Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Protection of the Fold

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 29, 2007
John 10:22-30

How does it feel when you find out you’re not what you thought you were? When, in fact, you’re the opposite of what you thought you were?

This happened to a group of shepherds one time. They were out in their fields doing what shepherds do, taking care of their sheep. Next thing they knew they were being told about some baby that was just born and before they knew it they were standing before Him.

This is when they found out that they weren’t shepherds at all. They were in fact the opposite of what they had thought for their whole career. They were actually what they had been taking care of—they were sheep.

And that little baby they were seeing was what they thought they were—He was a shepherd. But not just any shepherd. Not one who would eventually find Himself in a field taking care of woolly animals.

The Shepherd. The Good Shepherd.

What do you do when you find out you’re the opposite of what you thought you were? When you look beyond your Good Shepherd and gaze on greener pastures elsewhere. When you’re faced with difficult decisions in your life: your health, the health of your loved one who can’t take care of themselves, your job, your relationships. Maybe being a sheep in God’s fold isn’t all its cracked up to be. Maybe I’m not getting enough guidance from the Church because I don’t always know what’s right when I’m having to make these difficult decisions.

When you’re reading or studying the Bible and you realize something must be wrong because you’re taught in Church that the Bible makes things clearer for us but you’re really just getting more confused. When you’re told that you should pray more and that God listens to our prayers but it really seems like nothing is being accomplished because it doesn’t seem like He’s hearing you at all.

If you could just get over to those greener pastures, where worship, your daily Christian life, your personal devotions, are lively and fulfilling. If only you could be released from you’re your confines so there’s no more struggles with temptation and your sinful flesh.

But what do you do when you find out who you really are? How does it affect you when you see who your Good Shepherd is? When you see that you’re really just a sheep in Jesus’ fold you’re going to find out exactly what Jesus thinks of you. You will see why those shepherds bowed before the tiny baby, the true Shepherd, because they just guided around bleating animals.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He has brought you into His fold. What does the Good Shepherd do when one of His sheep breaks for “greener” pastures? He leaves the rest behind. He Himself goes out from the fold and searches for that one searching for something better but is really in unsafe territory.

It’s in the protection of the fold you find out who you really are. You are a child in the Heavenly Kingdom. A member of the holy eternal Church of the triune God. You hear the voice of your Savior, your Shepherd and keeper. You gaze out now and then. Those pastures out there look awfully green and lush. But you hear the voice of your Shepherd. He may not seem to be attending to your every need, but He knows you and you follow Him.

He gave you a long cool drink when He brought you into His fold. In the waters of Baptism your soul’s thirst was quenched. Since then you’ve gone back to the well of your Baptism, repenting of your sins, drinking in that cool refreshing forgiveness He loves to satisfy you with.

He gives you eternal life. Drinking from His well, you will never perish. He brought you into His fold to protect you. No one can snatch you out of His hand. Satan can’t do it. The world can’t do it. Your sinful flesh is constantly longing for those greener pastures, but you hear the voice of your Shepherd. You hear that Gospel coming into your ears as the sweet message that your Good Shepherd has laid down His life for His sheep.

You drink deeply from His well. But you still seem a bit dry? Being in His fold means you are under the care of your of Your Good Shepherd. He gives you to drink and He sustains you with His Heavenly food. What shepherd do you know of that gives himself as food for his sheep to eat? There’s only one—the Good Shepherd, the one who laid down His life for His sheep and gives Himself, His body and blood, for us to be strengthened.

There’s protection in the fold. This is where your Good Shepherd feeds you and sustains you. With His Word, in the refreshing waters of your Baptism, in His very Body and Blood. Hear His voice. He knows you. He will never let you go. No one can snatch you away. He gave His life for you so that you may be in His fold forever.

He protects you and keeps you. Here is where you need to be. In His fold. In His loving care and protection. Where you hear His voice. Where you hear Him call you by name. You are not what you were. Your sins are forgiven. You are His forever. Amen.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

The LCMS—Then and Today

On this date in 1847 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was officially organized in Chicago at First Saint Paul Lutheran Church. The operating budget was $118.32 and 3/4 cents.

I'm wondering where the quarter of a cent went.

And also if we were to get rid of all our money in our synod (okay, except for maybe a hundred dollars or so (and at least 3/4 of a cent)) if we could get back to confessional Lutheranism where we began.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mark, Evangelist

The four evangelists were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Gospel account of Jesus Christ. The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word “Gospel”. From the beginning of Mark’s Gospel account there is no doubt that the words he put to paper are about Jesus and His precious Gospel.

It must have been a rude awakening, then, when Paul, on one of his missionary trips, refused to have Mark along anymore [Acts 15:36-40]. What about the Gospel? What about the love of Christ? Why did Paul and Mark allow whatever tension was between them to get in the way of the spread of the Gospel?

Both Mark and Paul confess in their respective Gospel account and letters that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Paul and Mark were like every other human being that has ever lived—they were sinners. They let their egos get in the way of the work God had called them to do.

And yet God still used them. We forever benefit from the words the Holy Spirit inspired Mark [his Gospel account] and Paul [thirteen letters] to write. The mission work continued on despite the split up between them. And later on down the line there was reconciliation between the two men [2 Timothy 4:11]. Mark was privileged to be a recipient of the grace of the one he was inspired to write of. Because of that inspiration of the Holy Spirit we, too, know of Jesus and are recipients of His grace.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Your Triduum, Your Life

Do you know what a triduum is? It's one of those fancy liturgical terms that most people don’t know about or don't even care about.

But everybody knows what the events are that make up the Triduum. Actually, I became a bit confused when looking into the Triduum—but it became one of those moments that got me thinking about something important I otherwise might not have thought about; something that applies to our daily lives.

The word triduum is Latin, “tri” referring to “three” and “duum” to “days”. So “three days”. But I realized I made an incorrect assumption as to which three days are referred to in the Triduum.

I thought it was the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday—the day of the Last Supper, the day of Christ’s death, and the day of Christ’s resurrection. The Triduum, however, refers to the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, being a period of preparation for the festival of the Resurrection.

There’s an important question in all of this: who is Christ and what did He come to do? A “triduum” can be a wonderful way of seeing exactly that.

The triduum of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection encapsulate who He is and what He has done for us. He is God and yet became a man, humbling Himself for our sakes in order to die on the cross for the sin of the world, and conquering the grave by rising from it.

This is the “triduum” of salvation you could say. How this applies to us is obvious in that who He is and what He has done He is for us and has done for us. Further, His “triduum” has become our triduum. In Baptism we are born to new life. We die to sin and are raised to new life.

There are many important events in your life. You might say, though, that the “triduum” of your life is your birth, your Baptism, and your death. These three events in your life correspond to Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.

God is the author of life and that applies to you personally as He granted you life in your birth. He is also the giver of salvation which He did in your Baptism. Even though death is not in the natural part of God’s plan, it is actually the entry way into heaven for you, as He will raise you from your grave. This is your life, new and eternal in Christ.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Coming to Terms with Suffering

Third Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Luke 24:33-43

The slaughter at Virginia Tech this past week was one of the worst in American history. I don’t think those mourning the loss of their loved ones care about that fact, they’re just trying to come to terms with their pain and their loss. I don’t think it softens anything for them either that similar kinds of tragedies occur often in some parts of the world. When we’re faced with our own suffering we’re not comforted by those who tell us that things could always be worse.

There’s one question in heaven we’ll never ask: Why? In this life, though, we’re troubled with certain things that happen. Why did the student brutally murder so many innocent people? Why couldn’t he have dealt with his problems in some other way? Why is there so much suffering in the world? And when we ourselves suffer we wonder why it’s happening to us.

We don’t do well with suffering. And we’re Christians. Imagine how those who have no hope in Christ deal with suffering. Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel reading that we don’t know how to deal with suffering. Not only everybody, but even us Christians. We don’t know how to suffer. We don’t understand why we suffer. And most of all we don’t want to come to terms with suffering.

We’re so used to rejoicing in the event of Easter that we forget what all was involved in that day. We’re well-familiar with the main thing—Christ rose from the grave. But there was something else going on that day: suffering. But wasn’t Easter Sunday the day of joy and happiness? Wasn’t Good Friday the day of suffering? Yes, all that’s true. But even though Jesus’ suffering was done when He died, the disciples were suffering even on Easter Sunday. Even after Jesus had risen from His tomb!

First, they were locked in their room. They were scared for their very lives. They thought any moment the same powers that hauled Jesus off to trial and crucifixion would come for them. They thought all their hope and faith was pummeled with the scourging and death of Jesus. Here He had promised them He was the Messiah and would redeem them and now He was dead. Not even the message of the women that His body was not in the tomb and that the angels said He was alive could change the facts of what they knew—Jesus was gone; they had no hope.

Here is where we see the cause of their suffering: their own sinful flesh. Their lack of belief in their Savior. There are actually multiple reasons why there is suffering. We always want to know why there’s suffering or why it happens to us. Every time we hear what the reasons are that doesn’t lessen the suffering. It doesn’t make it easier to bear. Maybe it seems even worse because we now know why we’re suffering—either it’s meant to be or we’re the cause of it.

Because what we really have trouble with is God allowing us to suffer. Even if He isn’t the cause of it, why has He saved us only to allow us to experience severe trials? The reason we have trouble with this is because our sinful flesh wants to have no part of suffering.

Jesus does something remarkable. Well, everything Jesus does is remarkable, because He is God. But while it’s a supernatural act of Him coming into their presence without going through the door, the really remarkable thing He did was eat that broiled fish. Because while He had already stood before them so they could see Him… And while He had invited them to touch His hands and side so that they could feel that it was really Him… When He ate the fish He showed us what suffering is really about: He remained in His body. It was glorified now, of course. But it was the same body.

He did not disdain the body He carried from birth that had been beaten and bloodied and nailed to the cross. He did not cast it off as He had the linen cloths that had wrapped Him up in the tomb. He remained in His earthly physical body when He didn’t have to. Because that’s how He comes to us—real-ly, if that’s a word.

The fact is Jesus prepares us to suffer, so that we may be glorified. It was only through His suffering that there is the glory of salvation. It is only through suffering that we even realize we need God. A Savior, a Helper, a Fortress. God knows we do enough suffering because of our own sinful things we do. We bring much suffering upon ourself. But there is suffering that God brings upon us and also allows to happen to us.

What is Jesus’ answer to us in our suffering? He comes to us with Himself. He speaks to us of His peace.

In the first reading Ananias felt like the disciples did. Jesus was telling him that he needed to go to Paul and Baptize him. But Ananias feared for his life. How can you place this kind of trial on me? You know what Jesus’ response to him was? I will show Paul how much he must suffer on account of Me.

Now that’s some kind of call, isn’t it? Here Paul, you’re this hot-shot religious leader that’s going to stamp out the heresy of more and more people following a false god. You got everything in control. You’re smart, you’re talented, you’ve got power, you’ve got it all. But I’m going to convert you, and you know what’s going to happen? You’re going to suffer.

Did Paul say No thanks? Nope. He rejoiced in his new life in Christ. Jesus is the one who really suffered, and didn’t have to. If I am called to suffer, it’s not anything I don’t deserve. If I must suffer, it’s not anything that will last. If I must suffer, it’s not anything beyond what God will enable me to bear.

Search your heart and mind. Do you really believe you’re better off without suffering? If you’re unwilling to take up your cross and follow Jesus, who are you following? If you don’t know the answer, when you get home today look in the mirror. That’s all you’ll need to know. Christ offers a better way. It’s the way of suffering, yes. It’s hard and not always enjoyable, yes. It’s seems like it’s more trouble than what it’s worth, true.

But it’s God’s way and therefore the right way and the best way. It’s the way of eternal life. It’s the way of holding out your hope in Him and Him alone. Your suffering won’t be easier when you trust in Him alone. But it will be the very means by which God Himself strengthens you beyond what you can describe. It may not give you peace of mind, but you will have peace. Peace that passes all understanding. Peace that guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

That’s what Jesus gives. Because He doesn’t just say He gives peace, He gives Himself. And when He gives Himself, He gives peace. Amen.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Anselm of Canterbury

Born in Italy in 1033, Anselm is most closely associated with England, where he served as Archbishop of Canterbury for many years. A brilliant scholar and writer, Anselm used his political skills with the British kings on behalf of the established Christian church, affirming that it is the leadership of the church and not the state which has the responsibility of establishing structure and maintaining order among the clergy. Anselm is especially remembered for his classic book, Why God Became Man, which taught that the reason for the incarnation was that Jesus, the Son of God, would suffer and die in place of sinners.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Beginning to See

Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Luke 24:13-32

We’re always needing to learn to see.

When you really think about what there is to see, that we are able to see, you realize how truly great a blessing it is to be able to see. Seeing the shimmer of the Northern Lights and the variation in the colors gives you the realization that you are seeing one of the most beautiful things in creation. Seeing a sunset take shape and then transform into something even more spectacular than when it first caught your eye is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have. Seeing your newborn baby gives you pause to wonder if there is anything more wonderful than life in its newness.

When we can see a whole world is before us. We can take in beauty that really is hard to describe. Sometimes you just have to see it to absorb the greatness that is before you. We are grateful for this gift and marvel at what a gift it is.

Here’s the thing, though. We are always learning to see. We don’t really know how to see. To really see, that is. Yes, we can with our eyes, and we ought often to give thanks to God for that gift. But people in hell will still have their eyes. They will see all right, but they will forever be tormented in what they see and what they suffer. Those of us who can see in this life need to know that we don’t see all there is. All that we need to see.

We can’t see it with our eyes. It is sight, sure enough. It is truly seeing. But it is a sight that sees what is invisible. It’s not even a sight that is like a superpower, such as Superman might have. It is seeing those things that are more real than what we can see with our eyes in that they are eternal.

The sun will not always set, because this world will end. The Northern Lights will not always glimmer, because everything we see with our eyes will be destroyed. Everything except people. Our soul and body are eternal. Everything else will be no more. So enjoy everything you can see while you can. That’s why God gave us His creation, so that we may enjoy it. But we need to see beyond it, also. We need to look to those things that can’t be seen with our eyes, because they are the things that will last. They are eternal.

So how do we do that? Well, we’re learning to see. When you’re born, you open your eyes and you can see. There’s no learning curve, you either can see or you can’t. But with the things that are unseen, it’s not something that comes naturally to us. We’re always being shown how to see in this way.

The one who does so is Himself invisible. He’s not unseen though. We can see Him. But we have to learn how to see Him. The kicker is that He shows Himself to us in places and ways where we don’t expect Him. That’s why it’s tough to learn to really see. Because we want to see God with our eyes. We don’t want to go through the struggle of finding God.

It’s much easier to look to the west and see that gorgeous sunset. This is how seeing should be. Why does God want us to go through the trials of hardship and pain and have us somehow believe that He’s there when it most seems He’s not? Why does God offer so many signs of weakness and even absurdity when we would expect the all powerful God to simply show us in a way where there’s no doubt? Jesus is truly God but came as a little baby. He Himself said He could call upon His army of angels but quietly let the soldiers arrest Him. He is eternal and yet He suffered death on the cross.

Did you notice that that is how the disciples of Emmaus were seeing things? They had seen Jesus for three years. Now He was gone. Dead. In a tomb. But even there He was gone, nowhere to be seen. There was no hope. They’d have to keep searching. But it was all based on seeing with their eyes. That is why Jesus prevented them from seeing Him with their eyes. Because then they wouldn’t have really seen Him.

It was only when Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them. Only when He showed them that they point to Him, that He gave them true sight to see. They would have seen Him that day even if they had been blind. Because they finally saw Him when He broke bread and gave it to them.

Here is the Word made flesh giving us bread and wine to eat and drink. That’s how we see. Not with our eyes. With our ears and mouths. We hear His Word spoken, as He did with the Emmaus disciples. We eat His body and drink His blood in the Supper He offers us.

I know. I’m right there with everyone else who looks at that altar. Sees the bread, looks at the wine, and says, It doesn’t look like much. And how could you not agree? Jesus didn’t look like much to the Emmaus disciples either. But He was Christ. The Lord. Jesus.

So He is in His Holy Supper. It doesn’t look like much, but it is the very Supper of our Lord in which He shows Himself to us. So that we may truly see Him. Not with our eyes. Not in some passing vision, as a sunset will pass away in a matter of minutes. But we will be seeing what does not pass away. Our Lord Himself.

Right now we’re just learning to see. We’re beginning to see. Then we will see face to face. We can’t begin to imagine the glory we will see with our new eyes in heaven. We will see our Lord face to face. For now we see Him not with our eyes but with true sight nonetheless.

Don’t walk around as the disciples of Emmaus did, wondering where it all went wrong—where in the world is God. Come to His table often. There you will see Him. There He makes Himself known in the breaking of bread. Amen.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

God Makes an Investment in Life

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Sunday
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Luke 24:1-12

There’s three people I want to talk to you about today, none of whom are in the Gospel reading for today.

There’s quite a cast of characters in the Resurrection account. There’s the women, of course. They were faithfully carrying out their duties in tenderly caring for Jesus’ lifeless body. There were those angels that they met. Expecting to see Jesus, they saw angels instead; announcing that they wouldn’t find Jesus here after all. And then of course there were the disciples, dense as ever. Whaddaya mean, Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb? They thought the women were crazy. Peter, of course, had to find out for himself and could only go away from the tomb scratching his head.

But the first of the people we’re going to look at today is actually a group; and actually referred to by the angels when they spoke to the women: the Pharisees. The second is the main one in all of this: Jesus. The reason He’s not in the Resurrection account is because His followers were looking for Him in the wrong place. They were looking in the tomb so He had to go searching for them. The third we’ll come to in a bit.

The Pharisees tried to make the empty tomb of Jesus a crime scene. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, His disciples stole His body so that they could tell people that He rose from the dead. This is who the Pharisees were. They made an investment in themselves and they weren’t going to let some preacher from Galilee rein in their power. They had to go to all costs to stop Him. And they actually were successful. They got Pilate to sentence Him to death. Their problems were all over.

You know what the three year ministry of Jesus was in many ways? It was an assault on the Pharisees. They were plump with their own self-righteousness. They were bloated with their own notions of what they needed in a god. Jesus came to tear all that down. And they knew it. That’s why they fought back. And it all ended in His lifeless body laying in that tomb.

Everybody knew it. That’s why the women went there on Sunday. That’s why the disciples didn’t even bother to get out of the house on Sunday, because it was all over, what was the point?

But there was one person who didn’t get the memo. And that was the one that everybody either was against or had given up on—Jesus Himself. He tossed off those linen bindings. He scorned that cave that had encased His lifeless body. He wasn’t sticking around where everybody thought He would remain.

Jesus’ assault on the Pharisees was an assault on death. Their delusion that they could stand in righteousness in themselves was really an investment in death. And that’s what Jesus was after. He would go to war against death even to His dying breath. Jesus could not sit idly by and watch the Pharisees destroy themselves eternally. So He attacked their notions of self-goodness and pride. Ultimately this came in His giving up His very own life. Not just to show what humility is all about. To take on Himself the punishment for our sins. Our pride. Our guilt. Our lack of being truly obedient to God.

God’s investment is in life, not death. To see what Jesus came to do we really need to take a hard look at those Pharisees. Because Jesus came to destroy them. He came to destroy them so that they could be raised to new life. We need to see that Peter and the disciples and the women, they were no better than the Pharisees. They did not put their hope in Jesus Christ, the one who died for their sins. They did not believe His Word, as the angels reminded them that He had spoken to them that He would die, but also rise.

We need to see this. And when we do we will see that the third person is you and me. We’re Pharisees. We don’t want Jesus coming around and putting us to death. We want Him to let us be ourselves. We don’t want Him to strip us of all our pride.

But God makes an investment in life, not death. His assault is on you because His assault is on death. He won’t sit idly by and watch you lose eternity because of you’re wanting an easy ride in this life. Don’t look for Him among the dead, in the darkness of your heart and your unclean thoughts. Look for Him among the living, in the clear waters of Baptism that washed over you. Don’t seek Him in the tomb of your false notions of pride and self-righteousness. Find Him in His Holy Supper, where He refreshes you with His Body and Blood.

Get rid of your investment in yourself. Stand back and marvel that the Lord of Creation has made an investment in life—He’s made an investment in you. Christ is no longer in the tomb. His investment has no end. Amen.


Friday, April 6, 2007

Sticking with Jesus

Good Friday
Friday, April 6, 2007
Luke 22:28

“You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials.”

Here we see the remarkable grace of God. How Jesus could make such a statement is really beyond comprehension. You can search far and wide and you won’t find what Jesus is talking about. The disciples had done anything but stick with Him in His trials. Oh sure, they were still His disciples. They still believed in Him.

But was Jesus really content with their feeble attempts to remain with Him? It’s more than just physically sticking with someone. Jesus demands our heart and soul, not just our mind and body. We can recount numerous occasions when the disciples let Jesus down. When they strayed from Him. When they aided and abetted the enemy.

And though it hadn’t happened yet when Jesus spoke these words, He knew what they would do when He was arrested, on trial, and crucified—they didn’t stick with Him in His trials!

So what is Jesus talking about here? Just trying to make them feel good? Sort of like, Hey guys, you did the best you could, and I’m proud of you.

Hardly. That’s not the way a real god works. And being as Jesus is true God, He couldn’t have meant that. No, what He’s doing here is acting in the way God works—in grace. Jesus was more aware than anyone, including the disciples who were with Him for three years, that He was alone in His trials.

There was no one He could count on. No one He could turn to. No one who extended a hand to help Him. No one who fought for Him to try to prevent His arrest.

No one staying with Him in His trials.

This is the grace of God. He did it all. He went through the trials of temptation, of suffering on our behalf, of dying for the sins of the world—by Himself. No one did or could do it with Him. Or help Him in it. God the Father Himself forsook Him. Jesus was alone on that cross. Suffering for the sin of the world.

The grace of God is beyond our comprehension. It doesn’t compute with us. Because we can’t understand why God would do that. We can’t understand Gift as it really is: God has accomplished eternal salvation for you in what He has done. In His trial. His suffering. His being alone on that cross.

Why? So that we may be with Him. Not because we stayed faithfully by His side. Not because we were raised by Christian parents and have continued to go to church ever since. Not because we come around here every Sunday. Not because we live such a good and devout life.

Because of Christ. Because of His trials. His suffering. His death. His accomplishing of salvation for us. We are with Him because He has stuck with us. The fact that we, like the disciples, stay with Him in His trials is because of Baptism. He joins us to Himself in Baptism. He’s the one who brings us into the relationship in which we are with Him in His trials.

In Baptism we are joined with Him in His death. When we’re joined with Him in His death that means we die. Our sinful flesh is crucified. When we are crucified a new man is raised up in its place. We are joined with Christ in His suffering so that we may be joined with Him in His life.

It’s a life that can only be attributed to grace. In which God brings about these amazing things in us and then rejoices that we have them. We have stuck with Jesus in His trials. Praise God! Because He has brought it about. We do good works and come here on Sundays for worship. That’s wonderful. Because He brings it about.

We should never forget the grace of God. Without it we are nothing. With it we have everything. In Christ alone we have new life, eternal life, life with Him. By His grace. By His trials alone. By His suffering and death. By His eternal love that brought Him to take our place and give us glory in heaven that is beyond our comprehension. Amen.


Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Messy Work of God

Maundy Thursday
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Luke 22:7-20

“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.”

Dear Friends in Christ, you know what Christianity is all about? The Bible? Your Christian life? God’s salvation for the world?

It’s about blood.

You know what Christianity, salvation, the Bible, is? Well, it sounds like something a Brit would say: it’s a bloody mess.

You know what this night, tomorrow, and Easter Sunday is all about? It’s about blood. Death. Sacrifice. It’s about a harsh reality: life does not happen for us without death. Without blood. Without the whole bloody mess of sacrifice being offered.

Why were the Jews 1500 odd years after the Passover was instituted still sacrificing that Passover lamb? It was just a ritual, wasn’t it? Couldn’t the people of God be forgiven just by praying to God and knowing that He does, in fact, forgive His people? Why do they have to go through the whole mess of slaughtering a poor animal just to know and receive forgiveness of their sin?

God is spirit. He is not bound by space and time as we are. He is eternal. He doesn’t have hands as you and I have. He is above the limitations of the physical world.

But He deals in a very physical way. In blood. In a physical animal being sacrificed. The animal’s blood being shed on behalf of the people of God. He deals in a messy way. He doesn’t leave us to our own imaginations to wonder whether or not we receive forgiveness from Him. It’s real. It’s tangible. It’s a spiritual reality delivered in a physical way. In a way we can see, feel, smell. It’s messy, but we know what’s happening. An animal is being sacrificed. Its lifeblood is being removed from it. In the shedding of blood is forgiveness.

So Luke matter-of-factly says: “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” So that’s what they did. They sacrificed the lamb. They prepared and ate the meal God had instituted in His delivering them from Egyptian slavery. Their celebration of the Passover was a celebration of life. Of deliverance by God. Deliverance not just from slavery but from death. From sin. In the meal forgiveness was delivered.

This meal came at a price, however. It came at the cost of shedding of blood. An animal had to die in order for them to have their celebration of life. Their restoration to God. Their forgiveness of sin. There should be no cavalier attitude toward all of this. It comes at a price. We must always remember that.

So Luke reminds us that the time came for the festival in which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Do we fall into the trap of treating the gifts of God lightly? Of forgetting that they have come at a price? The price of the shedding of blood? That the work of God in saving us and forgiving us is a messy business? That He gives us life at the expense of His own Son? That our salvation is at the cost of the death of Christ?

That the Lamb who was sacrificed was Jesus Christ Himself?

In this meal we eat here tonight there is no sacrifice made. God has done away with that in the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son. In this Supper we partake of there is no messy shedding of blood we participate in. Our God has offered up the pure Lamb on behalf of the world. In this Sacrament there is only the giving of the body and blood of Christ for you to eat and drink. The sacrifice has been offered on the cross. The salvation from that sacrifice is delivered to you in this Meal. The shedding of blood has been accomplished. In this Holy Communion Christ who has been raised gives you Himself as He gave Himself on the cross.

The shedding of blood was done often in the Old Testament. An animal was offered up time and time again in order for the people of God to be forgiven their sins. We are the New Testament people of God. We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ often. There is no more shedding of blood. The Lamb of God has shed His blood on Calvary. He gives you His body that was offered up and His blood that was shed in this Meal. His sacrifice was the one sacrifice for all time and for all people.

His gift to you is eternal life. It’s found here in His Supper. It’s found in the God who Himself provided the Lamb for the sin of the world—His very own Son, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Pilgrim People

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Luke 19:28-40

What is Jesus doing on Palm Sunday? He’s processing. He’s riding into Jerusalem as the Messiah King. The one who will bring victory to His people. That’s what we like. We like the power and glamor associated with processionals and victory. We should also notice what the other people were doing on Palm Sunday.

They’re not processing. They’re pilgriming. They’re on a pilgrimage. That’s because Jesus is the one who does the processionals. We’re the ones who hail Him. We’re the ones who are on the pilgrimage. That’s who we are, we Christians. We’re a pilgrim people. This is a day we remember as a day of rejoicing but it’s also the day that begins the week forever known as Holy Week. And we know how that went. Jesus ended up suffering and dying on the cross.

So we come here for worship and it’s not all glitz and glamour. There’s a somberness to this day and this week. Why can’t we just rejoice and sing Alleluias all the time? Why do we need to have this talk of pilgrimage? Apparently there are churches that don’t even have worship on Good Friday. They skip right to Easter Sunday. Maybe some people just don’t like thinking about the suffering and death of Jesus. Maybe they just want to do the rejoicing part.

But we forget who we are. We’re a pilgrim people. We’re on a pilgrimage. Palm Sunday is a spectacular event. Jesus is shown in His glory. But the disciples? Mundane tasks. Go get a donkey. It’s got to be done. We’re on a pilgrimage. Jesus gives us the tasks to do to carry out the work for Him to be shown in His glory. When you’re there you may wonder if Jesus has gotten things right. That’s the way it is on a pilgrimage. You sometimes have second thoughts. You sometimes want to go back home where things are normal and safe. It’s great to celebrate the power of Jesus, but why do we have to go on a pilgrimage to get there? If there are people there who wonder what you’re doing with that donkey, you simply tell them that God is the one who’s behind this. While you’re saying it you may be wondering yourself why you’re doing it and if God really is behind it.

We’d rather process, wouldn’t we? We’d rather be caught up in the glory of the procession. Doesn’t God promise us glory and great blessings? Aren’t we offered an eternal place in heaven? Doesn’t God tell us of His eternal gifts that are ours in His grace? But those often appear a shadow or a faint hope. Right now we’re on a pilgrimage. Things don’t look very glorious now. The bills pile up. The body keeps breaking down. For that matter, the house does too. And maybe it seems like your marriage isn’t in much better condition. Things might not even be much better at work. We’re not waltzing through life, we’re just trying to get through it.

We don’t make things any easier for ourselves, either. We treat God as a last resort and blame Him when it seems that He’s treating us that way. We say we have no other gods but don’t trust in Him fully. We worry about things, wishing that our way through our problems could be a processional rather than a pilgrimage. We’re really not all that strong spiritually in and of ourselves when we hear Jesus say that the rocks on the side of the road could just as well proclaim His praises if we were to be silent.

Being a pilgrim is not glamorous. And it’s hard.

Why does Jesus send us on a pilgrimage? Why does it have to be a hard thing to be a Christian? Well Jesus’ answer to that is not just in what the people were doing on that Palm Sunday. It’s also and mainly in what Jesus was doing on that Palm Sunday. And He was processing, yes. But while it appeared to be all glorious and powerful, Jesus was really doing this not for the sake of it itself. He was doing it really in order to get to something else—and we know what that was. It was the cross.

It was suffering and death. Now here’s a switch. This processional of Jesus ends up to be more like a pilgrimage. Not so glorious. Not so powerful. But hard. Jesus riding in in glory, yet humbly, on a donkey. Honored, yet weak. Even though they didn’t realize it. But that’s because they didn’t see Jesus for who He really is. For why He really came.

It was to go on a pilgrimage. In our place. Being born in a musty cave. Working with wood for thirty odd years. Going for forty days without food in the wilderness. Being tempted by the Evil One for those forty days. And now His pilgrimage has brought Him to this point. Where He rides into Jerusalem to His death. Why are we perplexed about our own pilgrimage when we see Jesus for who He really is and why He came?

If God delivered to our lap the glory He’s promised us and we could simply breeze through life, how many of us do you think would still think that we even need Him? No, it is the pilgrims who know that they’re in need. It is they who realize that there is something greater and bigger than they are. It is in going through the pilgrimage that we come to see that our God takes care of us. That He has a plan all along and it is to bring us to the eternal glory of heaven.

It sure didn’t appear that God’s plan was working. Jesus processes into Jerusalem with the whole crowd behind Him, only to brutally suffer and lose His life. Nobody saw glory in that. Nobody except God, that is. That is how His plan came about. It was in that pilgrimage to the cross that His glory was brilliantly manifested.

It won’t always seem like this pilgrimage is worth it for us. Pilgrims have second thoughts along the way. Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Can’t it just be easy, at least for a while? But God sustains us along the way. We carry with us a treasure that we can’t lose no matter what our pilgrimage brings us through—Baptism. Remember, always, you are Baptized.

You can’t go back and change the fact of your birth. Your mom gave birth to you and the rest is history. Neither can you or anybody else go back and change the day you were born into the glorious Kingdom of God. You are Baptized. Always. This is what you need to know while you’re on your pilgrimage. This is the possession, the treasure, you need to have when you’re facing dark days. Hang on to that, your Baptism, because your Baptism is God’s way of hanging on to you.

God picks us up while we’re on the pilgrimage. We’ll stumble at times. We’ll get spiritually thirsty. He lifts us up and prepares a table for us in the midst of our journey. In the very valley of the shadow of death, it’s there—a feast for the weary. The food given us fills us with strength. This food we eat and drink with our mouths, but it is more than a meal to meet our physical needs. God doesn’t want just to help us. He gives us Himself. That’s why He Himself went on the pilgrimage He did. Because His glory is to give us Himself. That’s what He does in His Holy Supper: He gives us His body and blood for our spiritual nourishment.

We are pilgrims on this earth. It might seem appropriate on April Fool’s Day, since it seems pretty foolish. But we will remain pilgrims until that day our Lord calls us home to Himself. On that day the pilgrimage will come to an end and we will process on in to heaven. You are a citizen of heaven even now. Your pilgriming doesn’t change that. Just as the solemnity of this week doesn’t change the joy we have that Christ our Lord—the one who suffered and died on our behalf—is the risen Lord who sustains us in our pilgrimage. Amen.