Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Good Shepherd - April 29, 2012 - Fourth Sunday of Easter - Text: John 10:11-18

Today is the day which is traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel reading is the one in which Jesus describes Himself as a Shepherd and as He says, “He is the good one,” and we are like sheep. For the people to whom Jesus was addressing, the analogy was an easy one. For us today, who do not do much sheep herding, we may need a little help to understand the analogy. So, a little review about sheep and shepherding is in order.
 
First, and I am not trying to stereotype or as we say today I am not trying to profile here, or be anti-animal, but it must be said, sheep are not the brightest of all the animals in the barnyard, nor are they in particular the cleanest, and their eyesight is not the best. Which is probably the reason they have a tendency to follow the sheep that is in front of them and will follow, I am told, even off a cliff. Sheep also tend to wonder, wherever their nose and mouth (while eating good grass) will lead. Thus, it is imperative that someone watch the sheep at all times. This person who watches the sheep is known as a shepherd, if the person is a male, or a shepherdess if the person is a female. There is one other person involved in this story and that person is the sheep owner, who either hires the shepherd, or in many instances is the father of the shepherd or shepherdess.
 
Now, to bring the analogy to us and here again, I am not trying to stereotype or profile anyone, nor am I an anti-human advocate, however, we are like the sheep, especially when it comes to temptation and sin, we are not so bright. We have a tendency, our every inclination is toward sin. If you really want to know how easy and how fun sinning is, just listen to the slogans we hear in advertizing. We like to sin, “everyone else is doing it.” Sinning comes easy, we “just do it.” Sinning is fun, “you only go around once in life.” Sinning is natural, “if it feels good, do it.” Sinning is so easy and it requires no practice. Yes, when it comes to sinning, when it comes to following our own way, we are like sheep.
 
Jesus is like the shepherd. He watches over us. He keeps us away from sin, or at least He tries to keep us away from sin. God the Father is our owner. He does not hire just anyone to watch us, rather He gives that work to His Son. Now, to throw one more thought into the mix, that is, that today we have what we might call under-shepherds and those are our pastors. Our pastors are men who are called by God, through the congregations in order to be a shepherd, “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
With that as a little review, now let us talk about shepherds and under-shepherds. Some shepherds are simply hired. They are paid and they look at their job of shepherding simply as a job, only for the purpose of making a buck. I would suggest that these are the pastors who seek the position of pastor as a position of CEO, that is for some perceived view of power or authority, instead of understanding that the role of the pastor is that of a servant, being in service to God. I would further suggest that these are the pastors who do not like conflict, especially in the way of being firm in their confession of Holy Scripture. In other words, these are the pastors who are tolerant, who compromise their beliefs so as not to be offensive. They offer open communion, have no opinion on the issue of abortion, have no opinion on the role of women in the church, have no opinion on whether God created the world in six days or if He used evolution to create the world, and are not careful with making sure that worship is God’s service.
 
On the other hand, there are some shepherds and under-shepherds who are committed and truly care for the sheep, no matter how it might look. Being a pastor is very often like being a parent. There are times when your pastor is the one who is in the position to confront a person with his or her sin. It is at these times that he is like you as a parent who must discipline your own child. Your child does not necessarily like to be disciplined and may even call you names and say they do not like you. The same often happens to pastors when they work to show someone their sin so they might repent and be brought back into a right relationship with Jesus. And as I believe most pastors are willing to admit, I will readily admit, I am not perfect nor do I believe that I do this in the most perfect way, for I too, even though I am a pastor, I too am a sinner. However, God has called me, through you, the members of this congregation, to be Christ’s under-shepherd here in this place and that is what I, with His help, try to do.
 
When we understand that our pastor is our pastor because he has been called by God through us, the congregation, then we realize that if we speak evil against our pastor and if we fail to support our pastor we are indeed speaking against and rejecting what God gives. And the same is true for our pastor, if he speaks evil against and does not support the congregation to which the Lord has called him, if he fails in his calling to preach the Gospel meaning the law in all its sternness and the Gospel in all its sweetness, if he fails to administer the sacraments and forgive and retain sins, if he fails to visit the sick and the shut-ins, then he too is sinning against and rejecting what God has given. Certainly we understand that, even though God has given us each other through the office of Holy Ministry, this too is an imperfect arrangement because we are His imperfect, at the same time sinner and saint, children.
 
However, there is one perfect Shepherd. John tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the perfect shepherd because He is able to do what none of His under-shepherds are able to do. He gives His life for the sheep. He died so that we do not have to die, at least not an eternal, spiritual death. We do not have to suffer hell, because Jesus suffered hell for us in our place. That is why He is the Good Shepherd.
 
Now, about sheep. Sheep need a shepherd. Again, as we said earlier, sheep are near sighted. Very often we are near sighted. We only see this world and we cannot always see the world to come. We get so involved in this world that we leave little time to get ourselves ready for the world to come. This too is one of the devils greatest temptations, “there is always time.” Unfortunately, we do not know how much time we have, we do not know when the Lord will return nor do we know when we will pass on from this world, thus it is important that we have an urgency about what time we do have, and that we use the time we do have to prepare ourselves for the world to come.
 
Sheep need a shepherd. Sheep need something or someone to follow. We are all born with a desire to be lead and that desire is one which needs to be filled, in other words, we all need to believe something. Look at all the false teachings about God and all the heresies that we have in our world today and how many people will follow just about anything, even to their physical death, not to mention to their eternal spiritual death.
 
Sheep need a shepherd. There are a lot of dangers in this world. There are false teachers, false prophets, false religions. Temptations abound. Sin abounds. We need someone to help to guide us, to keep us from temptation and sin. We need a shepherd.
 
Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep intimately. He knows us by name. He calls us by name. At Holy Baptism He puts His name on us. He claims us as His own. He puts faith in our hearts. He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He knows the number of hairs on our head or the lack of numbers of hairs on our heads. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows everything there is to know about us and He still loves us.
 
In the same way that the Shepherd knows His sheep intimately, the sheep also know their Good Shepherd intimately. We know Jesus by name. We know that we can come to Him at any time, at any place, for any reason. We know that we can speak to Him through prayer and that He speaks to us through His Word. We know that He gave the ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins. We know that we participate in that ultimate sacrifice, in His death and resurrection through faith in Him and especially through His Holy Supper. Through faith in Him His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death, and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
 
The Good Shepherd knows His Father, the owner of the sheep intimately. Jesus knows the Father because He and the Father are one. He is the one who came to give His life as a ransom, for our life, on the cross. He came to restore our relationship with God the Father, a relationship broken by sin.
 
Likewise, the sheep know the Good Shepherd’s Father, their owner intimately. We know God the Father intimately. As we know Jesus, so we know the Father. And we thank the Father. We thank Him for the gift of His Son and His life for ours.
 
What great love our God has for us that we have become the recipients of His great love. We see the love of God the Father through the fact that He sent His Son, not because we were deserving, not because of anything on our part, but because of His love for us.
 
God the Father loves us and shows His love in the sending of His Son. God the Son, Jesus, loves us and shows His love for us in that He lived for us and that He gave His life for ours. He died so that we might live. “Greater love can no one have than this, that he would lay down his life for another.” Jesus shows this great love in the giving of His life for ours.
 
Ultimately, by the grace and leading of God, we reflect this love to each other and back to the Father and the Son. What a great privilege we have as sons and daughters of the Lord, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to be able to go out and share that love with others, especially with those who do not know Jesus. What a great privilege to let God’s love for us be reflected on to others.
 
I want to conclude with John’s words from our Epistle lesson from last week, because I believe they are beautiful words of inspiration for us in our joy of sharing God’s love with others. John writes, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2). And at that time we will be standing before His throne praising Him and saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Really?

Not long ago I received a notice that I was being called for jury duty. Wanting to do my civic duty, I took the day off, drove to the public transit parking lot, road the public bus downtown and entered the courthouse. After a wait, we were given instructions as to what we could expect and what was expected of us. We were given numbers, seated and then waited. Finally, a certain number of prospective jurors was called.

After being seated in the juror chamber we were addressed by both lawyers, the lawyer for the prosecution and the lawyer for the defense. We were not told the accusation against the defendant, but we were asked questions concerning our “life” background. I would suppose that both lawyers were attempting to “cull” the group of prospective jurors in order to have a jury that would be the most in favor of their position.

During this time of questioning, the lawyer for the defendant asked an important question. He asked, “Have any of you already judged my client before hearing the accusations or the evidence?” To my surprise one person raised her hand. All I could think was, “How can you judge this person without hearing the case, the accusations and the evidence?” So, the lawyer asked the one person who raised her hand, “And what is your verdict?” to which the person, rather astutely answered, “Innocent,” which then made me, and all the other jurors present, realize that our justice system does say that “A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

With that stated, I believe we have actually moved way past that naive sentiment in this country. With the sensationalism of the modern media, defendants are accused, tried, and there is a call for a conviction even before the facts are brought to light. Unfortunately, most of this is done in the light of what has been dubbed “political correctness.”

Even more unfortunate is that those who are innocent lose their good name, must defend themselves and have no avenue of recourse to regain what was lost and this also is to the detriment of those who are ultimately found guilty. And one ugly fact is that all a person has to do is to accuse another of any number of improprieties and that person’s name and reputation, whether guilty or innocent, is lost for ever.

The next time you hear any accusation, trial and conviction from any media outlet you might ask yourself, “I wonder what facts are not being stated?” “I wonder what half-truths are being presented?” “I wonder what agenda is being pursued by this media outlet?” And finally, I would ask that you think to yourself, “This person is innocent, at least until he or she is proven guilty.”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

“Peace Be with You” - April 22, 2012 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text: Luke 24:36-49

This morning we continue with the events of that first Easter Day as we continue on with the events of that first Easter evening. So far, as we have been witnessing the events which have happened on that first Easter Day, we have witnessed Jesus rising, early on Easter. We witnessed the women who went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial and how they found the tomb open and witnessed the words of the angels who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Last week we witnessed as Jesus appeared to the disciples without Thomas and we witnessed as Jesus appeared to the disciples and especially to Thomas, which we saw was for our sakes as well, as we are the ones who have not physically seen Jesus with our own eyes, yet we believe because of the testimony of Thomas and the Word and the Sacraments.
 
Our text for today brings us, again, to the evening of Easter day. This morning we look in more detail at the events of Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples in the locked room. Right from the start, we notice that the disciples were afraid. Their leader had been accused, tried, convicted, sentenced to death and crucified. What else could this mean for them except the same thing. In other words, if they are found to be followers of Jesus, what could they expect except the same treatment, being tried, sentenced to death and crucified. And so, they did what they believed they needed to do, they locked themselves in a room.
 
Now remember, it is the evening of that first Easter. By now they have heard the good news, or at least the rumors of the good news, that Jesus had risen from the dead. Some had actually witnessed the resurrected Jesus, seeing Him with their own eyes, others had witnessed the empty tomb, and again, most of them had heard the “rumors” of the body being missing. Our text then tells us, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’” (v.36). Luke continues by telling us, “They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (v.37). They are still having a hard time believing. They had already heard so many witnesses, they were just discussing all this with the two from Emmaus who had walked and talked with Jesus, which was the reading right before our reading from Luke this morning, and when Jesus appears they are terrified. They just cannot believe it. I guess it is just too good to be true and yet, here Jesus is, standing in front of them and putting His peace on them.
 
   Jesus gives them His peace. As we said last week, His peace is a peace beyond understanding. The peace that Jesus gives is not simply an hour or so of solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of life, away from the noise of the family and children, and so forth. His peace is a peace which begins with the forgiveness of sins, which is what He earned by His death on the cross. The peace Jesus speaks to His disciples is the same peace He speaks to us today. His peace is a peace of deliverance from sin and especially deliverance from the guilt of sin. Jesus knows their fears and doubts. He knows our fears and doubts. He knows that we are very often like these disciples, sometimes we have a hard time believing the truth of His Word. Very often one of our biggest struggle comes when we disagree with God and we cannot understand why He does not fit into our understanding of who He is or how He should be.
 
Jesus appears to His disciples in His resurrected state. He is the same as He was before His death, yet He is different. He comes before His disciples and shows Himself to them and they are afraid. They are thinking that they are seeing a spirit or a ghost. And so, Jesus has to show them and assure them that He is not a ghost. He shows Himself to them. He shows them His hands, his feet, and His side. He even asks them for something to eat to show He is not a ghost, because we all know that a ghost cannot eat, because a ghost does not have flesh and blood.
 
Jesus opens their hearts and minds to understand all the events which had taken place. He explains the recent events in the light of the promises of the Old Testament. That is what that phrase means, “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” that is the Old Testament. All these things which took place were promised by God from the beginning. In a very real way, Jesus does the same thing for us today. He comes to us through His means of grace, through His Word and Sacraments. He fills us with His Holy Spirit who works through His Word and Sacraments to show Himself to us, to show us the truth of the promises and His fulfillment, to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in faith and to keep us in faith.
 
Jesus then sends the disciples out. He gives them the commission and His authority to go out and share the good news with others. “You are witnesses of these things” (v. 48), Jesus says. He sends us out as well and tells us that we are also “witnesses of these things.” By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word we too are witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and so we have the commission, we have His authority, we have the privilege and responsibility to go out, to live lives of faith, to live and work in our vocations so that our lives are lived as living sacrifices as priests in the priesthood of all believers. We are to live lives always ready to give an answer, a defense of our faith to all who ask, to share the good news with others.
 
This is important, Jesus did not send His disciples out on their own. He also gave them the authority (through His commission), the power to go out, and the promise of His presence. Likewise, He also gives us His authority, His power, and the promise of His presence with us as we go out. He gives us His Holy Spirit who gives us the courage and confidence, and the words to speak as we live out our Christian faith.
 
You know, we are not a lot different from Jesus’ first disciples. Like the first disciples, Jesus has chosen us. He has put His name on us at our Baptism. He has put faith in our hearts and He has given us forgiveness of sins. We have the Word of God, the Bible which we can read on our own and which we can come here and hear read and expounded. As we read the Word of God we hear the promises God makes and we hear of and see the fulfillment of those promises.
 
Each week we have the privilege to come to the Lord’s house and rehearse all the events which have taken place. We review and review and review. Sometimes we may not understand why we do this over and over again. Why do we listen to the same stories again and again. It is because there is so much there that we cannot fathom it all with one reading. Dr. Martin Luther explained that God does not pour out all His grace on us at once, because if He did it would literal kill us because we would be too overwhelmed. Likewise, we do not completely understand all of God’s Word with one reading. Well, would we think that we are that much more in tune with God’s Word than Jesus’ own disciples who were with Him for three years of intense instruction? Think about our lives, how often we forget things unless we make a conscious effort to remember. We need this constant repetition so that we might grow in our faith and faith life.
 
We have witnessed Jesus’ life, we have witnessed His death and we have witnessed His resurrection. We know that Jesus is alive. We worship a living God. We worship a God who comes to us through His Word and who comes to us through His body and blood in His Holy Sacrament so that we might participate in His life, death, and resurrection. His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
 
We have all His good gifts and blessings. He gives and we are given to. So what? So what does this mean? We answer that question by answering the question of, “do we take God’s Word seriously?” If we take God’s Word seriously, then we know that there are people in our world, even really good people who do really good things, who are not a part of God’s Kingdom because they do not know or believe in Jesus as their Savior. And time is running out.
 
We have the commission to go out, now. That commission comes with power, with  authority and with a promise. We have an urgent task before us. God’s will is that all people are saved and in order to accomplish His will and purposes He uses us ordinary people to share this love with others through the way we live, the way we act, what we say and how we reflect the faith that is in our hearts. Every day we have the opportunity to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, put our best foot forward in giving a witness for Jesus as well as thinking about, praying about, and inviting our unchurched family and friends to come to the Lord’s house to be given His good gifts and blessings. And that is acting out our faith.
 
This morning we have once again heard the word of the Lord. We have seen His resurrection and heard those who have testified concerning His resurrection. We have been commissioned, been given God’s authority, and we are being sent out. We have the promise of God’s presence being with us. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will give you an extra measure of His Holy Spirit so that you might with all boldness and confidence experience the joy of sharing God’s love with others through your words and actions, so that God’s kingdom might be filled and so that we might all together stand before His throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter and Divine Service Attendance

Why is it that attendance at divine service the Sunday after Easter is always low? Is it because so many people are ill? Or, is it because so many people think that since they went to church more than once the weekend before that they are “good with God” for the Sunday after Easter? How can we expect people to attend divine service four times in one week, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise and Easter morning, and then attend the following Sunday? Is not attending four times in one week enough to gain credit for the following week or even two?

Like many people, I enjoy going to the all you can eat buffet. Interestingly enough, even though I may eat a bit too much (which is gluttony, which is also a sin), it seems that the next day I am still hungry and I still eat.

Perhaps the reason for the attendance drop is the same as that of lack of attendance during any given Sunday, the fact that some people believe they have enough of God’s gifts and their desire for more gifts has been satiated? It might be like asking the question, “Do we have to go to church?” Of course the answer is that as Christians our desire is always to be where the gifts of God are being given, which usually means being in divine service.

Although I do not believe we may call such people as those that refuse God’s gifts on any given Sunday non-Christians, I do believe we should be concerned for their spiritual well being, after all are we not concerned about a person who fails to eat regularly or eat well balanced, nutritious meals?

Again, I would suppose that most people eat at least one meal if not three meals a day and that most people, even if they have been to the buffet on one day will still eat the next day. So, on any given Sunday, and especially on the Sunday after Easter, as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, do we stay and home and say, “No gifts for me this week Lord, I have had enough and am full until next week.” or do we rejoice in the opportunity we have to come to the Lord’s house and be given the gifts He has to give?

God has created us to love us, to give to us, to pour out on us all His good gifts and blessings and He has given us His means of grace through which He gives us the good gifts and blessings He has to give. To absent ourselves from the very means our Lord has given to come to us and give to us is to refuse and reject all He gives. I would exhort and encourage you, be given the gifts!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

He Is Risen - April 15, 2012 - Second Sunday of Easter - Text: John 20:19-31

What’s up with Thomas? Have you ever wondered about Thomas? But the same could be said for all the disciples. What is their deal? They had been raised in the Jewish faith. They knew the promises of the Old Testament. They had spent the last three years of their lives with Jesus. They had listened to Him preach. They had watch the sign, the wonders, the miracles He performed. They had “special” sessions with Him where He explained everything to them. Why were they afraid? Why did they not “get it?” Of course, we are looking back with twenty-twenty hindsight. We can see clearly all the events and their significance. What we might rather ask is why do we so often act like Thomas and the disciples? Why do we hide in fear and why do we doubt? Let us look at the account and see how it very much reflects our own lives.

Last week we came and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and the events of that first Easter morning. By the time we get to our text for today, Jesus has already shown Himself to be alive to many people. For others, for those who have not yet seen Jesus, rumors were going around concerning His “possible” resurrection. The beginning of our text brings us to that evening, that first Easter evening. Our text last week told us specifically that Jesus had risen from the dead, those events of last week happened already early on this day. So, our text for this morning is a continuation of the day of Easter. Now it was evening and in our text for today we are told that the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. The disciples were afraid because they thought that what happened to Jesus, His crucifixion, could happen to them and since the body of Jesus was missing they knew they would be the first suspects, so they gathered together behind locked doors. Well, I guess being all together and being behind a locked door is not such a bad idea, we all know that there is safety in numbers. Again, by this time they had certainly heard rumors of Jesus’ resurrection and some of them had already witnessed the empty tomb. Maybe the good news was just too much to believe.

How often do we find ourselves like these disciples? We come here to this building once a week and we gather. We gather, not necessarily behind locked doors, but we do gather because we know that in here there is some safety in numbers. In here it is okay to admit that we are Christians. In here it is okay to talk about God, at least to some extent it is okay to talk about God. During Bible class we have a little more freedom to discuss the Word of God as well as the events of the world and how these two things collide and mesh and yet, very often, we are much like the disciples, unsure of how all these things fit together.

The disciples were all gathered together and then, Jesus appears to them. He comes to them and He puts His peace on them. Jesus’ peace is peace beyond all understanding. His peace is a complete peace, a peace of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. For His disciples, His peace was so wonderful that their fears were immediately calmed and they were overjoyed at His presence. Jesus brings peace and He also brings a blessing. He comes to bless them and to send them out with a mission, “I am sending you,” He says. But there is more to this sending than just words. Along with His sending is His authority. He is giving them the authority to forgive and retain sins. What an awesome authority, an awesome privilege, and an awesome responsibility.

And here again, is this not what happens to us each and every Sunday? We come to the Lord’s house for worship? We come here. We confess our sins. We hear God’s Word of absolution which is His Word of forgiveness and His Word of peace on us. We hear His Word read and expounded. Our fears are calmed. We might even think in our minds as the Psalmist, “it is good, Lord, to be here,” in Your house of worship. We are strengthened through His Word and through His body and blood in His Holy Sacrament. We are given His authority and we are sent out. We are sent from this place to live as witnesses of the faith that is in our hearts. We are sent out into our various vocations to live offering our lives as living sacrifices as priests in the priesthood of all believers. Even the sign in our parking lot reminds us that as we leave this place we are going out into the mission field. We are sent out with an awesome authority, an awesome privilege, and an awesome responsibility.

But what about Thomas? Thomas was absent. He was not there the first time the disciple saw Jesus. Certainly when Thomas returned his fellow disciples were excited to tell him that they, too, had seen Jesus. Certainly they could not contain their own enthusiasm in sharing this good news with him and they expected that he would believe and return their excitement. But, Thomas would not believe. Thomas could not believe. Thomas wanted evidence. He wanted proof. Thomas demanded, “Unless I see in his hands the marks of the nail, and place my finger into the marks of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” It is no wonder Thomas has been affectionately called “Doubting Thomas.”

Yet, before we “beat up” on Thomas too much let me first remind you that this is the same Thomas who was ready to go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus. And, before we “beat up” on Thomas, maybe we need to examine our own lives. How often are we like Thomas? Oh, maybe not here at church. We know that this is a pretty safe place. It is okay to show ourselves to be a Christian here at church, but what about in the rest of our lives. Do our neighbors know we are Christians? Do our co-workers know we are Christians? Does our family know we are Christians? Do the people with whom we work, shop, eat, play, and so forth know that we are Christians? Does our life show forth the faith that is in our heart? Do our thoughts, our words, and our actions show forth the faith that is in our hearts? Being a Christian is not a one or two hour a week obligation. Being a Christian is a lifestyle. It is a way of life. When being a Christian becomes anything less than a way of life, a complete way of life, not just one compartment of my life, then what we are saying is that we doubt that He is so important in our lives, and like Thomas, we thus doubt His death and resurrection for us, for you and for me.

In the case of Thomas, Jesus accommodates Thomas. But let us be careful, just because He accommodates Thomas does not mean that He will accommodate us, nor does He have to. Our text continues by taking us to the following week, eight days later, which is how the Jews counted days, starting with the day they were on, thus eight days later was the next Sunday. Eight days later when the disciples were in the house again, and this time Thomas was with them, Jesus showed Himself again. And He showed Himself especially to Thomas. Certainly that would have been a sight to see. The disciples continuing to try to convince Thomas, “yes it did happen.” And Thomas continuing to doubt, “I just cannot believe it unless I see or unless I feel something (which sounds a lot like people of today).” And as Thomas continues to express his doubt Jesus comes up behind him and calls his name, “Thomas.” And Thomas speaking as he turns says, “now don’t you try to start with me,” and seeing Jesus his mouth drops open and he is speechless. At which point, Jesus shows Thomas the evidence for which he has asked. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” I do not believe that Thomas needed that evidence anymore as we hear his confession, “My Lord and my God!”

Every morning we have the privilege of remembering our Baptism. Every morning we have the privilege of remembering our Baptism. Everyday we have the privilege of reading God’s Word. Every week we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s House, confessing our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” Every Sunday we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s Table to partake of the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood. Whether we take advantage of the fact that we can do this or not, we do have the privilege and we still have the freedom to do this. As the doubts of life build each day to the end of the week we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s house to have those doubts squelched. The old cliche is true, seven days without the Lord does make one weak, that is “w-e-a-k.” On the first day of the week, on Sunday we have the opportunity to come to the Lord’s house and to see our Lord, to taste Him, to hear Him and to confess as Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Every Sunday we have the opportunity to come and be strengthened in our faith so that we might be able to face the struggles, the trials and tribulations that will face us the rest of the week.

We might imagine Thomas as our hero of sorts. It was because of his doubt that brought Jesus to show Himself specifically to Thomas. Thomas had convincing proof of Jesus’ resurrection which for us means we have convincing proof as well. Jesus’ words to Thomas are His words to us, especially in our time of doubt. Jesus’ words to Thomas are words about us as well, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” that is us. We have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes, but we continue to see Him with our hearts. We see Him in His Word. We see Him in Holy Baptism. We hear Him in Holy Absolution. We see Him and taste Him as we partake of His body and blood in His Holy Supper. We are blessed.

I believe the last two verses of our text are definitely a part of this Thomas story. John reminds us that Jesus did even more than what was recorded in the Bible. At the end of his Gospel John tells us that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Thomas wanted proof. Too often we and others in our world want proof. We have the truth of Jesus Himself and the proof of the witness of His Holy Word.

As John finally tells us in our text for today, the reason we have the Bible is 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.” We have God’s Word, we have opportunity to read His Word on our own, to come to divine service and Bible Class to hear His Word and to hear His Word expounded so that we might be brought to faith, so that we might be strengthened in our faith, and so that we might be kept in our faith until Christ comes again to take us from this earth to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.

For us, Thomas’ doubting was good. What happened to Thomas reminds us that we are not alone. And just as Jesus came to Thomas to encourage Him, so He comes to us to strengthen and encourage us. So that ultimately we might stand together before the heavenly throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Proposal: How to Link Doctrine (Substance) and Practice (Style)

How to show doctrinal differences among those congregations that have different practices, thus linking doctrine and practice or style and substance?

Would a person off the street attending worship at any number of Lutheran congregations (LCMS) agree that all the churches were of the same denomination?

What would happen if a series of videos of live congregational worship services taken from various denominations in such a manner that the audience would then catagorize the videos according to the doctrines taught or demonstrated in the videos and classified according to the denomination most likely being shown. I would propose that, rather than there be unity among our Missouri Synod congregations, what would present itself would be not only a practical (practicing) difference, but also a doctrinal difference. I would propose that, those congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod which practice other than Lutheran Divine Service would be seen to be of a denomination not Lutheran, i.e., evangelical, reformed, Baptist, and the like. Perhaps it may even be seen that some practices might be seen as being Anglican, Orthodox or even Roman as well. This in turn might serve well to help congregations not only connect doctrine and practice, but also help them connect to a denomination which is more in tune not only with their practice, but also with their doctrine.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The White - Easter Morning - April 8, 2012 - Texts: Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:3-6; Luke 24:1-9

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Throughout this Lenten season we have been looking at some of the symbols of Lent, those images or items that remind us of the Lenten season and those symbols or items which help us to prepare our hearts and minds both for Good Friday and for this morning, Easter morning and our Easter, resurrection celebration. The symbol, image or icon we want to talk about this morning is actually the color of our paraments, the color of the Easter Lilies, the color white. Now, let me first say that some churches actually have gold paraments for this day, but I believe white is the best color because white is the color of perfection and holiness. As we heard in our texts, white is the dazzling color of heavenly perfection.

In order to get to today, I want to take us back to Thursday, Maundy Thursday, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed and the day on which He took from the Israelite Passover celebration and gave to us His Holy Supper. Perhaps you remember that at the end of our service on Thursday, following our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the altar was stripped. The candles were taken out, the altar cross, and all the paraments were removed. We do this altar stripping every year on Maundy Thursday and then on Good Friday we enter a rather bare church.

On Good Friday the altar color is black. Black is the color of darkness and even is the symbol of sin. Truly the color black is the absence of color, of pigment. Black is the color of nothing. If you know about the science of color you know that what you see is not really the color of an object, rather the color you see is the part of the light spectrum that is reflected from the surface while the rest of the color spectrum is absorbed. So, in a very real way, black absorbs all the color and reflects nothing. In much the same way, sin seeks its own fulfilment, absorbing all it can and reflecting nothing.

Black is also the symbol of death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, man was created from dust and to dust a man shall return. The nothingness of black reminds us of the nothingness of death and even more, apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus we would be lost to an even worse fate than death, physical death, namely, eternal, spiritual death.

And black is the symbol of evil. When Jesus was on the cross and the sky turned to pitch black, it was as if evil had taken over the world. Black is the opposite of white. White is seen as good, black is seen as evil. On Good Friday we watched the darkness and black of sin, death and the devil take over and we watched as Jesus took our sins on Himself and suffered and died to pay the price for our sins.

On the next day, Saturday, we began sitting and waiting. Certainly the Christians at the time of Jesus death had no idea, well, they would have had an idea if they had listened, but they did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead and so they simply waited. That Saturday, after Jesus death on the previous day, Good Friday, was the day they celebrated as the Sabbath or Day of Rest. And we too, every year, we wait on Saturday.

And on Sunday we celebrate. We celebrate that we worship, not a dead god, nor an idol, but we worship a God who has risen from the dead. We worship a God who defeated sin, death and the power of the devil.

And so the color on our altar today is the color white. White is the color of purity, holiness and sinlessness. White is the color of perfection and when Jesus rose from the dead He rose in perfection, having defeated sin, death and the devil. All our sins, which Jesus took upon Himself have been paid for in full, completely with nothing left to pay.

White is the color of innocense. Jesus was innocent. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus He was conceived in perfection. While on this earth living as a human being He never sinned, even once. Following His taking our sins upon Himself, He completely paid the price for our sins so that the account, our debt has been paid in full. He is now again innocent.

The color white reminds us of forgiveness, the fact that our sins have been washed away, but even more the price for our sins has been paid, completely. And not only have our sins been paid for and forgiven, Jesus also robes us in His white robes of righteousness so that when we stand before God the Father, we stand in Jesus’ perfection, actually we stand robed in His perfect white robes of righteousness.

So, what does this mean? God’s demand is perfection, “be perfect as God is perfect.” We cannot be perfect. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Our will has been tainted by sin so that we have no free will, only the will to refuse and reject God and any and all of His good gifts and blessings. We are drawn to the darkness of sin, even drawn to hide from our Lord. So, God sent His Son, Jesus for us. Jesus was perfect. Jesus is God and as God He was in heaven enjoying all the glory that was rightly His in heaven, yet because of His great love for us His creatures, He gave up heaven and all the glory that was His in heaven in order to become a human being, one of His own creatures. At conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God took on human form in the person of Jesus being born of a woman, Mary, injecting Himself into human history. As the Gospel writer John puts it, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). And “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). In other words, Jesus, the true light, the light of perfection, was born into our dark sin-filled world.

Jesus lived perfectly, obeying all God’s laws and commands perfectly, for us, because we cannot. Jesus fulfilled all the promises concerning God’s promise to send a Messiah, a Savior. Jesus was perfection for us.

And then, of His own free will, Jesus took our sin upon Himself. Jesus took all our sins and the sins of all people since the beginning of creation and all people as yet to be conceived until the day of judgement. Jesus took all sin, of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us.

And then, Jesus suffered and died, paying the price for sin, eternal spiritual death. The price for sin was set in the beginning. The price for sin was and is death, physical death and apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus it would be eternal spiritual death, hell. Because of His perfection, because of His innocence, Jesus was able and of His own free will suffered the price, paid the price for our sin for us in our place.

But death and the grave had no hold over Him. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the devil. What Jesus did He did not as an example for us to follow, because we would never be able to follow His example, because of our imperfection. We can never reach up to God, that is why He came down to us. Jesus came down to us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus did what He did because of His great love for us, because He created us to love us.

And when our last hour arrives, either when the Lord returns or when we pass on from this world and go to Him, at that very moment, Jesus will give us His white robes of righteousness, and perfection. We will be given, not what we deserve, but what He earned and paid for us, eternal life in heaven.

This morning we rejoice and sing. The white reminds us that our future is bright, our future is set. Heaven is our home. We worship a living God.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

The Open Grave - Easter Sunrise - April 8, 2012 - Texts: Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:3-6; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:5-7

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Throughout this Lenten season we have been looking at some of the symbols of Lent, those images or items that remind us of the Lenten season and those symbols or items which help us to prepare our hearts and minds both for Good Friday and for this morning, Easter morning and our Easter, resurrection celebration. Our symbol, or icon for this morning is the image of the Open Grave and indeed, the empty tomb, the image that reminds us that we worship, not a dead god but a living God, a risen Lord and Savior.

But, let us go back a bit. On Thursday, this past Thursday, the day we call Maundy Thursday we followed along with Jesus as He gathered with His disciples, even the twelve apostles, those twelve men set apart by Jesus to be the one’s to carry their eyewitness account of the events that were about to take place to the rest of the world. On Maundy Thursday Jesus, the good Jew He was, gathered His disciples to celebrate the Passover Seder, that same celebration that the children of Israel had been celebrating for almost fifteen hundred years. The only difference is that Jesus took the original Passover Celebration and made it something new for us His New Testament church. He took the middle matzah, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples with the words that they were eating His true body, which He would be giving as He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on the altar of the cross for the forgiveness of sins. And then He took the third cup of wine, the cup of Redemption, blessed it and gave it to His disciples telling them to drink His true blood, again, offered on the altar of the cross for their forgiveness. In this manner of eating and drinking they would be participating in His life, death and resurrection.

Following this meal, Jesus went with His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane, a spot He often liked to take His disciples in order to spend time in pray. Three times He prayed that God would remove the cup of suffering which was before Him, dying on the cross. Three times He prayed, God’s will be done. Finally, being strengthened by the Father and by angels, He was ready to face what lay ahead.

Judas brought temple guards to arrest Jesus, the one he betrayed with a kiss of friendship and peace. The motley crew arrested Jesus and took Him to the chief priest and the Sanhedrin to stand trial.

All day Friday, and actually from Thursday night on, Jesus faced trials. They were not fair, just trials, but rigged trials, trials intended to reach a verdict of guilty and a penalty of the death sentence. All the trials were shams and outright fraud, but again justice was not what was being sought.

Jesus was put on trial and in between the mocking trials He was beaten and mocked by the soldiers. The religious trials were set to convict Jesus of blasphemy, punishable by death, but because the religious conviction would not stand in a civil case a civil convection had to be made as well. The charge was treason and the verdict, reluctantly given by Pilate, was guilty as well. The punishment, death.

The sentence of death was to be carried out immediately and it was to be carried out by crucifixion. As a warning to others, Jesus was paraded through town carrying His own cross and then taken out of town to a hill called Golgotha, the place of the skull and the place where many had been crucified, and there He was crucified between two known, convicted criminals.

On Saturday, we waited, much like Jesus disciples, family and friends. Saturday was the day of rest and so nothing could be done on that day. Everyone was eagerly waiting for Sunday morning in order to complete what had not been done so hastily on Friday, the preparation of Jesus body for a proper burial.

Sunday was the big day, the day that the women went to prepare the body, but the day they did not find a body, rather they found an empty tomb and an angel proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had descended from heaven, taken on human flesh and blood, suffered and died and now the news is that He has risen from the dead.

Jesus had risen from the dead, at least that is what was being said. That is what the angels said. That is actually what Jesus said would happen before He died. That is what the guards said, the soldiers who were guarding the tomb. The news is that Jesus is alive.

Yes, Jesus is alive and He showed Himself alive many times. For forty days He showed Himself to many people that He was not dead, but that He had risen from the dead and is alive.

What does this mean? If you study other religions one thing you can find, that is you can find the grave of their founder. The founder, the person who began all the other idolatress religions of the world have a person, a founder, who is dead. You can go and see their grave.

This is not the case with the Christian faith. The Christian faith is faith in a living, risen God so there is no grave. The tomb is empty. Thus the open grave is the image which reminds us that Jesus has risen from the dead.

There is no grave, no tomb and an open grave because there is no body. Even Jesus enemies, even the Jewish religion admits that there is no body. The false religions attribute the lack of a body to the disciples stealing the body, but we know that is not the case. And again, the fact is they admit an empty tomb and no body to be found. There is no body because Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus is arisen. Jesus is alive. We worship a living God who did it all for us. God’s demand is perfection, “be perfect as God is perfect.” We cannot be perfect. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Our will has been tainted by sin so that we have no free will, only the will to refuse and reject God and any and all of His good gifts and blessings. So, God sent His Son, Jesus for us. Jesus was perfect. Jesus is God, living in heaven, yet He gave up heaven and all the glory that was His in heaven in order to become human. At conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God took on human form in the person of Jesus being born of a woman, Mary, injecting Himself into human history.

Jesus lived perfectly, obeying all God’s laws and commands perfectly, for us, because we cannot. Jesus fulfilled all the promises concerning God’s promise to send a Messiah, a Savior. Jesus was perfection for us.

And then, of His own free will, Jesus took our sin upon Himself. Jesus took all our sins and the sins of all people since the beginning of creation and all people as yet to be conceived until the day of judgement. Jesus took all sin, of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us.

And then, Jesus suffered and died, paying the price for sin, eternal spiritual death. The price for sin was set in the beginning. The price for sin was and is death, physical death and eternal spiritual death, hell. Because of His perfection, because of His innocence, Jesus was able and of His own free will suffered the price, paid the price for our sin for us in our place.

But death and the grave had no hold over Him. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the devil. What Jesus did He did not as an example for us to follow, because we would never be able to follow His example, because of our imperfection. We can never reach up to God, that is why He came down to us. Jesus came down to us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus did what He did because of His great love for us, because He created us to love us.

And when our last hour arrives, either when the Lord returns or when we pass on from this world and go to Him, at that very moment, Jesus will give us His white robes of righteousness, and perfection. We will be given, not what we deserve, but what He earned and paid for us, eternal life in heaven.

This morning we rejoice and sing. The open grave and the empty tomb remind us that our future is bright, our future is set. Heaven is our home. We worship a living God.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Thorns - Good Friday - April 6, 2012 - Text: Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-5

This evening as we are drawn to the cross on which our Lord, our God in human flesh was crucified. The symbol of Lent and Easter before us this evening is the thorns or the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head, mocking Him as the King of the Jews, even as our own King. I was not there when the crown of thorns was put on Jesus’ head, but what I have seen of thorns from that area of the world, certainly a crown made of a vine thorns, perhaps thorns measuring one inch or more in length, would be a very painful experience.

Before we get to this matter of thorns, let us review a bit about Jesus. We might be reminded that at Epiphany we celebrated the visit of the Magi or wisemen from the east who followed the star of Christmas to present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, reminding us that Jesus is our prophet, priest and king. As our prophet, even as the greatest prophet, and still even greater, as God Himself, Jesus foretold of these events that were taking place, these events of His suffering and death.

Jesus prophesied and proclaimed that He and He alone is the way, the truth and the life. Salvation can come from noone else except through Him. And the greatest gift and blessing is that He gives us this salvation. He makes salvation ours simply and purely by grace, that is by His undeserved love and gift for us which He gives through faith which is the instrument which takes hold of and makes all His gifts ours, which He also gives to us and to all people. That these events of His suffering and death are taking place should have come as no surprise to His disciples as He spoke of and proclaimed these events many times.

Jesus is the greatest prophet and He is also the greatest even our own High Priest. As our High Priest, having ascended to the place from where He descended, today He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is interceding for all people and in particular, for us. One of the roles of the priest was to make intercession and rest assured, Jesus is making intercession for us.

Another role of the priest in general and the high priest in particular was to offer sacrifices. The person, or family would bring their sacrifice. The priest would offer it as a burnt offering. Some of the offering was consumed completely as it was offered completely to God. Another part was kept for the priest and sometimes his family to consume and another part was kept and consumed by the person or family offering the sacrifice. In this manner the family also participated in the sacrifice. As for Jesus, as our great High Priest, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us on the cross. And as we have said time and again, He has given us His Holy Supper where in we eat His body and drink His blood and thus participate as a remembrance of His suffering, death and resurrection.

And now, Jesus as our true King. A king is the ultimate authority in the land. A just and righteous king rules in a just and fair manner, watching over and caring for the citizens of His land. In like manner, Jesus, having ascended into heaven now sits at the right hand of the Father where He in righteousness and purity forever, rules over us, watches over us and cares for us. Ultimately, after we have passed on from this world, or our Lord has chosen to return to take us to be with Himself, He will rule in heaven for eternity. We long for and eagerly await that glorious day.

While on this earth, Jesus suffered mocking and especially He suffered mocking as king. Because of the lack of faith of those who persecuted Jesus, they took some thorn vines, perhaps a vine with thorns an inch or so long and wove a crown of those thorns. Then taking the crown they shoved it onto Jesus head making sure the thrones penetrated through the skin in order to bring pain, suffering and blood, and in a mocking jester of His royalty. Along with putting a royal purple robe on Him, and putting a rod or stick as a scepter they then bowed before Him in another mocking jester.

What does this mean? Although Jesus was born in obscurity and never owned anything, except perhaps the clothes on His back. Although Jesus cared for people, calming storms, forgiving sins, healing, raising from the dead, casting out demons and the like, although He proclaimed good news to those who were held captive by sin and suffering in this world, and although His proclamation was always a proclamation of grace, yet He suffered for His words. He suffered for being one of us. He suffered because of us. Jesus was born and lived perfectly. Jesus fulfilled all God’s laws and promises, prophesies, perfectly for us, because we cannot.

The reason Jesus suffered for us, was because, although He was perfect, although He knew no sin, He elected, He voluntarily, of His own free will and according to His active obedience, took our sins upon Himself. What was ours, our sin, became His and by faith in Him, what was His, perfection has become ours.

Jesus suffered for our sins, on our behalf. He suffered even as our King, being crowned with a crown of thorns, a mocking jester, but one which indeed showed the depths of His love and suffering for each one of us. Jesus suffered what we should have suffered, eternal spiritual death, hell so that we will not have to suffer such a fate, but instead we will be given what is rightfully His, heaven.

Because Jesus suffered, taking the punishment for our sins, we will not have to suffer eternal spiritual death. Yes, we may pass on from this world. We may suffer a physical death, we may pass on from this world, but we need never fear death, eternal spiritual death, because Jesus has paid that price for us.

Not only has Jesus suffered eternal spiritual death for us, He has also suffered much of our temporal punishment. In other words, yes there may be times that we might suffer the consequences of our actions, but many times Jesus has already suffered those consequences for us.

The bottom line for us Christians, if you will, is that Jesus paid the complete price for all sin, of all time, of all places, and He gives us His righteousness. Certainly for Jesus it is not a fair deal, but for us it is an extraordinary deal.

Today is the day we call and celebrate as Good Friday. It is Good Friday. This day is the day we remember our part in the events of the day, that is that it is because of our sin that this day had to happen. We might also recall that even before He began creating the world, God knew this day would come. God knew that Adam and Eve would sin. God knew that the world would be cursed. God knew that He would have to reconcile and make satisfaction for His world and His creatures, you and me. And yet, He created this world anyway. God created this world and us in order to love us and that is what He does. Just as parents do not have children so their children will serve them, neither did God create us because He needed something from us. As a matter of fact, God knows that we cannot work our way up to Him, that is why He came down, descended to us, taking on human flesh and blood.

All of human history points to this day and time, to Jesus, God in flesh, making atonement for His creation. Today is the day we celebrate the defeat of Satan, the overthrow of sin, our forgiveness and eternal life. All because of our great God who created us to love us, who loves us and who does everything He does for us. So, today we give thanks and we say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Coins - Maundy Thursday - April 5, 2012 - Text: Matthew 26:14-16; 27:3-10

This evening as we celebrate the Lord’s giving of His Holy Supper from the Passover Seder, the symbol of Lent and Easter before us is the coins, the thirty pieces of silver, the price that was paid to Judas to betray Jesus. How fitting, that we take up the symbol of the coins as we hear every Sunday in the recitation of the words of institution, that on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took bread and took the cup and gave to us His body and blood to eat and drink thus participating in His life, death and resurrection.

As we talk about the symbol of the coins, we first talk about the person of Judas. Now please understand, I am not here to defend Judas or his actions, simply to clarify and remind us of the actual facts of these events. So, we are reminded that Judas was one of the chosen twelve, an apostle, set apart as an apostle. As Judas lived and learned from Jesus what he saw in Jesus was what he had evidently learned growing up, that is that the Savior the nation of Israel was seeking was not a religious, spiritual savior, but a social/political savior and that is how Judas saw Him. Judas saw Jesus in much the same way as did many of his fellow Israelites, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law included, namely that the Savior would be a social/political savior who would rescue and save them from being in submission to the Romans, much like the Israelites were rescued from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. And when we think about it and honestly admit it, we not much different in how we view Jesus than how the other disciples often saw Jesus as well.

As a social/political savior, and because Jesus was not acting as Judas expected, reminding us to be careful of our expectations especially when it comes to God, Judas had a desire to “call” Jesus’ hand, to force Jesus into action. If Jesus will not be the savior I expect, then I will force him to be such a savior, or at least I believe that is what Judas was thinking. And what better way to do this, forcing Jesus into action than by having Him arrested. Certainly if He were arrested He would have to do something or be put in jail.

So Judas’ plan was to betrayed Jesus, to pass on crucial information concerning Jesus whereabouts, especially concerning when He would be alone and out of the public eye, to His enemies, the Pharisees and chief priests. After some bit of negotiation for the information Judas was to pass on, the price was settled at 30 pieces of silver. The Pharisees pay Judas and he sets a signal. Judas, being one of Jesus disciples, one of the twelve apostles, knew Jesus’ regular habits and so it was set that when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, that would be the place and the signal would be the kiss of peace. Now remember, what Judas was attempting, at least in my own way of thinking is that he believed he was helping Jesus. The plan worked flawlessly and Jesus was arrested.

Following Jesus arrest, however, Judas sees that things are not going according to his plan. What Judas saw was that Jesus did not resist arrest. He did not begin a revolt. He was put on trial and while He was on trial He did not even defend Himself. What Judas saw was that Jesus simply let the plan and plot follow through, which was His plan all along. What Judas saw was the charges and accusations against Jesus by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law and how they incited the crowds to be against Jesus as well. What Judas saw was that his plan failed and Jesus was condemned. What Judas saw was that Jesus was not simply accused, or put in prison, but condemned and sentenced to die and so he reconsiders his actions.

When the events went as wrong as he believed they could go, again, according to his plan, Judas has a change of mind. Judas could see that maybe he was wrong concerning Jesus. Maybe Jesus was not the Messiah, at least not the social/political savior for which he and others were looking. Ultimately the conclusion that came to Judas is that he had indeed betrayed innocent blood. It was his fault that Jesus was going to be put to death. It was his fault that Jesus would be crucified, at least that was what he was thinking, because he had no understanding that this was a part of Jesus’ plan to bring forgiveness and salvation to the world.

And interestingly enough Judas repents. Very often we forget this little fact, but it is a fact that Judas repented. He repented and sought to make restitution for his betrayal by returning the coins, the betrayal money. The problem was, the Pharisees and teachers of the law offered not absolution, instead they simply told him that it was his problem. They were not going to release Jesus, they were not going to absolve Judas, they were simply going to do what they had planned to do all along, get rid of Jesus.

As for the blood money, because it was blood money the social conscious Sanhedren decided it should not be put back into the temple treasury, so instead it was agreed to use the money to purchase a field, which would be a burial plot for transients.

And finally we are told that Judas went out and hanged himself. Now remember, Judas showed remorse, he was sorry for what he had done, he returned the money attempting to make restitution, but he was rejected and he was denied absolution, and really it was not that he was denied absolution, maybe from the Sanhedrin, but not from God. His problem was that he refused absolution. He was left to wallow in his own self pity. He would not and could not believe that Jesus would and could forgiven him and so in his despair he denied the absolution God would give him and all people as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross and he hanged himself.

What does this mean? Certainly we can see that Judas did have good intentions, but as the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Good intentions, no matter how good do not save anyone and Judas is our prime example.

We also learn that no matter how good our intentions are, very often our intentions have unintended consequences. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and we cannot control those reactions. We may not intend for certain reactions, but they happen anyway.

As for Judas, what condemned Judas was not that he killed himself. What condemned Judas was that he refused forgiveness and he refused forgiveness by not believing that Jesus could and would forgive him.

As for us, very often in our own lives we have good intentions. We plan for good. We work for good, we want good, but often our good intentions go awry. Very often our good intentions have unintended consequences and reactions, and there is nothing we can do about it. The worst part is when we believe that our good intentions might perhaps earn something for us, like forgiveness and heaven. And so when our intentions fail very often we wallow in our misery and despair very much like Judas.

For us, however, when we fail, we know that it was because of our failures that Jesus came to earth. It was because of and for us that Jesus came to die on the cross and He did. Yes, we fail, time and again and yet we are given forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake.

The greatest gift God gives to us is forgiveness of sins, because with forgiveness is life and salvation. Forgiveness is ours. It has already been won. Our only option is to refuse and reject forgiveness which is what we do when we fail to recognize and confess our sins. That failure is gift refusal. Jesus has won forgiveness and He gives it freely through His Word, through confession and Absolution and through His Sacraments, which is the very reason we make regular and diligent use of these means of grace, so that we might be given forgiveness of sins and so that when we mess up, we know we still have forgiveness. And with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation and with forgiveness we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dying - April 1, 2012 - Palm Sunday - Text: Mark 15:1-47

Today is a special day for three young men and for their parents, sponsors, God-parents, grandparents, for the whole family. Today these three young men will come forward to do what many of us have done in years past. No, today is not graduation. Let me say that again, today is not graduation. Today is the beginning of their adult church membership. Today is their confirmation day and we will talk some more about what that means in just a bit.

According to our church year calender, today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day the church traditionally celebrates Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. However, after listening to the text for this morning you might be asking, “What happened to Palm Sunday?” But on closer inspection you might have noticed that the Old Testament reading is a picture of Palm Sunday, “your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” So, we have not completely lost our Palm Sunday Celebration, it is just that is not our main emphasis this morning.

I would suppose that the difficulty in choosing a text for this Sunday comes from the fact that today is also the day we begin Holy Week. Today we begin the last week of Jesus time on this earth as we walk with Him through the moments of His anguish in the Garden, His arrest, His trials and His suffering and dying on the cross. Here I would point you to the page in your bulletin which outlines the Bible readings for each day of this week. Those readings are listed to help you follow along with Jesus during Holy Week.

And this morning we continue our schizophrenia of sorts with the fact that we add to today our celebration of Confirmation. What is a pastor to do? And why does he title his sermon, “Dying?” There really is so much to preach on and so little time. So, for your sake and for mine, I will concentrate on Confirmation, after all, as I said earlier, it is something most of us have been through and it is good to review what promises we made so many years ago.

First, I want to answer the question, “What is confirmation?” And I want to begin by answering that question in the negative, by answering what Confirmation is not. Confirmation is not a sacrament, at least not according to our definition of a sacrament. Remember, our definition of a sacrament is rather narrow. To be a sacrament all for of the following criteria must be met: 1) it is a sacred act, and confirmation is a sacred act; 2) it must be instituted, or started by God, and God did not give us confirmation. Confirmation is a man made tradition; 3) it must have a visible element which is connected with God’s Word and 4) it must give forgiveness of sins; and confirmation, although we speak a Bible verse, it does not have a visible element connected with God’s Word and it does not offer forgiveness of sins. Thus, confirmation is not a sacrament.

So, “What is confirmation?” A second thought which is often mistakenly spoken of concerning confirmation is, and you do not have to raise your hand if you think this way, that confirmation is our confirming our baptismal vow. Let me assure you, it is not our confirming our baptismal vow. Think about it, what vow did we make at our baptism? We did not make any vow at baptism. Rather, at our Baptism it was God who did all the work. He made the vow. He put His name on us. He put faith in our hearts. He claimed us as His own.

Well, then, what is confirmation? Confirmation is our public profession of faith. I will state this now and later, “Confirmation is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designated to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.” In other words, it is a public confession of faith, a time to say, “I am now responsible for my own Christian faith,” and a lifelong pledge of being faithful to Christ. And this is where we get our sermon title. Confirmation is a pledge to die for Christ, and that pledge is made in response to the fact that we believe that He died for us.

Now, what pledge and what promises did we and do we make at confirmation? If you do not remember, you may open your hymnal. These questions are listed in their completeness on page 272-274 in the front part of the hymnal. We will be asking these questions of the confirmands in just a few minutes, but for now I want to somewhat summarize them as we ask ourselves what pledge and promise we made at our own confirmation. And maybe we might ask ourselves again today, do we still make these promises?

First, we are asked about our faith, the faith into which we were baptized. In essence we are asked, “Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism? Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways? Do you confess faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?” These are not too difficult of questions. They are questions our sponsors answered for us at our Baptism and so we are recognizing the faith and gifts God has given to us at our Baptism. Do we believe in God as He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible, or do we believe in some other god, even some god which we might have created in our own image? We might think that is a non-question, but too often we say we believe in the God of the Bible, the whole while believing in a god we have created in our own image.

Second, we are asked about the foundation of our faith. “Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faith and true?” In other words, do we believe the Bible is the Word of God, or that it merely contains the Word of God. The difference here is important. If the Bible merely contains the Word of God then we can believe the parts we want and throw out the parts we do not like. Sounds great does it not. How often we would like to throw out that part about lying or about coveting?! The problem, though, is this, once we throw out one part, we have to throw out the whole part. The other option is that we believe the Bible is the Word of God, which means we have to take all of it, even the parts we do not like. This belief is not as easy at it seems. How often do we find ourselves justifying what we do, because we know that without our bit of justification it might seem that we are disobeying God’s Word. We all do it. I know the Bible tells me to obey those in authority over me, but right now I have to speed to get where I am going. I know the Bible says that adultery is a sin, but what does it hurt to “window shop.” I know God wants me to give myself to Him first, that He wants me to be in Divine Service and Bible Class every Sunday, but how can He expect me to do that when there are so many things in life that I would miss if I actually did put Him first? This second question asks us what do we believe about the Bible?

Third, although this question is not asked explicitly in our new order of confirmation, it is asked implicitly, that is we are asked about our desire to be a member of this church. “Do you desire to be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and of this congregation?” Do we want to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran or not? This question reminds us of something that is quite lacking in our society today, denominational loyalty. I have said this before and I will say it again. Too often people are shopping for a church and not necessarily for a church which teaches what the Bible says. Rather they are searching for a church that teaches what they want to believe about the Bible. I pray that you are a member of this church because you have been as the Bereans and that you will continue to be as the Bereans. Remember the Bereans, they checked out everything that Paul preached to make sure that it was according to the Word of God.

Fourth, we are asked if we promise to be active in our faith and faith life. “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” In this question we are asked if we promise to live active Christian lives. We promise to give ourselves first to the Lord. We promise to give of our first fruits, our time, and our talents in response to all the good gifts and blessings our Lord first gives to us. We are reminded that He gave His life, how are we going to respond?

Fifth, we are asked if we will give our life for our faith. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” Now, many of us have made this promise, but do we live by it? I must admit, I do not know, if my life depended on it, if I would confess my faith or not. If someone said to me, if you admit you are a Christian I will kill you, now tell me, “are you a Christian?” I do not know what I would say. I do not believe any of us can say for certain. However, I do pray, that if and when the time would come, that I would be able to stand firm in my confession of faith. So, these are the questions we were asked and the questions we will ask our confirmands.

Today, then, we come to celebrate. We celebrate what God in Christ has done for us. We celebrate that it is not we who have chosen Jesus, but it is Jesus who has chosen us. We celebrate that because of His great love for us, Jesus gave His life in order to earn forgiveness of sins for us through His death on the cross. We celebrate that He has given us faith through His Word and through Holy Baptism. We celebrate that He continues to strengthen us in faith, and He continues to work to keep us in faith until Christ comes again to take us from this earth to be with Himself in heaven. We celebrate that we cling to God’s promises and work, not our own fallible thoughts, trusting that as God is running the show in our lives we know we can depend on Him to get it right.

Today we come to rejoice. We rejoice in the public profession of faith of these three confirmands. We rejoice with them that by the power of the Holy Spirit working through them they have come to proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. They have come to proclaim that they believe the Bible is the Word of God. They have come to proclaim that they desire to be a part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and this congregation. They have come to proclaim that they intend, with God’s help, to lead faithful lives in the Christian faith and in this congregation. And they have come to proclaim that they will suffer all, even death, rather than deny their faith. And all this they confess with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Today we come to pray. We pray God’s blessings on these three young men, especially as they face the trials and temptations of this world. We must all admit, there are many young people from our own confirmation classes who have fallen away and are no longer a part of the body of Christ. And Satan’s temptations may even increase as they now make this their confession and profession of faith. Thus, we pray that the Lord will strengthen these confirmands in their faith and resolve; that the Lord will help them to live according to their promises; so that finally, when their last hour has come they may stand before the Lord and He will say, “well done though good and faithful servant, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”

My prayer for each one of you gathered here today, whether you are family or friend, whether you are Lutheran or not, whether you have kept your confirmation promises or not, is that the Lord will fill you with His Holy Spirit, so that you might know God’s love for you so much that He gave His life for you so the even if you have not been faithful, with Him there is forgiveness and the opportunity to return to faithfulness; and if you have been weak in your faith and life that He would work in you a renewed spirit so that ultimately you might stand with these young men and with all the saints before the throne of God and declare, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.