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About blogging

April 20, 2010 2 comments

I think my foray into the blogosphere was in many ways, illadvised, or rather unadvised since I didn’t really ask anybody if they thought I should start blogging.  But I was truly disappointed to hear that someone who led me toward this path, if at least by way of example, has decided to go on hiatus from his blog.  I learned.  I laughed.  I was sometimes moved by his words.

And in this world where I am so far from family and friends, it was a way in which I could connect.  The fact is, parish ministry is isolating.  It’s not isolating like solitary confinement is isolating but rather in the way that I expect many business leaders and maybe even commanding officers in the military are often isolated.  They’re around people all the time, their people, for whom they have to be “on”.  They are the leader, the commander, the pastor, the priest, etc.  The nature of the ministry is isolating too.  No one likes to talk about the frustrations and the failures but they’re there.  Reading other pastors’ blogs was one of the things that inspired me to contribute my own thoughts to the Internet.  It was a shadow in comparison, but in reading their thoughts, I didn’t feel quite so lonely.

The reason my friend said he was going on hiatus was because of all the negative comments he received.  I presume he got some Christ-bashing trolls but my fear is that he received more than too many nastygrams from people who really should know better and conduct themselves accordingly.  That’s really too much a sign of the times.  There is little in respectful disagreement anywhere but one would think one would find some amongst Lutheran pastors.  Alas.  There is something to be said for the old advice that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  We might even tweak that a bit and even if we profoundly disagree with one another, if you can’t say anything nicely, don’t say anything at all.

I think pastors, especially, should be out there, blogging, talking, leading, and listening to the conversations of the people around them.  I think bloggers put themselves out there to be a part of the conversation.  If you don’t want to be a part of the conversation, I guess there’s always Dancing with the American Idol Survivor on TV.

This week, I resolve to thank each of the bloggers I read for their thoughts, even if I don’t agree with them at that particular time.

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Homily for Easter Morning

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Homily for Easter Morning

Augustana, 2010

Homily for Easter Morning MP3 Audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this Easter morning is the Gospel from Luke.

10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

Luke tells us the women are the first to hear and are the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The other evangelists tell us much the same thing but for Luke it seems extra important that it’s the women who are the first to hear the resurrection message.  He began his gospel noting that he had “followed all things closely for some time past,” in order to write his orderly account.  And he recorded the events just as the  “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.”  But it’s in Luke’s Gospel where the Lord promised to use the weak things to teach the strong.  Back in chapter 1 out of the mouth of Elizabeth came the confession that the baby in Mary’s womb was the Lord.  In Mary’s Song, the Magnificat those themes of the Great Reversal were introduced.  For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”  It wasn’t Herod or Pilate, or the chief priests. It wasn’t even Peter or James or John.  It was Mary and the women, the people of humblest estate in Jesus’ day, who were given the first word of the resurrection and told to tell the others.

Luke gives us only a summary of the events on that morning long ago.  John give us a much more detailed account.  What all of them do is help us to understand the complete surprise of the disciples on that first Easter morning and the confusion as people ran back and forth to the tomb where Jesus body had been laid.

The Swedish Bishop, Bo Giertz puts it this way, “Each of the first witnesses had their own version of events to tell.  Mary Magdalene had her story.  Peter and John saw things their own way.  The other women at the tomb clearly had not seen everything all at once.  Some of them could tell about a young man in white clothes inside the grace.  Others spoke about two men who stood before them in shining clothes.  That’s the way it always is when eyewitnesses recount surprising occurrences, where one thing happens after another.  No one person sees everything.  Afterward, you have to try to reconstruct the sequence of events, but it is precisely the variations in the accounts of what happened that prove your are dealing with eyewitnesses.  If all the accounts were the same, we might suspect the accounts to be doctored and collaborated.” (To Live with Christ, 283)

Confusion.  It’s all just too confusing.  And I would bet that when asked, most people, even many of us, if we were hard pressed, would say this is all just really confusing.  Death is death.  As painful as it is, we can see it and we know what it is.  But resurrection—that’s too much.  It’s something preachers talk about and sometimes even they don’t quite know anymore.  The women who went to Jesus tomb were looking for the dead body of Jesus.  Instead, they receive a word from the angels.  “He is not here, but has risen.”  That doesn’t really clear things up for them.  But the angel continues “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  Jesus had given the disciples this word twice before.  Once in chapter 9 when he predicted his passion and again in chapter 18.  In both those instances, the disciples do not understand what Jesus is saying.  Luke records it this way, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”  But here, in the empty tomb, from the angel, comes the word of Jesus.  And something remarkable happened.  The Word of God broke through.  It finally penetrates into the hearts and minds of the women there and for the first time the word is “remembered,” that is understood by faith and believed.  The women go on then to report “all these things” and “these words” to the others.  And at long last minds and eyes are opened to understand God’s Word.

I don’t know about you, but this Easter, I can’t help thinking about the funerals we’ve had.  First Don Hawn’s back in January, then Don Honkala’s and then George Hahn’s, but in my mind things go all the back to last August with Pastor Mueller.  Those losses are still very close, I think, to more than a few of us, close enough, that they are still confusing to us.  That’s why the Easter message is so important both at the funeral and this morning.  For those of us who have faced death this is the message of the angels to us.  “He is not here.  He has risen just as he said.”  Our brothers died confessing this Easter faith.  They are with Jesus and on the Last Day they will be raised from out of these graves just as Jesus was.  This is the promise of Easter.  It is the promise to Johnny and Williard and Don and Don and George and to their women and to all of us.  Death cannot hold them and death cannot hold you because death could not hold our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  This year, Easter has a very personal message for me and I’m sure for many of you.

But we are not to be pitied.  No.  Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth on a number of issues but he was concerned that there were a number who were doubting the resurrection of the dead.  Just before our reading from 1 Corinthians this morning, Paul writes, “12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”  In some church bodies not too distant from our own there are bishops who deny this very thing, that the dead are not raised.  In church bodies who bear the name Lutheran but not the teaching of the apostles, there is some doubt.  Today all over this land, preachers hedge with something like, “The disciples believed that Jesus was raised from the dead.”  Paul’s words to set up our reading this morning are a tight but simple logical argument, if Christ is not raised, I need to get another job.  He says it differently of course, “13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  But we are not to be pitied because Christ was raised from the dead and so shall our loved ones and so shall we!

Men are often simple creatures.  Typically we have simple needs and simple appetites.  Just the other day we were shopping for Easter clothes for the kids.  Kim took Erika and I took Daniel.  It literally took me all of three minutes to find something for Daniel.  Why?  Because there are only two styles of shirts, collared or polo, and only 3 colors of pants, olive green, navy blue or khaki.  That’s all there is in one tiny little corner of the store.  The men’s department is only slight bigger than that, covering the perhaps an additional what maybe 15 percent of the floor space?  That’s probably generous.  The rest, by far is for the women all sizes and styles and fits and don’t forget the accessories.  I wandered through the men’s department looking maybe for a new pair of pants, again there are only 4 colors for men, although there are a couple of patterns.  I thought I might want a new shirt.  I wandered through the winter sale items.  I puttered and wandered for at least 20 minutes.  I took forever!  And when I went to find the women, they were just getting to the fitting room to try on two, just two outfits.  Now I tell you all of this, not make fun of women, because I don’t.  I say all of this because most men think church is a lot like shopping.  It’s a lot of hot air about stuff you can’t really see and it takes too long and it seems like only women really enjoy it.  Men, the message of the angels that first Easter morning is true.  Peter saw it too.  He saw the linen cloths and was astonished at what he saw.  This experience and this word come to Peter changed a man who denied his dear friend and teacher just hours earlier and turned him into the boldest preacher of the resurrection there ever was.  It’s Peter who preaches on Pentecost morning.  It’s Peter who risked his life and went to his own death preaching the risen Christ.   What was confusing on Easter morning became clearer in the teaching of the risen Jesus to his disciples, then they understood “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

This is the message of the angels to the women.  It is the message of Easter for us all.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.

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Sermon for Good Friday

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon on John 19:17-30

Note: I was asked to contribute this sermon to the archive at  Göttinger Predigten, a sermon depository originally conceived by Professor Ulrich Nembach, who teaches homiletics at the University of Göttingen, Germany.  I was asked by the editors to become a member of the community of authors for this year.

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,

and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:17-30 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Good Friday is difficult day for Christians because it’s a day full of paradox.  We’re sure that today is a day of victory for our God and for us but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.  Our Lord Jesus Christ died a horrible ignoble death and yet he reigns.  So we don’t know whether to celebrate or commemorate this day.  We don’t know whether to commune or to fast from the Lord’s table.  On the cross Jesus is crowned king but it seems to a Pyrrhic victory to all those looking on.  There on the cross, Jesus was lifted up, glorified as Israel’s true king.

John begins his account of Jesus’ crucifixion with Jesus being taken out to Golgatha, the place of the Skull.  John notes that Jesus is bearing his own cross.  In all likelihood, Jesus was carrying the crossbeam for his cross, not the entire thing.  If you go to Jerusalem today, they will take you to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is just below the traditional Golgatha.  The church fathers attested to their knowledge of this place in their day. John Chrystostom comments about Golgatha in this way:  “Some say that Adam died there, and there lies; and that Jesus in this place where death had reigned, there also set up the trophy.  For he went forth bearing the Cross as a trophy over the tyranny of death: and as conquerors do, so He bore upon his shoulders the symbol of victory” (NPNF1 14:137).

Again, here is the paradox.  Jesus dies where Adam died and yet it is victory.  The shame of the cross is a trophy of victory for King Jesus.

And Pontius Pilate had the death warrant posted on the cross above where Jesus hung.  No doubt Pilate meant the inscription above Jesus head to be a mockery of both Jesus and the Jews who had insisted he be crucified.  So much so that the Jews complained, “It shouldn’t read, King of the Jews, but rather this man said he was King of the Jews.”  “What I have written, I have written,” says Pilate.  And yet, there in that inscription written by a Roman Governor, is the truth, in three languages no less, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  It was written in the local language, Aramaic, the official language, Latin and in the universal language of the day, Greek.  There was not a soul passing by Jesus’ cross that afternoon who could not determine who this was hanging on a cross, “The King of the Jews.”  What Pilate had meant as a dig at the Jews who had brought Jesus to him, turned out to be the kingliest title given to Jesus.  In his commentary on John, Cyril of Alexandria notes: “For the wise Daniel said that there was given him glory and a kingdom and that all nations and languages shall serve him.”  (LF 48:628-629)  “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:14)

Jesus is king not just on the cross, not just in title, but in action; in giving up his spirit, he showed that he was king over life and death.  Again this scene is full of paradox.  Many say that Jesus was a wonderful teacher from Galilee who was in the wrong place in the wrong time that perhaps Pilate had even confused Jesus with the other Galileans he had put to death in the Temple the year or two prior to Jesus’ death.  They try to strip away all the early Christian community’s “Christology” with which those well-meaning early Christians have shrouded Jesus and make him into a seemingly more authentic, itinerant Palestinian preacher, an advocate of first-century religious reform in Israel.  With our passion for reformation, Lutherans could be sympathetic to such a view, except that it doesn’t hold unless you accept a view that God is not God, sin is not sin and Jesus is not the Christ, the Messiah of God.  This is the economy of God.  God is God.  He set the rules, originally, with our first parents in paradise.  Adam broke the rules and he tasted the curse of rebellion against God, death.  And just for the sake of argument today, Adam died at the place of the Skull, at Golgatha.  It is not necessary, but it helps to unfold the paradox of today.  So God is God and he set the rule, “When you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die.”  Adam ate.  Adam died, first spiritually, then physically.  Romans 5:12 and following, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

There on the cross, at the place of the Skull, Jesus gave up his spirit.  He willfully gave himself over to death so that death might be undone.  This is an act of power and authority, not weakness!  And this is the gift that our Lord Jesus Christ gives to us—in his death, life, in his condemnation, justification, in his suffering for sins, forgiveness.  Paul continues in Romans chapter 5, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

As a result of Adam’s sin, death reigned.  As a result of Jesus’ death, the reign of death has been put to an end and Jesus reigns.  From the place of death, the place of the Skull, Jesus reigns.  The cross is his trophy, the symbol of his rule.  The title many meant for mockery is his true title of Kingship.  His breathing his last is an act of great power and authority.  All for us, for our salvation.  This is what he meant when he said, “It is finished.”  And so today is a day full of paradox but today is a good day, Good Friday.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Homily for Holy Thursday

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Homily for Holy Thursday

Hebrews 10:15-25

Click here for MP3 Audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text this evening is from the Epistle lesson assigned for tonight.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

This is our text.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  There are only two reasons to be here tonight.  One: to be with Jesus, and two, to receive his gifts.

Why did you come to church tonight?  Now probably need to remember my audience here.  You folks are the hard-core, the die-hards.  It’s Thursday night for cryin’ out loud, right?  But maybe you’re here tonight because you feel some sort of obligation to be here.  You’re here tonight because you’re supposed to.  Mom and dad always went to Maundy Thursday service, therefore you should too.  Or maybe it’s because it’s Maundy Thursday, a shortened form of the Latin, mandatum, command.  You think, your Lord commanded you to be here tonight so you better be here.  Or maybe you’re here because you’re always here when the doors are open or maybe you’ve just always come to Maundy Thursday service and you really don’t give it much thought.  We have a mix of reasons for being here tonight after all tonight is the night our Lord gave to his disciples and therefore to the Church his Supper.  But chief among all these reasons must be to be with Jesus and to receive his gifts.

Because Jesus is here tonight, in the flesh, as we say.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gets it right: tonight we enter the holy place of God “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.”  Tonight we are here to be with the real Jesus, not some spiritualized Jesus.  Not your Jesus—not the Jesus in your heart, not the Jesus you’ve made him out to be but the real Jesus, the one whose living voice speaks tonight, the one whose altar we crowd around and where we eat and drink his body and blood.  By eating and drinking you will enter into the real presence of Yahweh, the Lord of Israel, God Most High!  Heaven is open.  The angels and the archangels, the seraphim and cherubim, the four living creatures and the 24 elders and they who have come out of the great tribulation, they will be here when Jesus comes.  We will sing out the song of heavenly throne room, the “Holy, Holy, Holy!” of the seraphim.  Tonight the curtain that separated God from his people for ages has been torn apart by the offering of Jesus for our sins once and for all.  Jesus will be here when he says he is, “This is my body… this is my blood.”  He will be here tonight.

Christians have come a long way in two thousand years and in many ways they have come full circle.  The earliest Christians met every Lord’s Day and celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day.  They called it the breaking of the bread.  So we read in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  For centuries, well into the middle ages of the church, this was the practice of Christians throughout the world.  The church of the middle ages began to corrupt this simple joy of being with Jesus and receiving his gifts turning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper into a way to merit forgiveness of sins.  But that was never Jesus’ intent for his disciples.  I’ll speak more on Jesus intent in a minute.  By the time of Luther’s day, people communed very infrequently because they thought they must do something to be worthy to receive such a gift. Luther once said that if he were handing out gold coins at the altar, “the balcony would collapse under the weight of those who would be waiting in line. Blind people would swim across rivers to get such treasure!”  Dr. Sasse, a great Lutheran theologian of the 1900’s said, “No Christian of the Reformation… could conceive of a Sunday divine service without the Lord’s Supper, just as already in the church of the New Testament there was no Lord’s Day without the Lord’s Supper.”[1] Luther is quoted has having said that he needed communion every day I don’t think he was exaggerating.  In our own Lutheran Confessions, article 24 of the Augsburg Confession, we read:

1 We are unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass.  Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents.  Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament. 2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.[2]

Luther and the reformers, even the Germans princes who presented this confession in Augsburg understood what so many of us too often forget: that the risen Jesus is really present with his people today sacramentally, bodily, not just in our hearts by faith.  His presence is a real living presence among us by his body and blood in us.  That is how he makes us into the body of Christ.  It wasn’t until the rise of German pietism in the 1600’s and 1700’s that emphasized this Jesus in your heart kind of faith that we see not only the continuing of infrequent communion but now for a different reason.  Don’t you see how clever the devil is?  At first people didn’t commune because they felt too unworthy.  In the age of pietism they didn’t commune regularly because they felt it was the faith in their hearts that really counted, not some mere eating and drinking.  Get it?  They thought they were too spiritual to heed the Lord’s command to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  They didn’t really need it.  Oh, how sad it is to be a pietist and miss out on all the great celebrations; it’s like being the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.  And we are still fighting against this steady stream of pietism in the church today.  But slowly, with faithful leaders like CFW Walther and Wilhem Loehe rereading Luther in the 1800’s and beginning something of a Lutheran renaissance, Dr. Luther’s understanding of the sacrament in the church is coming back to prominence in preaching and teaching.  The words of the catechism are again taught plainly about the Lord’s Supper not with some Calvinistic or Zwinglian slant.  “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? 2 Answer: Instituted by Christ himself, it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and to drink.”[3] Words so plain a child can understand them.  We have come full circle.

Jesus wants to be with his people and give them his gifts.  His intention on that most blessed night was to give us a foretaste of the promises the Lord made to his people throughout the Old Testament to be with his people and dwell with them and be a blessing to them, a foretaste of heaven.

The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Ex. 29:41-46)

God was dwelling in the midst of his people.  He had come down from the top of Mt. Sinai and was dwelling with them in the Tabernacle.  The entire sacrificial system that the Lord institutes in Exodus and describes in detail in Leviticus is a blessing to his people so that they know that the offerings they make are pleasing to the Lord and he is no longer angry at them for their sin.  Through these sacrifices their sins are atoned for.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews gets this.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  And when, Jesus said, “And, lo, I will be with you always, even until the end of the age,” I don’t believe for one minute he meant some disembodied “Jesus-in-your-heart” kind of presence.  I’m not alone in this either.  Smarter people than me have looked at the texts and concluded that Jesus was speaking with all those OT texts about Yahweh dwelling with his people running in the minds of the disciples and referencing his Supper, his way of being with his people and giving them the gifts he won for them on the cross.  It is no coincidence that Jesus offered himself on the cross at the end of the day, about the 9th hour, as the lambs for the daily sacrifice were being slaughtered at the Temple.  And the grain offering which he offers is his very body in, with, and under this bread given for you for the atonement of your sins.  Through his body and blood, you have access to the very holy of holies.  Here the Lord speaks to you and tells you the one thing you need to know.  “Your sins are forgiven.”  Here he dwells among us as our God.  He has brought you out of the world where you were in slavery to sin and death and the power of the devil and has brought you to be with him in his holy house to his holy table to give you the gifts he won for you at his holy cross—eternal life, salvation, and forgiveness of sins—this Holy Thursday, this Holy Week.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds though faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Sasse, We Confess the Sacraments, p. 99.

[2] The Book of Concord: The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 1959 (T. G. Tappert, Ed.) (56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

[3] The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 1959 (T. G. Tappert, Ed.) (351). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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Thoughts on Holy Week at Augustana

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

As I noted in the previous post, Holy Week this year was an especially busy time that came on the heels of an especially busy time.  But Holy Week this year was great.  It was a lot of work, not just for the pastor either, for the altar guild, secretary, the organist and the musicians.  It was busy, I can’t deny that.  But it seemed to be a blessed busy-ness, if you get my meaning.  There is something to Holy Week that just happens when you give yourself over to it and let it wash all around you.  The readings are longer.  The liturgies are slightly different.  The music is solemn and yet joyous.  It’s good stuff, theologically cool.

Since I arrived at Augustana, I’ve simply tried to say that Holy Week is to be observed and I’ll do my best to lead us in observing it.  There is Palm Sunday with it’s abrupt turn from jubilant hosannas to the passion of our Lord.  We have a midweek service at 9:30 am and during Lent this year we had a full sermon at those services.  We finished the last one Holy Wednesday.  Then, of course, the solemnity of Holy Thursday with the stripping of the altar.  This year we had a cantor chant Psalm 22 as the altar was stripped.  It was very moving.  Good Friday saw the Chief Service with Holy Communion and the hauntingly beautiful Reproaches, “What have you done to me, O my people…”

And then there was the Vigil.

In the past, three congregations in the area got together to hold the Vigil.  When I arrived I was invited to participate and this year we hosted it at Augustana.  If you have never been to a Vigil, go next year.  It is the reversal of everything, of Good Friday and even Maundy Thursday.  At Augustana we have a cemetery and we struck the new fire there.  We then followed the paschal candle (pillar of fire) out of the place of darkness and death into the place of light and eternal life!  It was really moving.  We even quickly reappointed the chancel during the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis.  “Christ is risen, indeed!”  I was so glad with the way things had gone, I couldn’t get to sleep that night.  I hope that next year we have confirmations or a baptism or two to do.

The breakfast is always a great tradition on Easter morning after the sunrise service.  What a great time to eat and visit with friends.

We couldn’t do it all without the many laypeople for whom Easter is the highlight not just of the liturgical year but of their year too.  A blessed busy-ness.

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Homily for the Funeral for George Hahn

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Homily for the Funeral of George Hahn

March 20th, 2010

Click here for MP3 Audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel reading from John 10.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  This is our text.

Some of the greatest people named in the Bible were shepherds by occupation: Abel, the patriarchs, Moses, and David, to name a few. Throughout the Middle East today, you will see shepherds leading flocks and revealing how intimately they know each sheep, its individual traits, and its special needs.  Shepherds tended sheep so that they would benefit from what the sheep produce wool, milk, and lambs.  In Jesus’ day, Jewish shepherds did not tend the sheep in order to slaughter them, unless they were used for sacrifice. So when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he was also saying that he is unlike all those other shepherds.  Before Jesus, the innocent sheep died for the sins of the shepherd, in Christ, the innocent shepherd dies for the lives of his sinful sheep.  It’s not that David or Moses were unfaithful hirelings, but they did not purchase their sheep with their own blood.

The Lord Jesus Christ was George’s Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd knew George.  The Good Shepherd laid down his life for George.  George knew his Good Shepherd, Jesus.  George knew the Good Shepherd had laid down his life for him.  The Good Shepherd knew George.

Some people look at a man in the condition that George was in and they wonder and worry looking in his eyes or his face for any spark of remembering and really staking their relationship on what he can remember.  But our God is not like that.  He remembers us.  He remembers us even if we have forgotten.  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”  In the Bible, the word know, means much more than just cognitive comprehension or simple understanding.  It speaks of a close relationship between people or between God and his people or even between Jesus and the Father.  “I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  How about that!  Jesus knew George as well as he knew his own Father in heaven.  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

The gospel writer John has this amazing knack, inspired by the Holy Spirit to be sure, but still he has this uncanny ability to record the most intimate sayings of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark and Luke do not record these words from our Lord, only John.  And in this way, John is like a portrait painter or one of those skilled photographers who are able to not only capture the likeness of a person on canvas or film but they capture something of the essence of their subject’s personality.  These words and those other passages that are unique to John I think hold a special place in the hearts of Christians.  I’m sure that this is why Christians hold John’s Gospel so dearly and perhaps why we turn to it more often in times of trouble or need.  We know Jesus can calm the storm, we know he can preach a great sermon on the mount, we know Jesus can turn a phrase or make a profound point about the kingdom of God in a parable but he doesn’t do any of those things in John’s Gospel.  No, in John’s Gospel we see Jesus dealing speaking one-on-one with a Samaritan woman at a well, speaking kindly with the woman caught in adultery and forgiving her sins, we see Jesus weeping at the death of his friend, Lazarus, and we overhear the high priestly prayer, this most intimate conversation with Jesus and His Father.  This is a bit of an exaggeration for the sake of my point, but I would venture to say that in the other Gospels we learn about Jesus.  In John’s Gospel we come to know Jesus.

It is a uniquely human thing to know someone and to be known by someone.  Think about that for a minute.  Think about the countless obituaries you read in the paper every week and when you don’t know them, it’s just sort of “eh, poor guy,” right?  But when you read George’s, it was different wasn’t it?  Of course it was.  I imagine, many of you today know each other but maybe you didn’t know you both knew George and so you might be talking after the service today and saying, “I didn’t know you knew George,” or “how did you come to know George?”  Or if you knew him and knew each other knew him you’ll be sharing some stories about him—stories that come from having known him.

Jesus the Good Shepherd knew George.  He laid down his life for George.

I did not know George—at least not nearly as well as I expect almost all of you did.  I only knew him as he was in the past two years.  I learned about him.  You, his family and friends told me many stories about him bear hunting or fishing or traveling or back in the early days when we was drilling wells.  I mostly only know about him from what you’ve told me.  But I know a few things about George that I learned on my own.  For while, off and on, George and Margaret couldn’t make it church and I would go over to the house and bring them the Lord’s Supper.  George would fade in and out during parts of the service like the readings but when it came to the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, he would snap right in and for that moment he was there and he knew I was a pastor and what I was doing there.  He was the same way in church too.  This past Sunday even, as murky as his mind was from dementia, when I came down the aisle to bring him the Lord’s Supper and I could catch his eye and he heard me say the words, “The body of Christ, given for you,” he knew.  And he was there for a moment anyway.  Even on the evening before he died, he prayed the Lord’s Prayer with me.  Just like a sheep who knows his Shepherd’s voice, George knew those words.  Those things which we learn first in life, we forget last.  George knew his Lord.  The Good Shepherd knew George.

“I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.”  These are close words, they are loving words, they are intimate words from our Lord.  And he knows you too and paired up with this picture of Jesus as a shepherd who knows each of his sheep’s individual needs, he shows what this ultimate knowledge is for, not just judgment but love and protection.  God shows us in several ways that He knows us.  To begin with, our Lord knows our names (see John 10:3). He knew Simon (John 1:42) and even gave him a new name. He called Zaccheus by name (Luke 19:5); and when He spoke Mary’s name in the garden, she recognized her Shepherd (John 20:16).

A long time ago, God called George by name and declared him to be His own in the waters of Holy Baptism.  God spoke George’s name and then put His name onto George to claim him as his own.  For where God puts His name, He puts His promise and blessing.  It is something God did for George, not the other way around.  I think too often we get caught up in thinking that what really counts is what we can offer back to God, right praise, right worship, love and faith.  It’s not that it isn’t completely true, those things are important, but in the end what really counts is what God has done for us in Christ.  If we were to run our understanding of faith on what we do for God, we wouldn’t have a whole lot of hope for George.  Sure, he could pray the Lord’s Prayer but he couldn’t stay with me during even a short Bible reading.  We might even be tempted to think that he didn’t exhibit much faith.  But the truth of Jesus as Good Shepherd won’t let me go too far down that dangerous path because it’s not about what the sheep can do for the shepherd it’s about the protection the Good Shepherd provides for his sheep.  I don’t have to worry about what George remembered of God, I know that our great God, our Good Shepherd Jesus, knew George.  And remember that kind of knowing isn’t the simple cognitive recognition it is the kind of knowing that truly knows on the deepest level—a knowing that exists not just in the memory but in the whole heart and mind and spirit, and throughout one’s whole being.

God knows not just our names but He also knows our needs. Often, we do not even know our own needs! Psalm 23 is a beautiful poetic description of how the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. In the pastures, by the waters, and even through the valleys, the sheep need not fear, because the shepherd is caring for them and meeting their needs. If you connect Psalm 23:1 and 6, you get the main theme of the poem: “I shall not want … all the days of my life.”

George was a father and as such an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd for his family for many years.  He saw to his families needs like a faithful shepherd sees to the needs of each of his sheep.  And they, in turn, when George needed them, the past few years, saw to his needs.  Rarely have I seen in a family the kind of love and support for one another and the closeness you hold each other.  Your father modeled that for you but it didn’t come from him, it came from his Good Shepherd.  And the same Good Shepherd who saw George and you all though all the tough times and all the good times will see you through to the days and weeks ahead.  As the shepherd cares for the sheep, the sheep get to know their shepherd better. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep know Him.  You yourselves are witnesses of the love and protection your Good Shepherd has given you.  Do not loose these words he speaks to you today, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Amen.

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Homily for the Memorial Service for Don Honkala

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Homily for the Memorial Service for Don Honkala

March 19th, 2010

MP3 Audio file here

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon is the Gospel lesson for today, John 14.  Jesus begins with these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  John alone records these words for us.  It was Holy Thursday night and Jesus was speaking with his disciples in the upper room.  The great Bible scholar A.T. Robertson in his Harmony of the Gospels, put this immediately following Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper.  If he is right, then these are the next words Jesus says after announcing to them, “this cup is the new testament in my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Maybe there’s a pause, maybe not, and then, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”  He is preparing them for what will come—really for what he knows will come in just a few short hours—his betrayal by one of them, his arrest and trial and his crucifixion, for the pain and sorrow over his death and the guilt over his betrayal.  To all of that Jesus speaks these words of encouragement, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  Countless generations of Christians have received comfort from these holy words and it is appropriate that we hear them again today for us and for our comfort.

This text is a good one for us today not only because through it our Lord brings us comfort but because I think this passage was a good example of the kind of trust in God Don had.  Over the past couple of years, he really fought hard, off and on.  I would visit and in the course of my visit, I would ask, are you worried about anything?  And invariably he would say, “No.  I went and saw him last Tuesday to pray with him before the surgery and I asked him the same question and he had the same answer.”  I am convinced Don knew his Savior, Jesus and he trusted in Jesus and he trusted this word from Jesus for him.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  Don trusted this words and he trusted the one who spoke them.

This passage is full of comfort from our Lord and in times like this, these words of comfort seem to speak more loudly and clearly to our deepest fears and our greatest worries.  Remember that Jesus is probably speaking after Supper, the Last Supper.  But he is not speaking like one condemned to death.  He is speaking in another manner entirely.  Have you ever watched an old movie with a friend who hasn’t seen it?  You know the ending but they don’t.  You know your friend, she’s gonna love the end of this movie but you sit tight and don’t say a thing.  And instead of watching the end of the movie, you watch your friend as she watches the end of the movie to see how much she enjoys it, how much she enjoys the same thing you do.  That’s similar to how Jesus is speaking here.  He knows the end of the story.  He knows that Friday morning is coming but he also knows that Sunday morning is coming too, and on that morning he will be resurrected and not just him but his dear disciples and the rest of the world with him.  Sitting there at the table after supper, he had already begun his journey to the cross and to Easter morning.  And that is what he did with the promise that if he goes, he will come back and take you to be with him where he is.

One of the great blessings of ministering to Don over the years has been taking the Lord’s Supper to him.  He lived some distance from Hickory and when he went to the hospital or to rehab it was always closer to him, but then I think even a little farther for me.  But Don always deeply appreciated receiving the Lord’s Supper and I don’t think it has as much to do with the distance I traveled as much as it was the receiving of Jesus great gift there in the sacrament.  Don would hunger and thirst for the sacrament.  When we were all finished he would often say, “Thanks.  I needed that.”  Instead of like many people who are embarrassed by their need, he was happy to say it.  He was happy to receive the assurance of forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood.  After we communed I could see in his face and hear in voice that his heart was less troubled.  This is the assurance Jesus gives to us today in the midst of our great loss.  “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

Perhaps, that is our greatest fear.  It all sounds good right now, here in this place with the preacher talking and the sunlight filtered through the stained glass but what about out there in the real world?  Why does it always feel so different out there?  When we’re out there why do we feel so alone, and stranded?  If Jesus was really able to help us he would do it out while were out there where we need it.  And so we worry, “Maybe he’s not really talking to me.  Maybe he’s just talking to the good people, to the nice people.”  But that’s not true because just then, the most extraordinary thing happened.  One of the good people, one of the nice people, one of the disciples, one of the twelve apostles spoke his fear, “Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Thomas!  Thank God for Thomas, right?  He’s like that guy in class who doesn’t even know what a dumb question is so he just goes ahead and asks it.  Everyone else was thinking it but they thought that by now they should know what Jesus was talking, but they didn’t.  “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Thomas’ question is a good one.

Regardless of all the details, in situations like these I think most people start looking at their lives and their unmet goals, and their unfulfilled dreams and wonder about the paths their lives have taken.  We are forever caught up with what hasn’t happened yet, with what we thought we’d have accomplished by now, with what remains unfulfilled in our lives.  We seem trapped in thinking about our lives, our ways, and our perceptions of the world and everything in it.  And then Jesus taps us on the shoulder and says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  In those four simple words Jesus has given us great comfort.  He reassures us that he isn’t judging us for not being there yet.  Jesus tells us that our goals in life are not the true way.  He tells us that his way—the way of vulnerability to the world right up to the point of crucifixion—is the true way, the way of life.

But that way of life goes through the way of death for Jesus.  I mentioned earlier that real world was out there, outside these walls, outside these stained glass windows.  But what if it’s not?  What if this is the real world?  What if this is the real world and all that out there is just a mere shadow of the way things are supposed to be?  What if the real world is supposed to be about truth and life—real truth and real life—not the lies and death that lie in wait for us out there as soon as the music fades and the door opens?  Because Jesus’ truth is real truth and his life is real life.  Death tried to grab hold of him, but it could not.  Death could not hold Jesus and death cannot hold Don and death cannot hold you.  So don’t fall for death’s lies.  Whenever there is anything that tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care—between that and you stands the Jesus Christ the Lord who died for you and was made alive again for you.  And so before they can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  This isn’t just head stuff; it’s not even church stuff; it’s the real stuff.  This is what’s real and what true.  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

You know how sure, how true, how freeing, and enlivening those words are even as you hear them now.  They are surer and truer and more enlivening in the in the doing of them because Jesus doesn’t just talk, he does them.  We trust them even if it may be painful to do so.  Jesus lives, and by His true Word and Spirit He puts His death and His life into you just as he put his death and life into Don.

It’s frightening how much of our lives are driven by what we’re afraid of and what we’re trying to prove.  Jesus takes all that away.  Take away all of those things blur our vision and the one true thing we have to live for finally stands revealed.  Jesus said, “I am the life.”  We have life itself in Jesus.  Jesus loved his life because he knew his life came from God, was lived in God, was going back to God and he was therefore a blessing to everybody.  Every minute of every day you and I have the opportunity to live a life that comes straight from God.  We’re wasting it if we live it for anything less.  When we live it consciously in God, however, we have absolutely everything we could possibly need.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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