Archive for May, 2011

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

1 Peter 3:13-22

Augustana, 2011

39 Sermon for Easter 6.mp3

Note: the three examples toward the end of this sermon came from The Lutheran Difference, Baptism, pp. 355-376.

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

The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle for today, specifically the second half beginning at verse 18,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1Pet 3:18-22)

This really is the epistle lesson assigned for this Sunday in our lectionary and I can think of no greater blessing than to have witnessed precisely what Peter is talking about in the baptism of little Kaleb.  And Kurtis, Erin, you guys are my witnesses, I didn’t coerce you to have Kaleb baptized today, did I?  Today just seemed like as good a day as any and indeed it is.

The last couple Sundays, I have been preaching about how the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, that is the doctrine of the Apostles.  Baptism is surely one of those teachings.  Baptism is like the great flood that God sent upon the earth to destroy sinners.  That’s what the apostle Peter says here.  God sent a flood to destroy the earth, to destroy the wickedness of the people on it.  But God commanded Noah to build an ark and Noah built an ark according to God’s instructions and he and his wife, and his sons and their wives were saved in the ark.  God brought them safely through the flood.  Baptism corresponds to this.  God has just now brought Kaleb safely through the flood waters.  Baptism has not washed away any dirt from Kaleb but it has washed away His sins.  God did it.  Baptism is something God does just like the flood was something God did.  This leads Doctor Luther to say, “Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah.… Baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment.… [Noah’s flood] was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace.” (AE 35:32) God flooded the earth.  God baptized Kaleb, and God baptized all of you.

Flooding the whole earth seems like a drastic measure but the cure was appropriate to the disease.  This is how God saw the earth at the time just before He sent the flood.  Moses records for us in Genesis chapter 6, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Gen 6:11–13)  We are not surprised by God’s assessment of the earth.  We may only be surprised by when it was that God said this about the earth.  He could very well have said it last week or this morning.  Most older people today seem convinced that the world was a better place years ago.  In this case, I think age gives us the benefit of forgetting some of the bad things.  No, the heart of man is just as corrupt as it ever was, now, back 50 years ago, or back thousands of years ago.  Human experience is proof that the earth is no different today than it was in the days of Noah and if we still need convincing we need only watch 10 minutes of the evening news.  Flooding the earth was a cure for the drastic situation of the wickedness of the people in it.

“Now God saw that Noah was righteous and commanded him to build and ark.” (Gen 7:1)  Noah is commended to us as an example of living by faith in the Letter to the Hebrews, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.  By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Heb 11:7)  From these two Scriptures we might get the idea that it’s a good thing we got little Kaleb here just when we did.  Just look at him; he can’t possibly have done anything wrong, yet.  And yet in the same paragraph of this great teaching on the rescue we receive in baptism we also have the teaching of what we have been rescued from—unrighteousness, sin which brings us unrighteousness.  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”  We, not even little Kaleb, nor Noah, weren’t the righteous ones that deserved to get saved, Jesus in His divine mercy died for the sins of all people.

Children inherit physical characteristics and even psychological traits from their parents.  Folks may say, “He has his father’s eyes.” Or, “He has his mother’s smile.”  We don’t speak as frequently about the spiritual trait we inherit from our parents: sin.  Psalm 51:5 clearly says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  And in Romans 5:18-19, Paul tells us that we inherit our sin from our parents.  It was for this sin, Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

So the conversation might go like this at work tomorrow.  “Church was really uplifting yesterday.  We celebrated the baptism of a little baby boy.”

“What do you mean?  You baptize babies at your church?”

“Sure, you mean you don’t?”

“No, of course we don’t.  Babies are too young  to make a decision for Christ or even remember their baptism.  What good will it do?”

From his cell in a Nazi prison in 1944, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his newborn nephew Dietrich Wilhelm.  It began, “Today you will be baptized a Christian.”  It would be years before little Dietrich Wilhelm would ever understand or read this letter for himself.  Cynics might say that Pastor Bonhoeffer’s letter is a waste of effort, a waste of words.  But words are not so powerless.  In that letter Pastor Bonhoeffer tried to pass on to his infant nephew a heritage and an inheritance through the encouragement of words.  With that letter, he left something of enduring value for his nephew after the Nazis made sure he was executed in the final days of the war.

Our Christian friends are absolutely correct when they say that Kaleb does not have the ability to understand what is happening today.  He can’t understand the words of his parents’ lullaby or the legal implications of his parent’s will.  But does that mean that his parents shouldn’t sing to him or get a will, just in case?  Of course not!  Although infants can’t understand such words, they still receive the benefits and blessings of their parents’ love and care.  Most objections to infant baptism are based on human conditions.  Yet God’s grace and mercy are unconditional.  God is the one doing this great thing, not Kaleb.

I’ve got one more.  Think about a baby who gets adopted.  An infant who is adopted plays no part in determining which family will adopt him.  Instead, an infant receives all the blessings and privileges from being adopted into the family because the family chose to adopt him.  It’s the same with our adoption by God.  He chose us.  Today He chose Kaleb.  He has already chosen you.  We are all unworthy recipients of His overwhelming grace.

We are here this morning on the 6th Sunday of Easter with the shouts of Christ is risen still ringing in our ears.  We have already heard Peter, blessed by the Holy Spirit to preach to the crowd gathered at Pentecost.  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”  (Ac 2:38-39)

Little Kaleb, “Baptism now saves you.”  Just as God has saved all of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are baptized; you are saved.  God has done it.  Want proof?  It’s there in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  Amen.

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

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Sermon for Easter 5

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

38 Sermon for Easter 5.mp3

Note: Adapted from a sermon in Concordia Pulpit Resources, 2011.

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

Out text is the Gospel reading for today.  It is Holy Thursday, the disciples’ last night with Jesus.  From John 13 we know that they had every reason to have troubled hearts.  They were suddenly facing terrible difficulties.  They had just heard that someone in their own midst was going to betray Jesus (13:21), that they would no longer be able to go where Jesus was going (13:33), and that Peter himself was going to deny the Lord three times (13:38).  Everything they’re hearing is leading to Jesus’ death the very next day on the cross.  And yet in our reading for this morning, they realize the good news that, rather than a reason to despair, the cross of Jesus Christ comforts troubled hearts with the promises, assurances, and benefits of our great God.

Christ Jesus comforts our troubled hearts by pointing us back to the powerful Word of God.  A troubled heart is instantly strengthened by the strength of God’s Word.  hears the good news of the cross and is overwhelmed by its comfort.  Jesus encourages us, some would say commands us to have faith, but I think this is less a command as much as it is a reminder to “believe in God; believe also in Me.”  Hear your Lord saying that to you today.  “Believe in God; believe also in Me.”  This is the power of God’s Word to be encouraged by Jesus Christ Himself.  The comforting word of Jesus is the light that shines out in the darkness.  It is the word that brings forth Lazarus from the tomb.  It is the Word that created faith in You when the Lord Jesus called you by name in Holy Baptism.  Dear Christian friends, be comforted that you have the clear Word of God and need not fear anything.

Christ Jesus comforts our troubled hearts by pointing us back to God and His promises to us, those great promises proved by His cross.  A troubled heart hears the good news of the cross and is amazed at the promise of what God has in store for us.  Jesus promises to prepare “rooms” in His Father’s house.  Many of you are familiar with the King James “mansions” here.  “In my father’s house there are many mansions.”  I know many of you watch the television show, Extreme Home Makeover.  I know how teary-eyed you get when the family walks back into the house after being gone for a week and walk into their dream home, complete with any comforts that help the family to overcome the difficulties they face in this life.  But oh, how much greater the room in your Father’s house, Jesus has gone to prepare for you!  And the most amazing part is that Jesus promised He was coming back and would personally take us to our eternal inheritance.  But always remember when it was that Jesus said your room was now prepared.  It was when He said from the cross, “It is finished.” (19:30), because it was at the cross that Jesus paid for all your sin, the sin that would have prevented you from inheriting your heavenly room.  Christ Jesus comforts our troubled hearts by pointing us back to God and His promises to us, those great promises proved by His cross.

Jesus Christ comforts our troubled hearts by assuring us that He is the way, the truth, and the life, all of which is verified through the cross.  Jesus said, “you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Poor Thomas, right?  Thomas is thinking of Google Map directions, or at least Hickory landmark directions, do you know where the Texaco used to be?  But more to the point Thomas wants to see this way in purely human terms and this is a revelation of his condition, of our condition.  Too often we do not accept the way in which God appears.  Jesus is weak and suffering on the cross and yet we think that Christians should never suffer.  We believe that superfaith should turn us into something more along the lines of a Christian super hero so much so that we don’t even like to see the picture of our Lord suffering for us on the cross, but prefer a naked cross, one stripped of Jesus body, “because He is raised,” we say.  True, Christ is risen.  But I think there is more than just the inconvenience of coming to church on Good Friday that keeps even Christians away.  It is embarrassing to us to be confronted with the arduous suffering our Lord endured on the cross in our place.  Instead we too often believe ourselves to be not all that bad and would prefer not to be reminded of the need of our need for Good Friday.  This carries over into the life of faith too because we don’t accept “the way” of Jesus hiding in the water of Holy Baptism and in, with, and under the simple bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  Surely, we have to do something so then it must be about our faith and the strength of our faith.  But what about the faith of the weakest among us, the most vulnerable—the unborn, the mentally disabled.  God has a different plan for them, we are convinced and so we don’t look to where Jesus has put His promise but instead make up another promise.  No, dear friends, the weakest among us are saved by the Word and by the water.  You are not saved by the faith you have manufactured.  You are saved by the faith the Holy Spirit gave you and that was by grace and by works lest any man should boast.  And Finally we don’t accept the way of our own cross, the way of suffering handed to us as we follow after Christ.  There are those Christians out there who see everything in this life as moving form victory to victory.  Their services are upbeat.  They almost make you feel bad for feeling bad.  Those churches don’t have Good Friday services.  Good Friday and the cross of Jesus are means to the glorious end.  Which is true, but they don’t seem to live in this world.  Doctor Luther was wise to say that there are two kinds of theologians—theologians of glory and theologians of the cross.  A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.  A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.  That cancer that you have, say the theologians of glory, that is not a terrible thing, they say; it is a gift from God so that you can witness to people in the chemo chairs.  No, we say.  Cancer is a terrible often painful, disease that wastes the body and sometimes breaks down the spirit too.  It has come not from God as a gift, though God can work through it to bring you closer to Him, but rather it is the chastisement for sin, and the result of the effects of sin in this sin-twisted world.  Jesus alone provides the healing you need and you may not get it on this side of heaven.  But dear friend you will get that healing.  Jesus has promised.  Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.  No, we often don’t accept the that Jesus power is revealed in weakness at the cross, that He promises to be in water, bread, and wine, and that our way might be one of suffering too.  Jesus Christ comforts our troubled hearts by assuring us that He is the way, the truth, and the life, all of which is verified through the cross.

The way of Jesus is in His cross.  At His cross, Jesus became the embodiment of the way, the truth and the life for our eternal salvation.  Jesus is the only way because His cross is the only means to remove the sin that separates us from God the Father.  Jesus is the only truth because at the cross Jesus reveals the truth of God’s love for His fallen people.  Jesus is the only life because it is only through His death that we can find real life, life everlasting.

Many of you know that I’ve traveled to many places around the world.  One of the most terrifying places I’ve ever been is Japan because I can’t read a single sign.  Travelers need to be able to makes sense of the signs to find our way.  If we follow the signs we can make it to the tourist information office and the hotel and food.  Luckily I found someone who could show me the way.  This is what Jesus does.  He shows us that the way is the way of the cross.

In Jesus Christ we that the way, the truth and the life are all tested and proved to be true in the cross.  This is how Jesus works in the Divine Service.  What do we say after we have dined from His table, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared” (Lk 2:30-310.  Philip’s request is now granted: we see Christ.  We see God Himself!  We taste and drink His blood in order that we might taste for ourselves His greatest work, the cross, where He shed His blood for us.

Jesus comforts troubled hearts through His benefits from the cross of witness and prayer.  The first benefits of Jesus cross is that we will do even greater works than Christ did.  Through the witness of the Church, in the lives of hundreds of millions of Christians around the world, more people than ever before are being reached with the message of the cross of Jesus Christ.  The second benefit from the cross is the promise of answered prayer.  This is not for our fleshly desires, ass Doctor Luther tells us but to teach us faith.  “Thus our prayer must, in real and sincere humility, take no account of ourselves; it must rely solely and confidently on the promise of grace, in the firm trust that God will hear us, as He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us.” (AE 24:88)

Through the blood that flowed from the side of Christ’s on the cross, Jesus is the way; through the Scriptures, which testify that Jesus is the propitiation, the blood payment for the sins of the world (1Jn 2:2), Jesus is the truth; and through His taking our sin (2Cor 5:21) and our curse (Gal 3:13), Jesus is the life.  What comfort for our troubled hearts.  Amen.

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

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

37 Sermon for Easter 4.mp3

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

The text for the sermon today is the first reading Acts 2:42-47.

On Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church wraps itself up in this most popular image of Jesus.  Early Christians first portrayed Jesus as the Good Shepherd, surrounded by His sheep, taking care of them, as shepherds do.  But how does He take care of His sheep?  How does He take care of you?  How does Jesus give you this abundant life that comes from His laying down His life for His sheep?  Today’s first reading from Acts shows us how Jesus takes care of us and where He is giving out His abundant life.  Acts chapter 2 tells us about the days immediately following the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and the Christian Church began.  It tells us about the life of the Church, a life defined first by gathering around Christ’s bodily presence in the liturgy, where the gifts of Jesus are received, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and then, next, and quite naturally, by the embodiment of Christ and His gifts in the world, where you serve your neighbor—Christian service—by loving them as you love yourself through your mercy, your compassion, and your forgiveness.

The life the Good Shepherd gives to His Church is the life of liturgy and Christian Service.

Back during Lent, at one of the Lenten Vespers services I shared with the congregation some of my frustrations with much of what passes for a Christian life.  Sporadic church attendance if at all, an unordered if not nonexistent prayer life, children who are not taught to even say grace at the table much less the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, no family devotion times.  For the folks who do come to church, few come any more than Sunday morning, hardly ever midweek for a service like Ascension or during Lent and Advent.  Little thought is given to actually Sabbath keeping; it’s best if church is done in 45 minutes because, come on, I don’t want to waste half the day.  Participation at the Lord’s Table is an add-on to the Divine Service and best avoided because it makes the service go long.  I could go on but you get the point.  And what has the church, not necessarily this church but the broader church and it’s leaders, what have they done over the years?  Tried to accommodate these folks!?!  And so the services get less frequent, chopped up and the sermons become sermonettes, pandering to folks who prefer something vaguely “spiritual” over the revealed holiness of God.  And how does that attitude developed in these kinds of services affect the rest of the life of the church?  Doctrine is not taught, there is not time.  There is no fellowship in the breaking of the bread because it is rarely done.  The prayers have been truncated if not disposed with altogether.  And so we value too lightly what we have received too easily.  This is the Christian religion lowered to the point where it is just barely Christian.

Counter that with the picture of the church here in Acts 2:42.  Acts 2:42.  Remember that verse, for here Luke describes the life of the Church as leitourgia, as liturgy, that is worship:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Luke defines the worship in this way: the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of the bread and the prayers.  Three simple things.  Every Sunday this congregation has all three of these things.  We have the written teaching of the apostles which we read and hear.  That teaching is expounded and proclaimed in the sermon.  We have the fellowship in the breaking of the bread.  There is not an honest NT scholar past or present who denies that phrase “the breaking of the bread” refers to communion.  And as far as fellowship goes, for the first Christians, the fellowship was not the coffee hour and chit-chat after the service; it was the Holy Communion, the sharing in the holy body and blood of Jesus.  They devoted themselves to these things.  And they devoted themselves to the prayers.  Notice the “the” there.  They devoted themselves to the prayers.  They didn’t just have a prayer nor did they gather to pray.  They did not devote themselves to prayer but to the prayers.  That should sound like liturgy to you.  Seriously, I know ya’ll love me, but do you really want to suffer through whatever service I could pull out of my head from week to week or would you rather gather with all those who have gone before us for the prayers?  That is, join in and pray with those who have gone before us in the faith.  The early Christians devoted themselves to these things because it was there that Jesus was present among them and there they were strengthened for service in His name.

I have to tell you, this is personal for me.  I grew up in the LCMS of the mid and late 1980s and the 1990s.  Since then, the apostles’ doctrine too has not been heard from too frequently except for vague references to grace alone through faith alone.   We are certainly not troubling people with the greatness of their sin nor correcting any ill-formed notions of the Trinity much less are we plumbing the depths of the atonement.  Some churches have restored the fellowship in the breaking of the bread every Lord’s Day but more congregations have added a praise band than have returned to way of the first Christians.  This is personal for me because I have struggled through wondering whether all this doctrine is really necessary.  I struggle now with a more accessible on-ramp for unchurched people to encounter what happens here.  The Divine Service is for the saints, not for the unchurched.  I have struggled with personally and daily participating in the prayers of the church.  Now I have a better system and so it’s just a matter of the discipline to wrestle myself into a place to be still and quiet and listen to God in His Word and then trust Him with all my needs.  But here’s the thing, we don’t solve the problem by lowering the bar.  That only leads to a callous attitude towards God’s Word, to His teaching, and to His gifts of grace.   We need to stop settling for a lowest common denominator brand of Christianity and this is why; because of the great gift of God’s Gospel is Jesus Christ.

What then do people who take the Gospel of Christ seriously for themselves and their families, what should they be doing?  They should be following after the first Christians, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  What should congregations be doing?  The same thing.

Your Good Shepherd takes care of you in the life of the Church, as those early Christians were taken care of by their Good Shepherd in a very simple way—by gathering for worship around Christ’s bodily presence.  We call this liturgy today; the early Christians called it leitourgia, which simply means God serving the world with Christ and His gifts.  In the Divine Service, the church uses the means given to it by God to center life firmly in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If there is one attitude that characterized the life of the emerging Christian Church at worship, it was joy, for at the Divine Service they met with God and God met with them and they were changed in their very core by that meeting, changed for their eternal good.

A helpful interpreter of  Acts 2:42 this morning might be the late Richard John Neuhaus who wrote:  [T]he churches, and Lutherans in particular, need to find fresh ways to proclaim the sacramental and communal nature of Christian existence.  The sad truth is that many, if not most, of our Lutheran people believe that a personal relationship with Jesus is what really constitutes being a Christian, with Baptism, Eucharist, Confession and Absolution as perhaps helpful addenda.”

So does Acts 2:42 have anything to say about the rest of the life of the congregation?  Sure it does.  It means confirmation class is not just a data dump of the Small Catechsim, and then never to be heard from again.  Catechesis means teaching people to trust that God is where He has promised to be:  in the Word, read and preached, in Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper and in Confession and Absolution. Catechesis means teaching people what it means to listen to the Word of God and echo it in their lives.  It means that Sunday School is not just craft time or fun time but time to pass on the stories of the faith through acting them out and singing them and of course hearing them.  And that goes double for VBS.  It means youth group is about applying this new faith to the ever growing challenges life starts throwing at you in high school and beyond.  It means that church breakfasts and dinners are about inviting friends and relatives and neighbors to a low-conflict event church.  It means that even new covered patios get dedicated to the glory and service of the Lord.  All of this is the liturgy of the church, the life of the congregation.  As yourself if you participate fully in the liturgical life the congregation.

Your Good Shepherd takes care of the life the world through the Christ embodied in you, through your love, your forgiveness, your mercy, your sharing with the world the gifts you have received in leitourgia.  The early Christians called that diakonia.  It’s the same Greek word we get “deacon.”  We might call it service, but it is a particular kind of service, service fueled by what has happened in the liturgy, fueled by Christ’s gifts of life, forgiveness and salvation.  Serving our neighbor not just with our love, but rather with Christ’s love we ourselves have experienced.  This is the Gospel, the whole Gospel.  Christ first serves us with His gifts in the liturgy and then we serve our neighbor as emissaries of Christ’s love in diakonia, Christian service.  Acts 2:44-45.  “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Those early believers weren’t communists, pooling all their resources for the common good.  They were Christians who had joined themselves to Christ bodily.  Now through their bodies, in concrete particular ways, they shared what Christ had given them with those in need.  The Gospel gave them freedom to do this—to love as Christ had loved them by giving up His life for them as their Good Shepherd, to serve their neighbor as Christ had served them by giving His life as a ransom for many.  This is the liturgy of life, the liturgy outside the liturgy, the liturgy where we serve others with Christ’s gifts, embodied in us, as he served us in the apostles’ teaching and in fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Now I might have sounded kind of critical earlier and I don’t want you to think I’m critical of Augustana.  Most of what I have criticized applies to the broader church and to the American Church in particular.  Here’s a short of list of some of the great things we do at Augustana.  We have an annual BBQ fundraiser not for ourselves but for the local hospice.  We have fundraiser breakfasts, not for ourselves, but for people in our community who whose house has burned down or need money for medical treatment or need to go to Guatemala to share the Gospel and encourage other believers there.  We have a pastor’s and elders’ discretionary fund to help some folks in need.  We give directly to the support of a teacher in the seminary in Pretoria, South Africa who is training locals to be pastors there.  We give directly to our church body’s World Relief and Human Care organization which has been active everywhere that has made the news recently from Haiti to Japan to Alabama and now along the Mississippi.  We directly give to support a seminarian studying to serve as a pastor in the church.  We directly give for the support of our seminaries which may seem a little more abstract but every dollar we give means a dollar in student loans that a student does not have to take out, pay interest on and repay.  And of course we give to the work of our church body too.  And this is to say nothing of the Christian service we perform in our homes as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters nor in our community as citizens.  So you must ask yourself if you are fully participating in diakonia, in Christian service.

The life the Good Shepherd gives to His Church is the life of liturgy and Christian Service.  We are gathered here at the Divine Service to so what no unbeliever can do: proclaim that Jesus the Good Shepherd has come for the life of the world, that He shed His blood for the world’s sins, that he has risen from the dead for the world’s salvation, and that He is constantly present among us, offering His body and blood for our life eternal.  There is power in our proclamation to the word that it has been redeemed, re-created, and renewed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Come, let us devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship in the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.  And as we are joined to Christ’s body in our bodies let us serve all those in need as He himself would serve them.    Amen.

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

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Homily for the Memorial Service of Robert M. Armstrong

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

May 11, 2011

36 Sermon for Robert Armstrong.mp3

Lois, Tim, Mark.  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The opening lines of the first reading this afternoon are what I would have you take away today.  “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”  On a day like today the message needs to be that short, that memorable, that familiar and that encouraging.  “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”  The Apostle Paul is writing these words to encourage a young Pastor Timothy.  Let them be an encouragement to you also.  He continues to remind Timothy of a trustworthy saying: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”  There is a reason we turn to such words at a time like this, because these words are the Word of God.  They carry with them encouragement from heaven itself to restore our faint hearts.  God has sent forth this Word today for you to bear you up.  “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  We are still in the week of Sundays that makes up the Easter Season, the Easter greeting is not only still in our ears, but on our lips.  It should not be hard for us to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,” but this past few days it might be harder, because today death is not a concept; it has happened to someone we love.  Robert, our brother, your father and husband, brother has died.  We’re tempted to think that death is quiet, but that’s wrong.  If we let it, death can be very loud and death can shout down even the simplest and clearest messages.  Sunday before last, Robert was mowing his grass with a push mower and now he is gone.  Many people think they want to die quickly, partly because they are afraid of death but we prayed the Litany for the better part of Lent and in it we prayed to God that we would be spared a sudden and evil death.  Robert did not have a sudden and evil death; it was a blessed death, with the Word of God read and prayers of his commendation in our heavenly Father’s hand prayed, but it was still quick.  When death happens this way we may be tempted to think that death is more powerful than these Words.  Death is trying to shout it down but it can’t.  The Word of God is stronger.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

“Behold, the dwelling placeof God is with man.”  This is a beautiful picture of the New Jerusalem, not just heaven, but the new creation, the new city of God come down out of heaven where God’s people will dwell with God.  “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Heaven is a beautiful place, but heaven is temporary.  It is an in-between place where the saints rest in the arms of God and await the resurrection of the dead.  The Scripture shows us heaven not to show us our final home, but rather the Lord reveals the New Jerusalem come down out of heaven.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth.  Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture of that new heaven.  “17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” (Isa 65:17-20a)  On the Last Day, God’s plan of redemption will be complete.  Once again we will see God face to face and know Him and walk with Him like Adam and Eve knew and walked with God in the Garden, not just recreated without flaw but redeemed in Christ, in the blood of the Lamb.  There will be no sin, no death and nothing perishable.  Our Lord Himself confirms it, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mt 24:35)  And this is why we remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, because He has completed it.  “It is done!” He says here and what is this but an echo of what He said on the cross after suffering the wrath of God for the punishment of all sin, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) Jesus Christ has won this redemption by His death and resurrection.  That hope that you have in the hearing of these words, this Word of God is not just human hopefulness, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, because this new creation has already begun to appear through the proclamation of Christ’s victory over death.  Even though it will not be completed until the Last Day, it has already begun and it is as good as done. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.”

As many of you know, Robert was as man of many stories.  One story I did not know, but that Lois shared with me while Robert was in the hospital was that some time back in 1985 or so, Robert had what he described as a near-death experience.  It was a cold morning and he was walking in from the parking lot where he was working and he had a heart attack and fell to the ground and he said he felt warmth just permeate through him and he saw a bright light and he saw his grandmother and he saw the Lord and the Lord told Him that it was not yet his time.  And so he came back.  Many people have described experiences like these.  I have no reason to doubt it happened just as he said.  Lois said, Robert never doubted what would come next for him after he died.  I think many people hear about experiences like these and they wish they could have them so they too could alleviate any doubt they might have.  None of you may ever have an experience like Robert, but all of you have heard today the Word of God and it is as sure and true as if God Himself stood here and spoke it to you.  “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  You’ve heard it yet again and that hope you have to live in a place where there is no more tears and no more death and mourning and no more pain is that yearning for Jesus to come back and bring all things to completion just as He promised.  You yourself have heard the Lord Jesus Christ say, “It is done.”  It is done.  And in case you have any doubt you can walk out of here today just as sure as Robert was after his experience.  Jesus’ Word is sure and true.  He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  His word is sure and true.

The Easter Gospel we read at dawn on Easter morning is from St. Luke: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen.” Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the Life.”  He said, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man.”  “It is done!”  Paul told us, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”  And we say, Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

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

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Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

35 Sermon for Easter 3.mp3

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, the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Sometimes, in a conversation with Jesus, we find out we’re wrong.  It’s Jesus who’s walking along with these two disciples back to Emmaus.  How long he was walking with them before he spoke to them we don’t really know.  He simply drew near and went with them.  And Jesus said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?”  It is as if these two disciples are New Yorkers having a conversation with someone on the evening of September 11th.  How could this fellow walking from Jerusalem this very day with them not know the events that had taken place there this past week?  And so they recounted to this stranger the events of what we now call Holy Week, and then they add, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”  And then you can sense their confusion as they continue to relate to him the events of this morning, Easter morning.  And Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  They just didn’t understand what they had experienced.  Sometimes, in a conversation with Jesus, we find out we’re wrong.

“Slow of heart to believe” describes us when we doubt or do not accept all that the Scriptures teach about Jesus.  Slow of heart to believe describes us when we think any less of Jesus than what He says about Himself.  Slow of heart to believe describes us when we treat the Scriptures and Bible Study as anything less than the teaching of the Holy Spirit to make us “wise for salvation” (2Tm 3:15).  How is that we can hear these Scriptures week after week and year after year and not be moved by them?  How is that we hear the very Word of God and think with such arrogance, it hasn’t spoken to me?  How is that year after year we begin with a new system of Bible Study only to fall flat after w few weeks?  How is that after 30, 40, 50, years or more of attending church we actually know less of the Scriptures and the catechism and don’t feel capable of defending the truth faith from the attacks of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses that knock on our doors?  “Slow of heart to believe” describes us when we doubt or do not accept all that the Scriptures teach about Jesus.

If you want to see what “slow of heart” looks like outside a spiritual context just remember back to what it was like to be a kid and to have your mom trying to correct you and bring you along and yet still fail expectations.  I know over the course of my growing up it was simply inconceivable to my mom that I could walk past heaps of clothes in my room or a table that needed clearing or laundry that needed folding and not do it.  I’m sure she thought I had a strange superpower not to be able to see the chaos and disorder in the world that needed straightening.  God bless all mothers today and may He continue to give them strength to serve in God’s place their children who are so often slow in heart.

“What are we going to do now?”  That must have been the question on the minds of these two disciples.  We may never have walked the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus but that feeling is a place we’ve all been before.  What are we going to do now?  These situations run the gamut do they not, changing shape over time?  What am I going to do now that she is not my friend, that I failed this test, that I made my parents angry, that my boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with me?  What am I going to do now that I didn’t get the promotion, that I lost my job, that my company got sold, that I’m losing business, that my kids are angry with me, that my marriage is pretty rough right now?  What am I going to do now that the government is changing all the rules, that my health is failing, that my husband has died, that my grandkids are angry with me?  What am I going to do now?  The answer is the same as Jesus’ answer to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  And the answer is the same as Peter’s answer to the crowd in Jerusalem, when they asked him, “What then shall we do?”  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Because the answer is the same as God’s answer in Jerusalem on Good Friday.  Your sin is atoned for, covered with the blood of Jesus.

Because we are the disciples on the road to Emmaus, slow in heart to believe.  Because we are the crowd at Pentecost cut to the heart in the heart of Peter’s great sermon.  Because are the crowd who called for Jesus crucifixion and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”  And how great a God we have that what we meant as a curse He turned into blessing, that the shed blood of Jesus was for us and for our children even as Peter preaches to the crowd, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The disciples recognized Jesus finally when He broke bread with them.  The Gospel readings for the first few Sundays after Easter are still that first Easter Day.  If we had an Easter Evening service, which, by the way, there are prescribed readings for in the lectionary, we would have read this Gospel lesson then.  And so last week the reading began with Jesus appearing to the 10 in the upper room (that’s the Twelve minus Judas and Thomas) and then today’s reading with these evenings happening on the evening of that first Easter.  It’s just two disciples, walking back to Emmaus late in the afternoon.  Jesus joins two disciples discussing what happened in Jerusalem.  They don’t recognize Jesus when He’s walking with Him.  They don’t recognize Jesus when He’s explaining to them from the Old Testament everything about the mission of the death and resurrection of the Christ.  Jesus says to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”  Their hearts were burning, but don’t recognize its Jesus talking to them.  They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.  Amen.

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

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Blessed Sabbath

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

For the first time, since, I think, my first Easter in ministry, I was able to take off the week after Easter.  The pulpit was more than capably filled by a member of our congregation, Rev. Dr. Richard Mazak.

I don’t want to make a habit of it, but because finals were that week for both Kim and me, it seemed prudent.

Thanks be to God.  Christ is risen!

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Sermon for Easter Day

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

34 Easter Day.mp3

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

At dawn on that first Easter morning, Matthew tells us, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to Jesus’ tomb.  And Matthew tells us two details that the others do not.  He said there was a great earthquake because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  This angel looked like an angel and just the sight of him filled the guards with terror.  But the angel spoke to the women.  Literally, “Stop being afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”

I get a little different picture in my head as I read the other Gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection.  From Luke, which we read early this morning, we get the idea that the opening of the tomb had already happened and that Mary, when she arrived at the tomb was surprised to find it already open and wondering where the body of Jesus was.  There are some minor differences in the account of that first Easter morning.  Critics say that these are inconsistencies and therefore the story of Jesus resurrection was made up by the first disciples.  I would offer you a different explanation.  I would say that because there are these minor differences, it means that Mary and the other Mary and Salome and Joanna and John and Peter did not collude to get their story straight.  They just told what happened from their point of view.  Much the way any six of us could witness the same thing and then turn in six accounts of the same event each from our perspective.  What is amazing is that with all of the people involved and the telling of this story multiple times, the Gospels, all four of them, by and large agree.  All the Gospels agree that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb along with other women (see Lk 24:10; Jn 20:2). The first three Gospels agree that one of the others was named Mary.  Mark tells us Salome was also present, and Luke that Joanna was present. So, all the Gospel accounts agree that Mary Magdalene went along with several other women.  She may have run ahead to be the first to see the empty tomb, or else John just didn’t mention the other women with her. In John’s account, after all, Mary says, “We don’t know where they have put Him.”  Similarly, she may have been the first to get back to the disciples, or else John simply left out Jesus’ first appearance to the women as a group.  As for going while it was still dark, this hardly contradicts Mark who said it was “at  sunrise”, since the minutes before and after dawn always resemble “twilight”—part dark, part light.

If the story of the empty tomb were invented by the early church or by Mark, it is hardly likely that it would feature women as the primary witnesses, especially in the way Mark portrayed the incident.  John’s (and perhaps Luke’s) apparently independent version corroborates this judgment.  The women presumably supplemented the supply of spices they had prepared earlier (Lk 23:56) by buying more on Saturday night, after the Sabbath had ended.  Conversely, Mark may have compressed the events of Lk 23:56 since his point was that they bought spices to anoint the body on Sunday morning.

Matthew agrees with Mark that there was one angel at the tomb.  Mark described the angel as a “young man” which was common in Jewish literature.  It could be that Mark only told about the angel that spoke because Luke and John tell us there were two angels.  Luke is supposed to be working off the memoirs of Peter who was there.  And John was working from His own memory in the writing of his account.

The point I’m trying to support by telling you all this is that Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, did not just come back from the dead, He was resurrected, that is His human body came out of the tomb and was transformed.  This is an historical fact and an historical fact that is indisputable.  Many people doubt that Jesus was resurrected.  But their doubt is not based on the historical evidence, rather on other grounds, usually philosophical grounds, like whether a man could come back from the dead.  The historical facts as we have them, lead us to conclude nothing other than that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Others say that the disciples stole his body but that easy to refute because there was a guard at the tomb.  Matthew even records that the guards were still on duty when the angel arrived to open the tomb.  And so the empty tomb truly is proof that Jesus was raised.

I want you all to consider one other factor this morning though.  These disciples who all fled when Jesus was arrested, even Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times, these disciples whom we will hear next week were locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews even after the news of the women, Peter and John.  These are the disciples who are going to face Herod’s palace guard standing over the tomb to steal Jesus’ body?  And these disciples who are fearful of arrest and crucifixion themselves, they are the ones who are going to change their minds all on their own, less than a month later and start preaching that Jesus was risen from the dead?  And this Jewish Rabbi, Paul, this former persecutor of Christians, he is going to go from the good life of the Rabbinate to a life of poverty and martyrdom all by himself?  No.  The faith of the disciples and the preaching of the apostles simply cannot be accounted for merely by group hallucination, wishful thinking, or even conspiracy to commit fraud.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  Everything has changed.  The old order of the cosmos has passed away and the new has already arrived.

There is an old story from Eastern Europe about an old wise rabbi.  His students come to him one day and say the Messiah has come.  The old rabbi gets up and goes to the window of his little shack of a house and stares out the window for a very long time.  Finally, he pronounces, “No, the Messiah has not come.  Nothing has changed.”  (Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon.) The rabbi was correct to think when the Messiah comes, everything will be changed.  Everything will be different.  But he was wrong because he could not see it.

Dear Christian friends, Jesus Christ is risen today.  Everything we thought we knew about the universe from the beginning up this point has been changed.  Death is no longer the end.  Jesus proved it.  Paul told the Christians at Corinth,

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”  (1Cor 15:1-8)

Paul went on to say,

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 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.” (1Cor 15:12-19)

Everything is different.  The dead we bury will one day no longer be dead.  Easter is the proof that everything has changed.  We started the first Easter service, the Easter Vigil outside last night just over there in the cemetery because the message of Easter is that one day, our cemetery will be empty.  The women saw the empty tomb and the angel, who proclaimed that Christ had risen.  Everything is different now.

The Easter message it too big for one Sunday, it takes a lifetime to comprehend it and grow into it and to be changed by it.  But know this.  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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