled with joy inexpressible, joy beyond all human comprehension.  Because you know where all this is going.  Christ is risen.  You will rise. 
            I want to say a word about coping in these days of besetting sadness.  First of all, it’s okay to be unsettled.  Christian joy and grief over loss and the state of this world are not mutually exclusive.  Christian joy is not an emotion determined by temporal circumstance.  This joy abides even in the midst of great sadness, because through the cross and suffering the Christian sees Easter, the empty tomb, and the risen Lord. 
            Second, it matters upon what or whom you set your eyes.  When I look at our present situation, the health statistics and those who are suffering, the job losses, my own investments… when I look to the government and politicians, or listen to the media… when I look within myself and go through the endless possible future scenarios and try to formulate a plan B for myself and my family… when I look to these things, I become distressed and despairing.  You know why?  None of them are of any help!  They're all idols! 
            But when I look to Jesus... Jesus who died for me, Jesus who is risen from the dead, Jesus who loves me… when I look to Jesus, I know all is well.  There is suffering to be borne, I know that, and ultimately death.  But in Jesus there is life.  And despair gives way to living hope, the certainty of an inheritance kept in heaven for me that can never perish, spoil, or fade.
            When you are sad or worried or fearful, look to Jesus.  Always Jesus.  Only Jesus.  God never promises you won’t have to suffer.  But He does promise to turn your suffering to good.  He is turning your eyes away from idols to Jesus alone.  And Jesus is the end of your suffering.  He is its termination and its goal.  Now, for a little while, if necessary, you are made to suffer various trials, as the refining fire of faith.  But in the end, what is left to you is Jesus.  And Jesus is life.  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.             

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (A)
April 19, 2020
Text: John 20:19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            And that means peace for sinners, peace with God, peace for you.  This is very important for the disciples gathered together as they are on Easter evening.  They are locked away for fear: Fear of their sins, fear of God, fear of the Lord they had denied and deserted, fear of the Jews who want their blood next, fear of death, fear of condemnation.  Locked away for fear.  Do you see how the Lord’s resurrection does away with all of that?  Jesus died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins, assuaging the Father’s just wrath.  And now He is risen from the dead.  Sin is forgiven, even denial and desertion.  Justice is satisfied.  Jesus has fulfilled all obligation to death and condemnation.  And now He brings righteousness and life.  So “Peace be with you,” He announces once and again to the disciples, and again eight days later when Thomas is with them (John 20:19, 21, 26; ESV).  It is just the Absolution they need.  Peace flows from the Crucified Lord who is risen from the dead.
            And that is just what you need to hear as you are locked away this morning for fear.  Perhaps not by choice.  Perhaps quite reasonably.  Perhaps by government mandate.  But you are locked away.  For fear of a virus.  For fear of being infected.  For fear of infecting others.  And yes, loving your neighbor may require this very thing.  But notice that it all stems from the same fear that caused the disciples to lock themselves away.  That is the fear of death.  And it is ultimately the fear of condemnation.  It is the fear of God’s judgment.  It is the fear that He will not save you in the end, that He will not grant you life abundant and eternal.  It is the fear that your sins, your denials and desertions of the Lord of life disqualify you.  And frankly, they do.  Except that Jesus has taken them into Himself and put them to death in His body on the tree.  And now He is risen, and your sins are not, and the risen Lord Jesus brings you His righteousness and life, which is to say, peace.  Your sins are forgiven.  God loves you.  What is there to fear?  Jesus Christ will raise you from the dead.
            So that you know this, and so that this peace of sins forgiven and Christ’s own righteousness and life can be transferred to you, bequeathed to you, given to you, our Lord here gives an Office: The Office of the Holy Ministry, or as it is called in the Catechism, the Office of the Keys.  This is not in any way to disparage the Royal Priesthood of all believers in Christ, for those of you who have an adverse reaction every time the pastoral office is mentioned as something special, holy, and distinct.  The two are absolutely not opposed to one another.  In fact, it is from the Royal Priesthood and through the Royal Priesthood that pastors are called into this Office.  And no one is saying pastors are holier.  That is not our doctrine.  But here the risen Lord Jesus gives the Office of the Ministry.  And this is something different, something new.  It is the Lord’s own institution.
            Here the Twelve are gathered, minus Judas who betrayed Him, and Thomas who is absent.  And the Lord Jesus is suddenly standing among them.  No locked doors can keep Him out!  The fact is, the risen Jesus has been with them the whole time, though their eyes were kept from recognizing it.  Now He stands among them visibly, and He ordains them Apostles, officially sent ones.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (v. 21).  It is the beginning of the Office of the Ministry.  
            Now, the office of Apostle in particular is a special office unique to the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, and confined to those appointed by Him directly to be His official representatives.  But it is they who would then lay hands on other men as they went on their way, on their mission, ordaining pastors, spiritual shepherds in every place, to carry on the apostolic ministry. 
            And the thing about this Office is, it is never independent from Jesus Himself.  The word “apostle” means “one officially sent, with all the authority of the sender in the matter for which he is sent.”  Jesus is the Sender and He sends the Apostles with the authority of distributing His saving death and resurrection life in the forgiveness of sins.  In other words, He sends them to preach the Gospel.  He sends them to pronounce Holy Absolution.  He sends them to retain the sins of the impenitent for the purpose of bringing them to repentance, that their sins be forgiven.  The Lord breathes on the Apostles, ordaining them with His Spirit, and He says the Words of Institution for the Holy Ministry, for the Apostles and for those who would follow in their train: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (v. 23). 
            So the Office of the Ministry, the Office of the Keys, “is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”[1]  And you can know that when the called ministers of Christ deal with you in this way, by His divine command, “this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”  Because He is dealing with you Himself.  He sends the preacher to preach to you forgiveness by His death and resurrection, to absolve you of your sins.  And when the preacher preaches that, when he hears your confession and pronounces forgiveness, it is Christ Himself who is speaking and forgiving.
            There are two ways the preacher is administer this forgiveness.  First, there is speaking: Scripture, sermons, Absolution.  Then there is the crucified and risen body of Christ into which the pastor baptizes you as Christ’s own hands, and which he distributes to you under bread and wine in the Supper.  And this is precisely how Jesus deals with His self-isolated Apostles, for the forgiveness of their sins.  He speaks His Word: “Peace.”  It is a Holy Absolution.  And then He shows them His hands and His side.  He gives them His body; the body crucified for them, and for you.  Behold the marks of the nails.  Go ahead, Thomas!  Poke around!  Behold my spear-riven side.  Go ahead, Thomas!  Put your hand in there!  The risen body of Jesus is the very body that was crucified, dead and buried.  He still bears the marks, no longer in pain, but as evidence, as a testimony of the payment complete, the victory won.  You may think you have a leg up on Thomas because you have believed without seeing, and indeed, Jesus pronounces you blessed (v. 29).  But the plain fact is, the Lord extends to you the same mercy He gave Thomas, by baptizing you in the water that poured from His side, by giving you the very same body to eat, the very blood poured out to drink, the very same wounds.  And that is what leads you to confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).
            In fact, all of this is given to you to lead you to that very confession, to that very faith.  (T)hese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31).  These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the One promised by God from the very beginning, who would redeem you from sin and death.  That He is God’s own Son, therefore He has the authority to do it, and the ability, and He is faithful as God Himself to bring it about.  By faith, you receive all His saving benefits.  The Lord has given the Holy Ministry, and all His means of grace, as a gift to you, for that very purpose.  That you believe, and so live. 
            We confess it this way in the Augsburg Confession (for which our congregation is named): “That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel.”[2]  The risen Jesus imparts His peace by the Gospel ministry of Word and Sacrament, and by those means the Holy Spirit creates the very faith that receives Jesus’ peace.
            I’ll tell you, it is the joy of my life to be your pastor, next to being a husband and a father.  I love it, and I love you.  I love our Church, and I’m so heartbroken we’ve been prevented from receiving the Lord’s gifts together face to face.  It is such an honor and a joy to be your pastor.  Because I am sent to you by Jesus Himself to announce to you peace in sins forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  His Word.  His body.  All for you.  It is pure gift.  And it unlocks the doors, the fear that binds you. 
            Beloved, hear the Word of the Lord: For the fear of coronavirus: Peace!  For the fear that God will forsake you in this time of economic ruin and societal turmoil: Peace!  For the fear of your sins, your denials of the Lord, and for abandoning Him: Peace!  For your fear of death and condemnation, the wrath of God, the devil and hell: Peace!  Do not be afraid.  Peace be with you.  Jesus speaks it so.  And He can, 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. 

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Easter Wednesday

Easter Wednesday
April 15, 2020
Text: John 21:1-14
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (John 21:4; ESV).  So often this is the case in our Lord’s resurrection appearances.  The eyes of the disciples are kept for a time from recognizing Him.  We think of Mary, who meets Him outside the tomb, supposing Him to be the gardener!  It is not until He speaks her name that she recognizes Him (John 20:11 ff.).  We think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who do not recognize Jesus as He converses with them, interpreting for them the Scriptures so that their hearts were burning within them, showing them how Moses and the Prophets were speaking about Him.  It is not until He takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it that they recognize Him, and all at once He disappears from their sight (Luke 24:13 ff.). 
            So now the disciples are fishing, and Jesus is standing on the shore, and they do not know it is Him.  And there is an important point to be made here with regard to Jesus’ interaction with you: You don’t see the risen Jesus with your eyes.  Not now.  Not yet.  You will, in heaven, and in the resurrection of your body on the Last Day.  But for now, your fallen eyes are kept from recognizing Him.  Jesus did appear to many eyewitnesses in the forty days following His resurrection, and to St. Paul sometime after.  He did that to establish the factual evidence of His bodily resurrection from the dead.  But you don’t have the privilege of being such a witness.  Your eyes are not the organ of faith.  He makes Himself known to you in a different way, in the way that He has promised: His means of grace.  He calls you by name in Holy Baptism.  He takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to you, His own body, in the Lord’s Supper.  He is not apparent to your eyes, but neither is He gone.  His presence for you is now hidden under bread and wine.  And there He is speaking to you from the shore, and you hear His voice, and you follow.  And in the hearing and keeping of His Word, you recognize, as St. John did: “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). 
            In the Gospels, and throughout the Scriptures, the boat is a picture of the Church.  It is Noah’s Ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved from the waters of the flood.  It is the storm-tossed boat in which Jesus is sleeping soundly on a cushion in the stern, and the disciples are blind to the fact that they are safe because God in the flesh is on board with them, and they need not fear (Mark 4:35 ff..).  Or again, the storm-tossed boat to which Jesus comes, walking on the water, and the disciples think it is a phantasm coming to get them and pull them down to Davy Jones’ locker.  They are blind to the fact that this is no demon!  God in the flesh is in the storm, coming to them to be with them (Mark 6:45 ff.).  And in both cases, the wind and the sea obey Him (Mark 4:41).
            Here in our text, seven disciples are in the boat.  The Church is gathered, and she is fishing.  The disciples, in their confusion and emotional exhaustion have gone back to what they know best.  They fish all night, and catch nothing.  A man stands on the shore offering advice.  Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.  They do not know who this man is, but there is something in His Word that leads them to obey.  And it happens, as He says.  And that is when it comes to John.  He’s seen this very thing before, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, this very miracle (Luke 5:1 ff.).  In the hearing and keeping of the Word, John is given to recognize Jesus.  His eyes are opened.  And suddenly the focus shifts from success in fishing, or lack thereof, to that man there on the shore: “It is the Lord!
            Well, here we are in the boat, beloved, holy Church, and this is quite a storm we’re in, isn’t it?  A scary virus, economic meltdown, social unrest, and it is all preventing us from meeting together, from feasting on the Lord’s body and blood together.  If we trust our eyes, we’ll be convinced that Jesus is asleep and doesn’t care that we are perishing, or worse, that He is a demon out to get us and kill us.  If we trust our eyes, we’ll think He’s some man on shore offering advice about things He doesn’t understand, or maybe an unhelpful gardener who hid the Lord’s dead and helpless body away from us.  Do you see?  You can’t trust your eyes!  They’ll lie to you. 
            You can only trust the Word of Jesus Christ.  Hear Him in the Scriptures as He interprets them to you, the things concerning Himself.  Hear Him as He calls you by name.  Hear Him as He takes the bread and declares that it is His body, broken for you, given you to eat for the forgiveness of sins; the wine and declares that it is His blood, shed for you, given you to drink for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Hear Him as He calls to you from the shore: Cast the net of the Gospel, bring in the haul of fish, and come, eat with me… come, follow me!  That is how you know it is the Lord.
            Jesus is in the storm!  He is coming to you.  He is in the boat, the Church, with you.  He is the One who speaks, and the nets are full.  It doesn’t look like He is in the coronavirus crisis, but close your eyes and listen closely… To His Word!  Now, don’t listen to some voice in your heart or some feeling in the pit of your stomach… Those are as unreliable as your eyes!  No, listen to the Word of Jesus Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures.  That is where you will know that He is with you always, to the very end of the age.  That is where you will know that the risen Christ calls you by name and is with you, bodily, in the breaking of the bread.  That is where you will know that your sins are forgiven and He will never leave you or forsake you.  Never mind the storm.  Never mind the fishing all night and catching nothing.  Never mind sickness and death and the weakness of your sinful flesh.  Those are the things your fallen eyes see.  Put your ears on Jesus Christ and you will know there is no reason to fear.
            For this is God in the flesh.  He died for you.  He is risen and lives for you.  He loves you.  You belong to Him.  You are engraved on the palm of His pierced hand.  You are safe in the boat, the saving ark of His Church.  He is calling you through the water to Himself on the shore where He has prepared for you a feast beyond all telling.  And as you come, as the boat pulls her catch into harbor, not a fish will be missing.  Each one, caught by the Gospel, will be accounted for.  Don’t look at the darkness.  Look at the man.  Hear Him as He speaks, and you will know.  It is the Lord.  Do you see?  He has come through the darkness and storm, through death itself.  And He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  Now He is bringing you through.  And that means all is well.  The end for you is life with Him.  Life without end. 
            Let us pray: “In these last days of great distress Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness That we keep pure till life is spent Your holy Word and Sacrament.  Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true; Preserve our faith our whole life through—Your Word alone our heart’s defense, The Church’s glorious confidence” (LSB 585:2, 6).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day (A)
April 12, 2020
Text: Matt. 28:1-10
Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Do not be afraid.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And that is the end of all your fear.
            There are those who should be afraid.  When the angel descended from heaven, his appearance like lightening, his clothing as white as snow, and rolled the stone from the tomb and sat on it, the guards trembled for fear of him and became like dead men.  Those who would keep Jesus dead and buried should fear.  First of all, they cannot do it.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, alleluia, whether or not they have given their permission.  Secondly, those who will not receive the risen Lord Jesus cannot receive His resurrection victory of life for all who are in Him.  Instead, they receive the very death He has defeated.  The guards “became like dead men” (Matt. 28:4; ESV).  They were nearly scared to death.  It is a warning to them and to all unbelievers.  Whoever will not receive the risen Jesus will suffer eternal death and condemnation.  For them, there is great reason to be afraid.
            The women are also afraid when they come to the tomb.  They, too, see the holy angel, and they, too are sinners.  You have to understand that angels are not the effeminate beings with wings and halos you place on top of your Christmas trees.  They are fearsome creatures, radiating the very holiness of God, in whose presence they continually stand.  They are beautiful, but they are not tame.  There is nothing “Precious Moments” about them.  You would fear, too, if you saw an angel in his unbridled majesty.  “Has God sent His ministering spirit to slay us?” the women wonder.  Every time an angel appears to someone in Holy Scripture, the people rightly fear.  And that is why the angel must preach.  Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (vv. 5-6).
            Why don’t the sinful women need to fear the holy angel?  Because Jesus was crucified for their sins, and now He is risen from the dead, as He said.  Yes, He was crucified.  He really died.  It was a real corpse they put in the grave.  His death made atonement for the sins of the world.  And that means the sins of the women, the sins of doubt and fear, of not remembering the Words of Jesus, His Promises that this must happen (His suffering and death), and that He would rise again.  And it means the forgiveness of your sins, the sins of fear and anxiety about coronavirus, the sins of worry about the economy and your daily bread, the sins of depression and despair, lust and covetousness, selfishness and idolatry.  Yes, your sins of fearing, loving, and trusting other things and other people above the Lord your God.  Jesus died for those very sins.  Jesus died for all your sins. 
            And now He is risen from the dead.  Bodily.  And that means God has accepted His sacrifice of atonement.  The resurrection of Jesus is the Holy Absolution of all your sins.  It is your justification, the Father’s declaration that you are righteous, not by your own merits, but by the merits of Jesus Christ His Son, who was crucified and who is now risen from the dead.  And it all happened as He said.  The disciples, the women, we should have known it would happen this way, for He had been saying this all along.  The Son of Man must suffer and die, and on the Third Day rise again.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the confirmation and vindication of all that Jesus said and taught.  He is who He says He is: God’s Son, our Savior.  The proof is the empty tomb.  He has done what He says He came to do: Save us from sin, death, and the devil.  The proof is the risen and living Jesus Himself, who appeared to many eyewitnesses, beginning with these very women.
            As the women are running from the tomb with fear and great joy, suddenly Jesus meets them on the way.  It is all true.  They see it with their own eyes.  And His sermon is the same as that of the angel He had sent: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10).  No more need for fear.  Here I am.  Here are my wounds.  I am the Crucified.  I am risen and living.  All that causes you to fear is at an end in me.  Go and tell my brothers.
            What causes you to fear?  We are all more afraid in these days of uncertainty.  Will I get sick?  Will I, or someone I love, die?  What will happen to the economy and to my job?  What will happen to our nation and society?  To the world?  We don’t know.  We are not prophets.  For all our predictions and educated guesses, we are all groping around in the dark.  There is no end of fear in that. 
            But we do know this: Whatever we are going through at the moment, it is all passing away.  The end of all of this is resurrection!  Because Jesus is not in the grave.  He is risen from the dead, as He said.  You are baptized into Christ.  (If you’re not, let’s talk, and do something about that.)  Baptized into Christ, you died with Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  Baptized into Christ, you are raised with Christ.  Spiritually now, with living faith in Him.  Bodily on the Last Day, when the risen Lord Jesus appears to you and calls you out of the grave.  Whether you die from coronavirus or abject poverty, cancer or a car accident… whatever it may be, the risen Lord Jesus will not leave you dead.  He will raise you.  Without sin.  Without sickness and death.  To live with Him in His New Creation for all eternity.  That is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ accomplishes for you. 
            In the meantime, your fallen fears are tempered by great joy.  Easter joy.  Christ is risen!  And as you go your way, the risen Christ meets you in His Word and with His risen body and blood in the Supper.  He is not in the tomb.  You won’t find Him there.  You will find Him where He has promised to be for you: In the means of grace, in His holy Church.  Even when we can’t meet together in the building.  The Church is His people, His body, among whom He comes with His Baptism, preaching, and Supper; with His forgiveness, life, and salvation.
            Go and tell your brothers.  The word “angel” simply means “messenger.”  Jesus doesn’t just send heavenly angels to tell the Good News that Jesus is risen.  He sends pastors to preach it.  He sends you to confess it.  Just as He sent the women.  Just as He sent the Twelve.  It might be good in these difficult times to greet people (from an accepted social distance, of course) with a hearty, “Christ is risen!  And that changes everything!”  We have real hope to give to an otherwise hopeless world.  Speak to the fear with Easter certainty and great Easter joy.
            Do not be afraid.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  All your sins are forgiven.  The devil and hell are defeated.  Death is coming to an end.  And that means coronavirus, too.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the end of all fear.  Nothing and no one could keep Him in the grave.  Nothing and no one will be able to keep you there, either.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!