Sunday, September 18, 2016

Set Free

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
September 18, 2016
What would be worse, to be a slave or to be a prisoner? People normally don’t choose these stations in life. Who wishes to be a slave when one can be master of their own destiny? Who would willingly be bound in a cell when one could be free to live as one pleases?

The apostle Paul could speak to each, both being a slave and a prisoner. You may wonder when Paul had ever been a slave. He had been a Pharisee, and he was like the Pharisees in the Gospel reading. He knew his position and it was a pretty high one in the eyes of his Jewish compatriots. He knew he was blessed by God because his life was devoted to his God.

But then that same God turned his sight into darkness. He now had Paul’s attention. The very Lord Paul had been trying to stamp out was now calling him to be His apostle. And so, when writing the inspired words of Scripture, Paul would often refer to himself as an apostle. And yet, because he now understood that his life as a Pharisee had centered on himself, he was now just as at home calling himself a slave. He, an apostle of Christ, was by virtue of that calling, now a slave of Christ.

When writing to the Ephesians, though, he doesn’t refer to himself as a slave of Christ. As we see in the Epistle reading, he writes to them as a prisoner of the Lord. As he wrote to the Ephesians, he did so from a cell. But far from seeing this as a punishment of God, Paul saw it as a blessing. He was still able to make known the Gospel.

Having been rescued by Christ and called to serve Him as a Christian he now saw that he was truly free, whether he was journeying to countries to spread the Gospel or whether he was locked up in a cell. He had been set free by Christ. Being a slave of Christ was being truly free, whether or not he was a prisoner.

Paul had a stellar resume as a Pharisee. Had he been present at the gathering in the Gospel reading the host would have escorted him right to the front for the best seat. But Paul now saw himself for what he truly was. He was bound. He was wrapped up in his own sinful flesh, bound by the chains of his sinful desires. If all of his righteousness and unwavering dedication to God’s law couldn’t save him, he was happy to be humbled and now see himself, as he says in chapter 3 of Ephesians, “I am the very least of all the saints.” Paul had been one of those Pharisees Jesus was addressing. He now saw that humility is the order of the day when it comes to Christ.

We see in the Epistle reading his urging to the Ephesian Christians “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they had] been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What the apostle Paul, the slave of Christ and prisoner for the Lord, was exhorting those Christians, was what Jesus was showing the Pharisees in the Gospel reading. One of them was one of the higher-ups and invited Jesus to his home for a meal. But this was a set-up. They were bringing Him into that setting so that they could scrutinize Him. They disdained His teaching and His ministry. Perhaps if they overwhelmed Him with their religious superiority they could get Him to cave, or at least diminish His reputation in the eyes of the common people.

They of course did not believe Jesus was Lord. Even though He was, when He was invited to a meal He did the opposite of the Pharisees. Instead of expecting to be waited on He takes on the role of servant and giver.

In contrast to all the Pharisees and religious teachers present, who basked in the light of their own self-importance, there was a man who came up to Jesus who had dropsy, a condition of swelling due to abnormal accumulation of water. It was the sabbath, the day of rest. Jesus wanted to know: Would it be right to help this man? Would it align with the sabbath laws to deliver him from his condition? Or would it rather be God-pleasing to observe the law of the sabbath rest and leave him in his plight? They couldn’t respond. What were they going to say? Don’t you dare heal him, that would not be pleasing to God? Even so, the very acknowledgement that Jesus could in fact heal the man put them in a position where they seemed foolish to continue to deny Jesus.

Jesus gave to the man what he needed. Jesus was showing what God had intended the sabbath to be for. It was a day of rest and renewal. It was a day in which God gives to you what you most need, restoration. Jesus healing the man shows what Jesus came to do, to restore people to God.

These Pharisees were so swollen with pride that when it was time for the meal they jockeyed for position. Their sense of themselves exceeded their awareness of their need for what Jesus had come to give them. Jesus pointed out to them the obvious, but it’s what they already new. We heard it in the Old Testament reading. Jesus is pretty much quoting that. But they are blinded by their own self-centeredness. They think so much of themselves that they don’t even see that if they seek to attain the highest place they will lose it and be relegated to the lowest place.

Rather, Jesus says, seek the lowest and you will be moved up higher and be honored in the sight of everyone. They would never lower themselves to take the lowest place, though. All they saw in Jesus was someone who was disputing their self-made righteousness. They needed to see themselves as approved by God because of how holy they viewed themselves. They didn’t see that they were bound by their sinful flesh. They were prisoners of the devil’s schemes.

You are not see free from your lowly status by attempting to achieve a higher one. You are exalted when you humble yourself. You and I ought to take note. You and I may not be in high positions such as those Pharisees were, but do we miss what Jesus is showing us? It would be one thing if He were simply telling them and us to be humble. But we’re prisoners, remember? We are often swollen with pride ourselves.

Here’s what Jesus has done. Far from simply speaking from heaven the definitive word, “Humble yourselves and you will be exalted,” He has come down Himself! He did the very thing He was impressing upon us. Jesus is the Lord, and yet He exhibits the very thing He was urging upon the Pharisees and us. He is God and yet bound Himself in a human body. Even more, He submitted Himself to suffer and die on the cross for the sin of the world. For all of those sinners, even, who think of themselves more highly than they ought.

In the Gospel reading we saw how Jesus when invited to a meal became the servant. Giving to a man who had been humbled by a debilitating illness reprieve. Restoring him to wholeness. Jesus is God and Lord, how do you see yourself before Him? Listen to His words and go to the back. Humble yourself before Him. Confess your sin.

And then see what He has done and know that He does so for you still. He humbled Himself to become man and to die on the cross. He now tells you to come forward, all the way to the front. He doesn’t simply invite you to a meal, He gives you a feast to celebrate with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. He doesn’t preside over His feast as the glorious Lord but rather as the humble servant, giving you His body and blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.

He sets you free by forgiving you. You no longer are bound by your stifling thoughts of righteousness. You are, rather, free to dine with the Lord of all creation and all who have gone before you and who even now feast in glory. You are free because you know that your Lord, though He is Lord of all creation, never sees Himself as so far above you that He won’t help you but rather freely gives of Himself to you and restores you. Amen.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 11, 2016
When I was growing up I remember people who said they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when our nation was attacked on our own soil on December 7, 1941. I couldn’t identify with that. We had been blessed for many years not to undergo something like that again, and so I would just listen to those who spoke of the shock and the helplessness when they heard the news.

But I distinctly remember where I was fifteen years ago on this day, September 11, 2001 when I became aware of what was happening, that we were being attacked on our own soil by a foreign enemy.

Much of what happens in life fades away from memory. But certain things are seared into your brain and you will never forget them. When they come to mind you still feel the feelings you felt back then. Especially when it’s something that has been taken away from you. You still feel the loss. You still feel helpless. Your heart still aches, even though the years continue to take you farther away from what happened.

We’ve all heard stories about those who were part of the events of 9/11. Some were supposed to go to work that day in the World Trade Center but for various reasons didn’t, and so weren’t killed in the attack. Some just happened to be there on that day, where they normally weren’t and so lost their lives. Many of us don’t personally know anyone who died in that horrific event. Those who do still face the questions of why things couldn’t have gone differently, why did their loved one have to lose their life in a senseless and unprovoked act and so leave behind their spouse, their children, their loved ones.

The attack on Pearl Harbor and the attack on the World Trade Center touched the collective soul of our nation. They affected all of us. But for most of us it still doesn’t hit home the way it does when violence or loss or grief hit you personally. When the woman in the Gospel reading for today lost her son she must have felt like her whole world came crashing down.

Her husband had already died. He was no longer there to provide for her. In that culture, women generally weren’t self-sufficient but were provided for by the men as they made a living and the women ran the household. Now that her husband was gone she at least had her son who could provide for her welfare.

But then a cruel turn came to fruition when her son died. This is not the way things are supposed to be. She was supposed to live to a good old age and as God was ready to take her home her son would be able to say goodbye to her and express his love for her. But now she was the one burying her son.

When Jesus was entering this little town of Nain He came across this funereal procession. He saw how she was weeping in her grief. He knew that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. His heart went out to her. His compassion for her led Him to go up to her. He said to her, “Do not weep.” When you lose someone you love, that’s not what you want to hear. When you’re comforting someone, it’s a good idea not to tell them to not cry. Crying, in fact, is a blessed emotional release in the midst of grief. It’s okay to cry.

But Jesus doesn’t come to her in the same way you and I would when we seek to comfort others. Oftentimes we don’t know what to say. But Luke tells us in the Gospel reading that this isn’t an ordinary person coming up to this woman. He calls Jesus the Lord. The Lord said to her, “Do not weep.” He’s not trying to make her feel better, He’s telling her that she doesn’t need to cry anymore because He is going to remove the cause of her grief.

He doesn’t tell the pallbearers to stop. He gently reaches out and touches the platform they are carrying the dead body on so that they will stop. His words to the woman to not weep will be attached to action which will remove her sorrow. His next action is remarkable. His action is one which won’t do any good for anyone. He speaks to the dead man. Sometimes people will talk to their loved ones who have died, but they are speaking to them because it’s comforting to be able to talk to them as they did when they were still alive.

But Jesus speaks to this dead man as if he will hear Him, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” But because Jesus is the Lord the dead man does hear Him and gets up and begins speaking. He is alive. Death is not the way things are supposed to be. Especially when people die young and parents experience the loss of their child. But we live in a fallen world, one in which people die. And when people die, they can’t overcome that. When you lose your loved one, you know they’re gone.

Jesus speaking to a dead man is not the way it’s supposed to be. People don’t come back from the dead. But Jesus is reversing the course of this fallen world. He is coming to bring true comfort to people in their grief. Not platitudes, “Don’t worry, things will get better.” “Don’t cry, things could be worse.” “You hurt now, but time heals all wounds.” These things don’t bring comfort. There’s no true sympathy here, let alone empathy.

Jesus comes with true compassion. He comes with compassion which is able to bring about joy in the midst of sorrow. He gives the young man back to his mother. She was the one Jesus was ministering to. He saw her in her sorrow and brought true comfort to her by removing the cause of her sorrow.

Of course, it’s glaringly obvious that the exact thing He did for her is not what He does for us. Those who continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones in 9/11 aren’t likely to get a visit from the Lord as the widow in Nain did. Those of us who still deal with the daily pain of losing those close to us shouldn’t be counting on a spoken word from the Lord, “Do not weep, I am going to bring your loved one back to life.” Her sorrow was turned to joy, what about for us?

It’s worth considering that while this woman was truly blessed, this was not the ultimate reason Jesus came. And there are hundreds and hundreds of other people who were touched by Jesus, recipients of His spoken word, healed, restored, and even raised from the dead. What this means is that there were millions more who were not. While Jesus came to carry out these actions, it was not for their sake alone. It was a part of His ultimate ministry.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but His ministry is that He came to die. If His heart went out to this widow in her sorrow, perhaps it’s because He knew what His own Father would experience when His own life would cease on the cross. It would have been an enormous display of power if Jesus had come to go around to as many places as possible and heal as many people as possible and raise as many people from the dead as possible.

But this is not what He did. It’s not what He came to do. Instead, He confined His ministry to a mere three years of time and to a geographical area about the size of San Diego county.

No, what Jesus came to do was die. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. God is eternal. God is without beginning and without end. God does not die. He can’t die, He’s God. And yet, in compassion beyond our understanding, He became a man. He was born. He lived. And He came to a point where He willingly suffered Himself to be nailed to a cross and have to look down upon His mother whose heart and soul was wrenched as she saw her Son in agony and finally draw His last breath.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But we weren’t supposed to sin, either. When we did, God in compassion came to us and said, “Do not weep.” It’s not a platitude. It’s a statement of authority, power, and compassion. It’s also an action. In speaking, your Lord brings you into joy you cannot comprehend.

And contrary to what it may seem, it is in the same way He did it in the Gospel reading. Paul says in the Epistle reading that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Certainly the widow at Nain saw that the Lord did more abundantly than she could ask or think. But it so with you as well. You were as the dead son in Nain. You were dead in your sins. In Baptism you died another death, brought by the Holy Spirit into the death of Jesus, who is your Lord. He raised you in those waters where His word was spoken to you, “I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

You were born in sin. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But Jesus died so that you wouldn’t die eternally. He was raised from the grave so that you will be raised from yours. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but you continue to sin. It grieves your Lord, but He comes to you in compassion. You need to repent. You need to grieve over your sin yourself so that you may see that your Lord loves you so much that He is willing to give you Himself to bring about true joy. He gave His life for you on the cross and gives it to you in bread for you to eat. His lifeblood was poured out for you on the cross and He pours it into His holy cup so that you may drink the blood of life.

He forgives you, He restores you, He gives you true comfort, true hope, true joy. Amen.

Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel

Sunday, August 21, 2016

See What Christ Shows You

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
August 21, 2016
What Jesus shows you in the Gospel reading today isn’t easy to see. What you see is a confirmation of what you already think. That Samaritan guy who helped out the other guy in need—that’s what we ought to do. Jesus said it Himself, “Go and do likewise.” The man who approached Jesus asking what he must do to obtain eternal life was given the answer, “Be merciful to others. Help them in their need.” And this is on top of what Jesus had told him earlier, “Love God and love your neighbor. Do this and you will live.”

What you see is not what Jesus is showing you. You see what you want to see. You see what you want Jesus to show you, but not what He actually is showing you. You want Jesus to confirm what you already know and think. If you do certain things and live a certain way, you’re in. You’re good.

But this is the world’s view of Christianity. And you are at home with this form of Christianity. You identify with the lawyer who came up to Jesus. You want to know what you should do. Because of your sinful nature you take the same approach to Jesus that the world does. It doesn’t matter if others belong to other religions or say they have no religion, you want the same thing they do. And you want it in the same way.

The lawyer in the Gospel reading was a professional. He wasn’t a lawyer as we know them today. He was a professional in the Word of God. He knew the Scriptures. That was his job. As a lawyer, he didn’t study the law of the land. The lawyers of Jesus’ time were those who were trained in the Law of God. They knew the Bible.

So he knew what he was supposed to do and not supposed to do. But he didn’t know grace. You can see exactly how well he knew the Scriptures in that he got every question right Jesus asked him. And yet, he got the whole thing wrong. He knew what the Bible said, but he didn’t believe in the grace of God. He didn’t see that God’s Law isn’t the whole of God’s revelation in the Bible. Grace is the thread that runs through the whole Scriptures. The expert in the Law was under the misunderstanding that it is all about the Law. He comes up to Jesus to test Him. He thinks Jesus is going against God’s Law and so wants to trap Him. But when Jesus actually confirms what the Law of God says, namely, to love God completely and your neighbor as yourself, the lawyer knew that that didn’t get him any better off than he was before. So he wanted to justify himself.

If you look at God’s Law and think you’re doing pretty well you’re not taking it at its word. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love God with your whole being; with everything you are and do. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor not with conditions and expectations attached, but simply out of what he needs.

The world looks at the Law of God and sees it as confirmation of their goodness. The hymn Salvation Unto Us Has Come eradicates this notion by showing what God’s Law really shows: “The Law is but a mirror bright To bring the inbred sin to light That lurks within our nature.”

What about Jesus’ parable? He tells us about a good Samaritan and then says, “Go and do likewise.” Isn’t this Jesus answering the lawyer with what the lawyer should do? It seems so. But Jesus isn’t giving the world’s version of Christianity. He is giving His. And when He gives His He shows you what you cannot see except by faith. What He shows you is not what you should do, which is what the lawyer and the world and you seek. What He shows you is Himself.

First you need to see yourself. When He holds up the mirror of the Law, pray the Holy Spirit to show you your utter failure at keeping God’s Law. Repent of your sin. See yourself as what you are, dead in your sins. The man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead wasn’t able to get up and walk for help. He wasn’t even able to cry out for help. It was only when someone else saw him and his need that he was able to be saved.

And who was it that saved him? It wasn’t the priest. The priest was bound by the laws of purity, not able to touch a man in such a condition. He put the Law before his neighbor. The Levite followed suit. These men thought they were keeping God’s Law but Jesus shows that they missed the whole point of the Law. It is compassion. It is not your being pure in the sight of God but rather getting your hands dirty where the need is. The lawyer was pictured in the priest and Levite. He could not see himself as the one in need. He was too busy focusing on what he must to do earn favor from God.

The Samaritan saw the man in need and had no thought of what he must do. He had compassion. Compassion flowed over into action, using all that he had to bind up the man’s wounds and carry him to safety where he could be restored.

Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” But how can you do so when you at first you do not see yourself in the man who was left for dead? We call the Samaritan in the parable the Good Samaritan, but Jesus is really showing us Himself. He is the true Good Samaritan. He sees you in your need and binds up your wounds. When you’re dying in your sins He doesn’t tell you to get up and stagger for help. He lifts you up and carries you to the place of rest, His Holy Church. There He pours on you the oil of the waters of Holy Baptism and gives you the wine to drink of His very blood.

Your answer to What must I do? is what Jesus shows you. What He shows you is Himself. He gives of all He has to bind you up and save you. You need look no further than the cross to see the extent of what He has given you. He gave of Himself completely on the cross, giving His life and shedding His blood. He has done everything to save you. He raises you from the dead.

The answer to salvation is Christ. The answer to what you must do is not what you must do. It is how you live. How you live is in Christ. The lawyer who came to Jesus seeking to know what he could do to gain heaven apparently interrupted Jesus telling His disciples that they were blessed to see the things they saw; things the prophets who went before them longed to see. This is what the lawyer missed, though Jesus was standing right in front of him. How often do you miss the very same thing? You have even more than the apostles did. You have the fullness of the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments. You don’t talk to Him face to face, but you commune with Him. You are united with Him in Baptism. You say with Paul, “It is no loner I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Because you live in Christ you do not live as the lawyer or the priest or the Levite, focusing on what you must do; in other words, on yourself. You live, rather, as one who has compassion on others, showing mercy to others. Your thought is not for yourself but the Lord your God and those He has placed in your life to serve. This is why you come here to the Lord’s House. Certainly it is to hear the Gospel and be forgiven. But it is also so that you may be here for your brothers and sisters in Christ, an encouragement to them. It is why you give a portion of your income as an offering. Not simply to keep the electric bill of the church paid but also so that the mission of the Church continues in making known the Gospel in this community.

It is why you take care of your family, and pray for your neighbors. It is why you smile and ask others how they are doing. It is why you take the time to listen to them and pray with them and give them your aid as you are able. It is why you care enough about your friends who do not believe in Christ to tell them of Him and how He loves them enough to die for all of their sins and rise from the grave to accomplish eternal life for them.

See what Christ shows you and go and do likewise. See what the lawyer failed to see, the fulfillment of the Law, Christ Himself. See that it is not what you do that saves you, but what Christ has done. See what the hymn Salvation Unto Us Has Come helps you to see about the relationship between faith and works: “For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living.” God works flow from faith. You are not saved by good works, you are saved for good works. Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works but our neighbor does.”

He has saved you, bound up your wounds, raised you from the dead. You are free. You will live eternally and you are freed up to live in compassion and mercy. Amen.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Timelessness of Eternity

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life in His Name

Second Sunday of Easter
Quasimodo Geniti
April 3, 2016
John tells us the goal. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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.” Because Jesus has been raised it is possible for us to have life. You could do pretty well without believing in Jesus. And many people do. But you would not have life in His name. You would not have life that far exceeds life as you know it. And even so, doing pretty well in this life is good only for this life. Life apart from Christ is life in eternal torment.

John wrote so that you may have life. What he wrote, as he said, were the signs Jesus did. Even during Jesus’ ministry, John says many people did not believe in Him, even though they saw the signs He was doing. Signs are simply miraculous actions. They point to something greater. The disciples did not believe that Jesus was actually alive after dying until they saw Him. But now they believed and had true life in Him.

You don’t see Him, though. He does not appear suddenly to you as He did with the disciples. How do you believe in Him if you haven’t seen Him? Have you ever thought about that? Why is it that you believe in Jesus exactly as the disciples did even though they had the benefit of seeing Him face to face? Perhaps you think you don’t. Maybe you think it’s harder for you than for them. Maybe you have doubts. Maybe you wish it were easier to believe and if He showed you signs like He did then things would be better for you.

But John wrote so that you may have life. He wrote that you may believe. Is there a difference to the life you have versus them? Is your belief, while similar to theirs, on a different level than theirs?

According to what John has written, they are the same. Life in Christ is life in Christ. Belief in Him is belief in Him. Whether you see Him or not. But Jesus actually chides Thomas for believing because he saw Him. He said that all those who believe without seeing Him are blessed.

And that is you. The disciples must have been ashamed of themselves afterward for not believing in Him. If you have doubts, or your faith is not as strong as you wish it were, don’t worry, you’re in good company. And you’re actually in even better company since Jesus said you are blessed if you believe in Him without having seen Him.

And if you think about it, everything you believe from the Bible is that way. You believe God is one God in three persons even though you can’t begin to explain it and it’s impossible to understand. You believe that this is not all there is to life but that God will bring you to heaven forever. You believe Jesus raised people from the dead and that He Himself rose from the dead.

You even believe bizarre things like Him saving you in Baptism and forgiving you in the Lord’s Supper, and that He does these things because you cannot do them yourself. At all.

It’s no wonder you have doubts at times. All of this sounds too nonsensical and preposterous to be true.  We can readily understand why the disciples doubted before they saw Jesus actually alive. Tell people you were saved in Baptism and most will think you hold to imaginary tales. Tell them that you believe that Jesus actually is present in Holy Communion, His actual body and actual blood, and they will feel sorry for you that you believe in such nonsensical and preposterous things.

But think about it this way. If John says that he wrote these things so that you would believe and so that believing you would have life in His name, well, what is to prevent Jesus from continuing to do amazing things today? If He can step out of the tomb after laying in it lifelessly, He can certainly forgive you of your sins through the simple declaration of it from His called and ordained servant of the Word.

Of all of the miraculous signs Jesus accomplished, all the healings, delivering people from demons, raising people from the dead, perhaps it’s most amazing of all that He gave authority to a bunch of disciples who did not believe He had accomplished what He said He would in rising from the grave. These eleven men who had been cowering in fear were now given a mandate by Jesus to forgive the sins of those who repented and withhold forgiveness from those who would not repent.

When Jesus has done so much by His own hand, why would He now use ordinary men, who doubted just like we do, to forgive the sins of people? The same could be asked of the other things you believe. Why would Jesus, who did so much by His own action, use ordinary water to bring about new life for you? Why would He take simple bread and wine and give to you in and with that bread and wine His very body and blood for your forgiveness?

The answer is faith. He calls upon you to have faith just as He did the disciples. None of them believed. They heard the message from the women who saw His empty tomb. Some of them went themselves to the tomb and saw it empty. They still didn’t believe. Not until Jesus appeared to them did they believe. As we know well, Thomas wasn’t there on that occasion and he didn’t believe the word of every single other disciple. His demands were strict. I must see. I must touch. I must handle with my own hands.

When Jesus appeared to them again, and thankfully Thomas was there this time, Jesus took Thomas up on his demands. Touch here, Thomas. See Me, feel Me. Do not continue in unbelief but believe. He now saw Jesus and as with all the other disciples he believed. All his demands went out the window. He was no longer intent on examining the wounds of Christ, His pierced hands, the wound in His side. Thomas saw Him, and Jesus exhorted him to believe. It is exactly what Thomas did. “My Lord and my God!” He knew the Lord he had doubted was indeed the one who rose from the grave and was therefore his Lord and his God.

So here’s what it means for you to have life in His name. You trust that God gives you everything you need for your ultimate good. The way He does it is through His Son. Eternal life is life in the name of Christ. Jesus is the one who suffered and died and conquered the grave. He invites you to believe even as He did to Thomas. Don’t wonder where your help comes from, it comes from your Lord and God. You are Baptized. He brought you into His death and resurrection in those waters. Don’t fear that you have sinned beyond the pale and fallen so far that there’s no hope, you eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ. If you are taking Him into your being then you have something greater than could ever be if He were standing right in front of you.

When the one God has called preachers to preach the Gospel hear it as if God Himself is speaking to you. When God sends His servant to absolve you of your sins know that it is your Lord Himself forgiving you. The pronouncement of heaven is that you are a citizen of heaven, only here on this earth for a while.

You have life in His name. This means you don’t live to yourself. If you doubt or falter, lay it on Him. He can take it. If you sin, confess your sins to your pastor, you will receive forgiveness. You live in Christ; you know this because you were Baptized into Christ. You are strong even, and especially, in your weakness, because you are strengthened in body and soul by the very body and blood of your Lord and your God. Don’t live in your sins, repent of them. Confess them. Hear the pronouncement of forgiveness and go in the joy of being in Christ.

You have life in His name, you don’t live to yourself. You have compassion on others even as your Lord has compassion on you, even as He had compassion on those disciples who just wouldn’t believe and were afraid. You are ready to forgive others even as you have been forgiven by your Lord. You rejoice in the opportunity to serve others in their need, even as your Lord serves you in your need. You are not your own. You do not simply live and have a pretty good life. You have eternal life. You have life in the name of Christ.

Believe it! It’s true! Amen.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Real Question About Death

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
March 27, 2016
We’re glad it’s here, aren’t we? We have gone through six weeks of Lent. We have meditated on and pondered the suffering and death of Jesus this past week in Holy Week. But today it’s all about rejoicing! It’s Easter! Celebration is the order of the day. Today is not about somber reflection but exultation in the risen Lord.

The Gospel reading today shows us this. The angel says there’s no need to be afraid. Jesus is not here, He has been raised.

At the same time, there’s something the angel brings up that almost seems out of place. He brings up the crucifixion. He doesn’t just say that Jesus was dead but now He’s alive. He brings up to the women that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one. There’s something about Jesus suffering and dying on the cross that is resonant with the proclamation and the fact of the Resurrection.

The apostle Paul says in 1Corinthians 1 that we preach Christ crucified. This is in the same letter where he goes on for a whole chapter laying out the necessity of Jesus rising from the dead and what comes from that. Namely, our resurrection from death.

The angel stands at the tomb. The women have come there expecting to see the dead body of Jesus. They had seen Him die on the cross. They had seen Him being placed in the tomb. Now that they have returned the angel shows them that the one they are seeking is the one who was crucified. He is the one who had been laying here, dead. But He isn’t here any longer because He has been raised. The crucified one is the living one. In Galatians 3 Paul passionately defends the Gospel against those who seek salvation apart from Jesus, saying, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”

In fact, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel and resting on the only certainty there is for salvation, Paul exclaims later on in chapter 6, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The apostles, after Jesus ascended into heaven, did not stop talking about the crucifixion of Christ. It was part and parcel of their Gospel proclamation. In Acts 4 Peter says, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” This lines up almost word for word with the declaration of the angel at the tomb of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus does not erase His crucifixion. It cements its power. The Roman Empire devised this punishment to make a statement. There’s no greater deterrent to crimes against the state than a brutal, public shaming and torturing of criminals. The Roman historian Cicero called it a cruel and disgusting penalty. The Jewish historian Josephus called it the worst of deaths. Jesus willingly and humbly endured this even though He was blameless. This worst of deaths has become His glory.

There’s a reason for this. There’s a reason the angel didn’t just say that Jesus was alive. There’s a reason the apostles continued to proclaim and the Church continues to proclaim Jesus as the Crucified One. It is because His death was not simply a crucifixion. It was a death that dealt with the real question about death. What Jesus did on the cross was not simply die a horrific death. He suffered something far worse than death. In the Collect of the Day which we prayed earlier we see that God the Father, through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, has overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life to us.

There are some people who do not fear death. Some people see it as a release from this life. Some fear it and go to extraordinary measures to prevent it. But there’s a reason Jesus went through what He did, suffering as He did, being crucified. Jesus did not suffer on the cross to prevent us from physical death. The real question about death is answered in what we prayed for in the Collect: “Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit.” The end of this life is not that we will die. It is that the death that awaits us is the death of sin.

This is why Jesus is forever the Crucified One. It is why He is extolled even now in heaven and for all eternity as the Lamb who was slain, as we see from the book of Revelation. When John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus he pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the Epistle reading Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”

The great victory of the Resurrection is not that you won’t die. It is that He has conquered the death of sin. In Christ you have life eternal even though you will die. In John 11 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, those who believe in Him, even though they die, will live because they are raised from the death of sin by the life-giving Spirit of God.

This was the confidence Job had in his Lord. In the Old Testament reading he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” He knew he would die some day. But he knew it was not the end. He knew dying in his sin would separate him from his Lord. But his Lord lived. His Lord was his Redeemer. Even after he would die and his skin would waste away, he would be raised. He would see his Lord in the flesh.

The Lord who was crucified is the risen Lord. The Lord who was raised is the Crucified One. He is the Paschal Lamb who was sacrificed. He bore the sin of the world. This prompts Paul to say in the Epistle reading, “Let us celebrate the festival.” Before we will partake of this festival, the very Supper of our Lord, our prayer in the Communion liturgy will be, “And most especially are we bound to praise You on this day for the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. By His dying He has destroyed death, and by His rising again He has restored to us everlasting life.”

These words point to the central act of what Jesus has accomplished in His crucifixion: He was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. There is no sin that escaped the action of Christ in bearing sin. There is nothing you have done or could do that can undo what Christ accomplished in His suffering and death. It was in that action He accomplished salvation for the world.

When the women heard the proclamation of the angel that Jesus the Crucified One was now living they were met with a new reality. Nothing in life or death matters if you are left in your sin. If you reject what Christ has already accomplished for you, you will die and not just end up in the grave. You will be separated from God forever and suffer far greater than anything you could imagine in this life.

He doesn’t want that for you. That is why Jesus was forsaken in your place. He died in your place. He lives and because He lives you live. Free from sin. Free from death. In your flesh you will see God, the Lamb who was slain, the Crucified One, the Risen Lord. Amen.


Friday, March 25, 2016

How Does God See Us?

Good Friday
The Annunciation of Our Lord
March 25, 2016
If you look at this day from an outside perspective it looks odd. Why would we observe a day in which we are saying that it is good that God died? Why would the meaning of it, that salvation has been accomplished, be expressed in such a somber, and even dreary, fashion? And since we already know that Jesus rose from the dead, why is it necessary to observe His crucifixion?

These aren’t just the questions of people looking at Christianity from the outside. Even to us Good Friday seems a bit curious. Christmas we get. Easter we get. Pentecost, all the other great celebrations of the Church Year. But why do we need to focus on the event in which Jesus ends up lifeless on a cross and taken down to be buried? Is there something about it that we would lose if we just skipped it?

We can answer this by looking at how God sees us. How does God view us, in light of the fact that we are fallen, sinful creatures? We don’t even get past the First Commandment before we sin against Him. How does the holy God see us when we are not as we ought to be, when we look to other things for our good?

The answer is Good Friday. Maybe this is why this day seems so odd, so different. On no other day do we get a clearer picture of what God has in mind for us. In His holiness He must do the only thing that is just, which is damn us to hell. But in His mercy, He does something radically different. He forgives us. He takes the condemnation we rightly deserve and pours it on His Son. His Son bears all of our sin.

This is how He sees us. He sees us as people He loves so much that He will not leave us to our own way but rather save us. He sees us as ones whom He created and will go to any length to restore us, even giving His own Son for us.

The crucifixion of Jesus brings to fruition God’s action of sending His Son to us. Jesus, fully God and one with the Father, became a man, a human being, just as you and I are. This is called the incarnation, God becoming flesh. We confess in the Nicene Creed, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” This year the day Good Friday falls on is actually the date in the Church Year we observe the incarnation of our Lord, March 25. It is known as the Annunciation of Our Lord, and is the day observing the annunciation, the announcement, of the angel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a Son.

This conception would be miraculous, of the Holy Sprit. The child born to her would the Son of God. He would be the Savior of the world. He would be conceived and born in order to suffer and die. How God sees us is seen in His sending His Son to be born of the Virgin and to be forsaken on the cross. How God sees us is shown in Him sending the angel Gabriel to a simple woman who was not yet married and so unable to become pregnant if she were to be faithful to God’s holy commandments. And yet this one woman was the vessel which bore another individual, He being the only one who would bear the sin of every person who ever lived.

If Good Friday seems odd, it’s only because the whole thing seems surreal. God becoming a human being. God living on this earth, the world He created, among the people He created. Being hungry, getting tired, subject to temptation. Being God Almighty and yet scorned, rejected, or simply ignored. And finally falsely condemned to death. It’s not really what you would think would make up a religion.

But Good Friday is the day of the great Reversal. It is the day where God upends any notion we have that everything is okay with us. It shows us that sin is a blight in the world and it leads to death. But the great thing is that it shows us how God sees us. In the reversal, God has mercy on us instead of judgment. He gives forgiveness instead of wrath. The prayer of the Church on Good Friday is encapsulated in the Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinful men to suffer death upon the cross.”

It is through our Lord Jesus Christ willingly being betrayed and delivered to death on a cross that leads God the Father to graciously behold us as His Family. How God sees us is made known in what He was doing on Good Friday. In the Epistle Paul says “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” This is how God sees us, as reconciled to Him on account of Christ. Paul goes on to say of Jesus, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

He became sin in our place. We, in the great reversal, are without sin. We are forgiven. In the Old Testament reading Isaiah proclaims eloquently the great sacrifice and act of love of God toward us in Christ:

      He was pierced for our transgressions;
      He was crushed for our iniquities;
                  upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
      and with His wounds we are healed.
                   All we like sheep have gone astray;
      we have turned—every one—to his own way;
                  and the Lord has laid on Him
      the iniquity of us all.

On Good Friday God looked upon all humankind, the very people He created, and then He looked at His Son. His Son was holy, pure, blameless. And yet, His eternal love moved Him to place on His Son our sins, as the Old Testament reading says, “He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

In the crowning act of Good Friday, Jesus spoke words of triumph before His final breath left Him, as we heard in the Passion Account from the Gospel According to John. Having born the sin of the world, having borne the chastisement that has brought us peace, He proclaimed, “It is finished.” Salvation, accomplished. Reconciliation with God, done. Sinners, forgiven.

This is what God thinks of us. It is how He sees us. If you are ever in doubt, look to the cross. If you ever wonder what God thinks of you, how He sees you, what He desires for you, look to the one He sent to show you how He sees you. Christ is the one who accomplished salvation, and because He has, God forever sees you as His beloved sons and daughters, graciously beholding His Family. Amen.