Archive

Archive for April, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Luke 24:36-49

Augustana 2012

 

Sorry, no mp3 audio this week. 

 

Grace and peace to your form God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel for today from Luke chapter 24.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Last week as well as this week we have for the Gospel readings accounts of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Last week as well as this week the emphasis is the same as that of Easter morning, Jesus has risen in his body.  The disciples could see where the nails where in Jesus’ hands and Thomas can put his fingers into the nail holes and put his hand into the place where the spear pierced Jesus’ side.  Today the emphasis is much the same.  “See my hands and feet?”  Jesus says.  He means look at where the nails pierced them through.  “Touch me and see,” Jesus is not a ghost.  He is resurrected in his body with flesh and bones.  Got anything for breakfast?  Ah, a lovely piece of broiled fish.  Ghosts don’t eat.  Spirits don’t eat.  The resurrected Jesus eats.  We say the Apostles’ Creed at least every week in Bible Class and every other week here in church, if not every day in our daily prayer, “I believe in the resurrection of the body…”  The Christian Church really believes, teaches and confesses that truth.  Just as Jesus was raised, that is, in His body, so shall our bodies on the Last Day be raised from the grave and we will eat forever at the banquet table of the Lord.

This teaching is in explicit contrast to the prevailing spiritualized Christianity prevalent today that resides in the hearts of many if not most who claim to be Christians.  I have even heard it preached at supposedly Lutheran funerals that the now dearly departed has already been resurrected with Jesus.  Really, I wonder?  I just saw him in the box before they closed the lid.  Revelation chapter 6 helps us to see this rightly, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”  (Rev. 6:9-11) No, this now departed saint is at rest in the Lord and is even with the Lord, his voice now joined with the choir crying out for the Lord to bring all things to completion, “How long, Oh Lord!” but he will wait until the last day to be bodily resurrected from grave.  This is the reason we begin the Easter Vigil in the cemetery.  Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that one day all who have died in the Lord will be raised in glory to live with Christ forever in their bodies, glorified flesh and bone.  Listen to the words of the committal rite held at the graveside.  “We now commit the body of our departed brother the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, but the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.  May God the Father who created this body, may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body, may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.  Amen.”  LSB, Pastoral Care Companion, 134)  These are not just preacher’s “pretty words;” this is the proclamation of Jesus’ Easter victory over death at the mouth of the open grave.  This is most certainly true.  Amen.

Gone should be any notion that the disciples believed that Jesus’ resurrection was merely a spiritual resurrection.  The evangelists took great pains, at the expense of their own pride in confessing misunderstanding as to what it meant, no less, that Jesus was raised in glorified flesh and bone.  The apostles, especially Peter and then Paul go on to proclaim that this is not just news but Good News.  As Jesus was raised from the death, so shall we be.  When Jesus promises that we will no longer suffer hunger or thirst or scorching heat, it’s not because we won’t have bodies that suffer so, it’s because all those needs will be met.  This is the great difference between a vague notion of “I hope I fly away to heaven when I die,” and, “the Day of Resurrection!”  And it’s also a reason why in church we don’t sing the song, “I’ll Fly Away,” no matter how much fun it is to sing.

And the Good News that Jesus is raised from the dead in glorified flesh and bone is not just Good News for us one day in the sweet by and by, but in the here and now.  In both appearances last week and this week the message of the resurrected Lord to you is “Peace, be with you.”  Peace is the prevailing message of the New Testament Church.  Jesus doesn’t mean peace like an old burned out hippie, He means you are right with God.  All that frightens you about life in this world, the uncertainty over what lies in the future, the acceptance letter, the next election, the next text results, the next health crisis, for many the next day, the next meal, the next breath, all of those fears are put to rest.  And it’s not your faith which gives you strength to meet these challenges, it’s your Lord who has already met them and answered them in Himself, in His victory over sickness, anxiety and even death itself.  What Peter called “times of refreshing” are already at hand.  Would that I could with a touch erase cancer from bodies.  Would that I could, Like Peter and John, restore the lame but it is not given to me to do, but my task is just as apostolic, to preach the resurrected Jesus.  He has risen from the dead in glorified flesh and bone and one day, on that great Day, there will be no more poverty, no more sickness, no more cancer, and no more death.  That Days is surely coming, declares the Lord.

And I have one other apostolic task by virtue of the Office of Holy Ministry I have been called and ordained to hold in the Church and that is to say the words given to me to say, to speak on His behalf, to say the resurrected Lord Jesus comes today in glorified flesh and blood, via bread and wine just has He Himself says, and He brings peace to you.  It is no accident that the peace of the Lord is proclaimed to the people gathered before the Lord’s table after the bread and wine have been consecrated.  Jesus Himself is truly and really present at His table just as He was in the upper room, just as He was on the shore of Sea of Galilee that late Spring and He brings to you the same peace.  The bread and the wine now bearing with them the glorified flesh and blood of the resurrected Jesus are held aloft and the minister repeats only the words he is given to say, “The peace of the Lord be with you, always.”  The only proper response is truly, “Amen.  Yes, yes, it is so.”  The liturgical renewal in the Church did so many good things but it was a great misunderstanding when the peace of the Lord turned into something of a holy howdy, a meet and greet between minister and people and then between the people themselves.  Yes, truly we have peace with one another one account of the risen Jesus, but the response is not first, “And also with you, pastor” but rather, “Gift received.  Thank you.  Amen.”  It will be a generation now in many places before this certainty is returned liturgically.  Hopefully we will not have to wait a generation for this certainty in the Lord’s peace to return to us for we have His peace even today.

Jesus is raised from the dead in glory.  So shall we also one day, but until that day we have the resurrected Jesus with us in body and blood, the peace of the Lord be with you always.  Amen.

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

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

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Easter Sunday

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

2012 — John 20:1-18

 

Click here for mp3 audio  31 Sermon for Easter Morning. mp3

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (Jn 1:1,2)  “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Darkness and formlessness.  “Tohu wabohu,” the Hebrews called it.  It was not nothing but it was not yet something either.  Primordial chaos.  And God spoke, the Word came forth and light came to be.  Light and life.  The first day.  And God brought forth man.  The sixth day.  Creation is complete.  God saw all he had made, and it was very good.

The eternal Word was there at the beginning and then, at one point in time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Word made flesh brought light and new life wherever he went speaking it, causing it to be by making water into wine, healing, even paradoxically by dying.  “Behold the man!”  Darkness covers the earth.  The eternal Word made flesh is death.  “It is finished.”  The sixth day.  Good Friday.  The Word made flesh is buried in the tomb.  At last He has Sabbath rest but in the cold stone of the grave.  The tohu wabohu has returned.

It is still dark on the morning of the first day of the week.  With eyes still red and swollen with sleep and tears the women come to the tomb to finish what the men had started and also because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, that would ever matter.  It is like that on the morning after the funeral.  All the preparations are over.  What else is there to do?

The women are the first apostles, the first sent ones; sent to the others with the news: the tomb is empty.  This is news but it is not yet Good News.  No.  It is bad news.  It is cruelty on top of chaos.  Someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb.  Maybe the soldiers took him.  Maybe gardener knows what happened.  This is very bad news.  She runs back into the city, back to Peter in his hiding place, back to John.  They both run back to the garden tomb.  It is as she said it was: the tomb is open and empty.  Looking in, it must be getting lighter now, he can see very curiously the linen cloths are still lying there.  That makes no sense.  Whoever took the body first unwrapped it.  Why on earth would someone do that?

Peter finally arrives.  While the others had merely peered in, Peter doesn’t hesitate.  In he goes. And it’s even stranger than it first appeared: “the linen cloths are lying there; but the single cloth, the napkin that had been around Jesus’ head, isn’t with the others. It’s in a place by itself. Someone, having unwrapped the body (a complicated task in itself), has gone to the trouble of laying out the cloths to create an effect.  It looks as though the body wasn’t picked up and unwrapped, but had just disappeared, leaving the empty cloths, like a collapsed balloon when the air has gone out of it.” (Wright, 142)

British scholar and theologian Tom Wright puts it nicely:

“Then comes the moment. The younger man, the beloved disciple, goes into the tomb after Peter. And the idea they had had to that point about what must have happened—someone taking the body away, but unwrapping it first—suddenly looks stupid and irrelevant. Something quite new surges up in the young disciple, a wild delight at God’s creative power. He remembers the moment ever afterwards. A different sensation. A bit like falling in love; a bit like sunrise; a bit like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought.

A bit like faith. Oh, he’d had faith before. He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He had believed that God had sent him, that he was God’s man for God’s people and God’s world. But this was different. ‘He saw, and believed.’ Believed that new creation had begun. Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last. Believed that God had said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, to all that he had been and done. Believed that Jesus was alive again. (Wright, John for Everyone, Pt 2, 142-143)

That’s pretty close to what we can imagine it was like for Mary and Peter and John that morning.  After John carefully looked around in the tomb he believed that Jesus was alive again.  I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  John did not believe that Jesus had died and gone to heaven.  Many people, some Christians even, believe that’s what we mean when we say that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Later on in the next episode with Mary and Jesus and then in the episode with Thomas, John is quite clear that this is not what he means.  John means that Jesus was resurrected.  Jesus did not just come back from the dead; that would be resuscitated.  He was raised from the dead; He was bodily resurrected.

Mary and Martha believed in the resurrection; they believed that their now departed brother Lazarus would be raised on the Day when all are raised from the dead.  But Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave for him only to die again.  When Lazarus was raised, he was powerless to untie himself and needed something to eat.  We just heard how Jesus left his graveclothes behind altogether when Jesus was raised.  This was a new thing entirely, as alluded to by Paul today in the new lump, the new creation.  Lazarus came back into a world where he suffered the death threats of the religious rulers who thought he should not have heeded the command of the Lord to come out.  Jesus’s resurrection points to something else entirely, a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond this life, where death and darkness had been defeated and life, life and light in all their fullness and bright glory, could begin at last.

Just as Israel had been rescued from the bondage of slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Lord had drowned Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea, so also in the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord has rescued all His people from the bondage to death and has destroyed the power of death forever.

“Well, pastor, that’s all well and good, but it seems that the burden of proof lays on the other side.  Death seems mighty powerful still.  There’s a whole graveyard full of folks we love just over there and none of them have been resurrected.  What proof do we have that they will come out of their graves like Lazarus?”  Oh dear brothers and sisters, they and we if we join them there will not come out like Lazarus, they will come out like Jesus.  Risen.  Resurrected.  Glorified.  Having put on the heavenly body.  (1 Cor 15)  The proof is Jesus, the firstborn from the dead.  Just as He has risen, so shall they, so shall we.  I am not so heavenly minded that I cannot see the power of death around us.  But death’s power is now limited, reigned in, like a bee it’s stinger had broken off, it’s only a matter of time before it finally dies.  As goes death so goes that which comes along with it.  Darkness.  Chaos.  Tohu wabohu.  Slavery.  Fear.  Sin.  The power of the devil and hell itself.  Sure, the world around us testifies to the power these still have in it.  War.  Violence.  Lies.  Hate.  Murder.  Subjugation of peoples.  Genocide.  These do not come from the earth, they come from the sin-darkened, chaos-filled, hell-bound heart of man; from your heart; they come from my heart.  All it takes is a little bit.  One rotten apple rots the whole barrel.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  Even the creation itself is groaning under the pollution of our sin.  Earthquakes.  Famines.  Droughts.  Tsunamis.  They all testify that the creation is no longer “very good” as it was intended.

But today is, just as it was then, the first day of the new week, the eighth day, the new creation.   On that first Easter a new day dawned, the day of the new creation, the eighth day.  Pondering the mystery of the eighth day Doctor Luther was left to conclude,

“the eighth day signifies the future life; for Christ rested in the [tomb] on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it no other day is counted. For through His death Christ brought to a close the weeks of time and on the eighth day entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted but there is one eternal day without the alternations of night.”[1]

Today we celebrate our Lord Jesus raised from the dead, in glory.  This is the first day of God’s new week.  The darkness has gone and chaos and death have been overcome; the sun is shining.  Your sin is forgiven.

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

Inspiration from Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21, 140-43.

 


[1] Martin Luther, vol. 3, Luther’s Works, Vol. 3 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20 ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther’s WorksSaint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), Ge 17:11.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Good Friday

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2012

I am indebted to Pastor Christopher Esget and his sermon from 2005 which sparked the direction of this sermon but not necessarily the content.   Much of what is here came from Luther and Augustine and, I believe, Chrystostom.

 

Click here for mp3 audio 29 Sermon for Good Friday.mp3

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Good Friday is good for us for so many reasons.  The liturgy for Good Friday, so different from what we are used to, helps us to see them in startling relief.  “Behold the life giving cross, on which was hung the Savior of the world.”  Even the Reproaches, so haunting, even to the point of giving me goosebumps, reflect the love of a God who still claims us as his own even after we have rebelled so furiously against him and then we take refuge in the Lamb of God, pure and holy, who takes away the sin of the world.  And finally also we have the Lord’s Supper, on this day of all days.  It didn’t used to be, of course, it has been restored in the new rubrics for Good Friday in Lutheran Service Book and it is a good thing to eat of the fruits of the tree of life on this good day, Good Friday.

John includes details at the crucifixion that the other evangelists do not.  We would expect that of John; his whole gospel is filled with such things.  Dr. Bauckham, whom I heard at Fort Wayne this winter, said that these are the kinds of details that lend credibility to the accounts of Jesus last week, of his suffering and crucifixion and resurrection.  The very details that flummox so many and even drive so many away from the faith, are the very details over which we should rejoice even when they don’t agree because eyewitness then, like today rarely agree over every detail.  John and the others record the events we heard earlier tonight based on eyewitness testimony.  In other words, They were there when they crucified the Lord.  But there is one detail at the crucifixion of Jesus that is so profound, John is moved to take an oath testifying that he really saw it.  “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (19:34-35)  John saw Jesus poked with a spear and blood and water burst forth.

On the first level, we know that Jesus was truly dead.  It is hard to argue that Jesus survived the crucifixion in any way.  The Romans knew how to crucify people.  The centurion, the man in charge made sure Jesus was dead.

Now what is really striking about what John tells us is not that a crucified man, even if already dead, bleeds when poked with a spear.  That shouldn’t necessitate John to take such an oath that he really saw the water and the blood pour forth.  There is something more here, there is something good here, something more significant for our salvation than that Jesus was simply stabbed with a lance. It is something so important John takes an oath testifying to what he saw so that we might know it really happened, and not just know it but believe.

Believe what?  Not that Jesus died.  Not even that blood and water came from His side.  But believe what it means now for us.  Centuries earlier Zechariah the prophet wrote that intense mourning would sweep over the whole of Israel as they beheld Him whom they have pierced.  He continues, “On that day a fountain shall be opened for the House of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for the removal of sin and impurity”. (13:1)  That fountain, opened for the removal of sin and impurity, is the fountain of water and blood streaming from the pierced side of Jesus.  John records what he saw so that we would know it happened and we might believe.

We might be tempted to think that this is a pretty obscure reference from Zechariah to point to Jesus’ side as a fountain.  Except that in his first letter, John himself goes on to elaborate what this means, This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” (1 Jn 5:6-10)

John testifies that he has seen this event, this blood and water pouring from the side of Jesus because this is ultimately where faith points, to Jesus on the cross for sinners.  John tells us, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sins.” (1 Jn 1:7)  That Jesus was crucified can be established by even secular history.  (Tacitus, The Annals, Book XV).  That he was crucified for a purpose, for you, dear Christian, for your sins, is the point of John’s testimony.  Jesus’ blood was poured out for you.  At His cross, he became a life-giving fountain for all people, just as it was prophesied.  But that’s just his blood.  What do we make of the water?  Looking throughout John’s Gospel, we find water and a connection to the Holy Spirit all over the place.  John the Baptist announced that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again with water and the Spirit, or he could not enter the kingdom of God.  Then, at the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink, he who believes in Me. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (7:37-39)  How shall we come to Him and drink when He has become so dried up that He thirsts?  When Jesus’ side is opened with the spear, and the blood and water are poured out, John understands all that has now come to pass, when water and blood flow mingled down, out of Jesus’ heart, the Spirit is being given.

The old hymn testifies, “There’s power in the blood.”  Indeed.

From Jesus’ side comes water and blood. The blood is the stuff of Jesus’ death, whereas the water is the stuff of the Spirit’s life.  In the beginning of creation, the Spirit hovered over the waters of the still-unformed world. The Holy Spirit is very often said to be “poured out” like water.  There is yet another connection to Zechariah the prophet where he records the Lord saying, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy,” and Zechariah continues, “so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zec 12:10)

Zechariah prophesying that there will be a fountain that cleanses from all sin is now no longer an isolated bit of esoterica from the minor  prophets.  John testifies to what he saw because we need such testimony to know that it truly happened so that we may believe.  In fact, that we believe comes as a result of this event, because we only believe on account of the Holy Spirit who came by water and blood.

How do you know you have the Holy Spirit?  Do you have the water?  Do you have the blood?  How can you have the water and the blood that flowed from the side of Jesus some 2,000 years ago some 6,200 miles away?  What is this blood and water, really, streaming from the Lord’s side?  These are the Sacraments, dear brothers and sisters.   This is why St. Peter calls those who have received Baptism, the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt. 1.2)  This is why Church Father Augustine was led to say, “The Sacraments flowed out of the sides of Christ.”   Doctor Luther tells us that the water of Holy Baptism, the blood of our Lord’s Supper, both derive their efficacy, both receive their power from the wounds and blood of Christ.  This is why Luther said, “Baptism … is not plain water; it is water stained with [the] blood … of Christ.” (AE 30:31).

So when you were or are baptized, you are baptized into Jesus’ cross, his death, Paul tells us.  And when you come to the Lord’s table, the communion of the blood of Christ is proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again.”  And those who have shared in His death will also share in His resurrection.  As we have prayed throughout Lent and will tonight in the thanksgiving at the Lord’s Supper tonight, the devil, who once by a tree overcame our first parents and all humanity, is now overcome by this tree of the cross.  We receive the life-giving fruit of that tree when we drink deeply of that wine which is His blood – the very wine that streamed from Jesus’ side when it was opened by the centurion.

Catechumens, you were brought to the waters which flowed from the side of Christ many years ago.  As you grew, you began to understand just what it was Jesus had done for you at His cross.  He died for you, in your place, to suffer the punishment of your sins.  That forgiveness was washed over your and you received the Holy Spirit.  Tomorrow night, that same Holy Spirit who has brought you this far by faith will fill your mouth with the confession of Jesus who has done this thing for you and you will eat the fruit of the tree of life for the first time.  You will begin to join with all of us as we proclaim His death.  Filled with the Holy Spirit you will, like John, testify with a solemn oath that these things are true.  The Lord is good.  “Behold the life- giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world!”

Dear Christian friends, catechumens, truly this day is good for today we rejoice that the whole of our life has been given to us from the side of Jesus Christ our Savior.  By the Holy Spirit, we testify to it.  Amen.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Holy Thursday, 5 April, 2012

Sermon on John 13:1-15

Click here for mp3 audio 28 Sermon for Holy Thursday.mp3

I posted a version of this sermon on theGöttinger Sermon Archive.

 

Why is this night different from all other nights?  This is a question from the Passover service that perhaps even in Jesus’ day and certainly still today is asked at the Passover Seder dinners all around the world when Jews hear again the Good News of  God’s mighty action in the Passover and His rescue of them from slavery in Egypt.  By the time of Jesus, they had been celebrating Passover for centuries.  But this last Passover that Jesus celebrated with them must have been a very strange one indeed!  Right in the middle of supper, or after supper according to the King James, Jesus strips down to probably his tunic, and starts washing the feet of some of the disciples.  What a Passover Seder indeed!  That’s not in any Passover Service.  A servant might have washed the feet of the guests before the supper, as they entered but not after or during the meal and the head of the household was certainly not the one who was supposed to be washing feet!  We can probably assume that Jesus had celebrated Passover with his disciples before, perhaps even twice although the Evangelists don’t record it.  Because they don’t we could probably argue that those Passover Seders were much like what was expected in the area, probably much the same as what Joseph had done as the head of the household as Jesus had experienced growing up.

I have been trying for some time to come up with a modern-day equivalent to the shock that must have been in the minds of the disciples that night.  And that shock came in the midst of the chaotic setting of the supper that week.  When they had been up north, Jesus had announced that it was time to go to Jerusalem and he mentioned something about the Son of Man being betrayed and handed over into the hands of sinful men and crucified.  By last Sunday things were looking quite interesting.  Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead and the crowd had welcomed him into Jerusalem, welcomed him like a king shouting Hosannas to him and praising him as the Son of David.  But by Thursday night the mood had definitely changed; things were quite a bit more tentative because Jesus had been stirring up trouble all week.  He had cleared the Temple of the moneychangers with a whip no less, calling it his father’s house!  Some of the disciples must have known that the religious leadership was not happy at all about them being in town, especially at Passover.  He had been teaching in direct and open opposition to the chief priests, the scribes and elders all week, even at one point pronouncing seven woes on them. (Mt 23)  By the time we get to Passover supper, Jesus announces to the disciples hat one of them would betray him.  We know there was a great deal of jockeying for rank among them, as Matthew tells it, even to the point of Mrs. Zebedee, James and John’s mother coming to Jesus to grant that her sons would have positions of prominence when Jesus came into his kingdom.  I say all of this to try to better fix in our minds the context of the Lord’s Supper because otherwise I think we’re left with a rather tame impression that this was just Jesus’ Last Supper, which is certainly not the case.

We don’t know the exact chronology of the events of the supper that night and we don’t know exactly when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper by reading John’s Gospel because he doesn’t record it, but we have a pretty good idea of how a Passover Seder occurs.  The unleavened bread goes around the table several times with blessings and the retelling of the story of the first Passover and the flight of Israel out of Egypt.  Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that at some point when the unleavened bread went around Jesus said, “Take and eat.  This is my body.”  On top of the foot washing, this was mind blowing but nothing could have prepared them for what happened shortly after that.  We also know the Kiddush cup, a common cup of blessing, not unlike the common cup we use in holy communion, goes around the table a few times but this one time Jesus takes the cup and says something that if they weren’t stunned before, when he says it, you should have been able to knock them over with a feather.  “Drink of it all of you.  This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Those of you who have invested something of yourselves in the study of the Old Testament, particularly the prohibitions against consuming blood in Leviticus, will find your study has paid off.  Here was the Rabbi saying at Passover, “Drink my blood.”  I don’t know of a modern equivalent except maybe if instead of the Lord’s Supper tonight we decided to re-institute ritual animal sacrifice on the altar.  This was something completely different.  Jesus was not merely evolving Old Testament theology into New Testament theology, he was completely fulfilling it and saying that He was and always had been the Passover all along!

During the Sundays in Lent we worked out way through five of the six chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism.  Tonight is the sixth, the Sacrament of the Altar.  “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?  It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How could ordinary eating and drinking do such great things?

Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”

It is very catechetical to ask why is this night different from all other nights?  Because this is the night when Our Lord Jesus Christ took Passover and completed it with its proper meaning, with the meaning that it was always meant to have from its beginning.  As we receive Jesus’ righteous blood, He marks us as his own and the destroying judgment of God will not destroy us.  Jesus Christ is our Passover.

But what is this about foot washing that John has recorded for us?  It seems to be a command from our Lord.  The meaning to the foot washing is bound up inextricably with the interchange between Peter and Jesus.  I don’t think any of the disciples would have hesitated to wash Jesus’ feet but I don’t think Jesus could have gotten any one of the others to wash each other’s feet.  There was a great deal of bitterness among the disciples that night.  Emotions were running high because of the week’s events.  Again, one disciple was even accused of betraying Jesus and notice how each of them reacts to this information, not “It has to be Judas, I never trusted that guy,” but “Is it I Lord?”  In their heart of hearts they each know they have not been faithful and instead of the more familiar, “Before the cock crows three times,” we have this more easily misunderstood passage about foot washing.  Peter sees his master humbling himself to wash the others feet and he can’t put himself on that level.  He can’t be like them; he can’t let his master do that.  But Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” That is you are not in fellowship with me.

Simply, if we do not let Jesus serve us, we have no fellowship with him.  Tonight is not about our observance; tonight is about our Lord serving us at his altar.  Tonight is not about the Lord coming to our table; tonight is about us coming to his table as his guests to receive the gifts he gives, forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life.  Tonight is not about observing ordinances like foot washing, making new Levitical laws where Jesus has fulfilled the entire Law; tonight is about the love that comes from being loved by God the Father and being forgiven of sins to free us from all our sinful history that we might be freed to be instruments of God’s love to our neighbors.  Tonight is not about who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven; tonight is about who is a disciple.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  We love because he first loved us.  What a tremendous reproof to the disciples who hours ago were arguing who might be the greatest among them.

Peter doesn’t understand but he knows that he will be missing out if he doesn’t let the Lord Jesus bestow this gift on him.  Perhaps that is more truly the essence of faith, not complete metaphysical understanding of all things divine, but confessing that we are less if we want to have no part of Jesus having a part of us.

Tonight is also the beginning of the Triduum, the sacred ‘three days.’  These services, tonight, Good Friday tomorrow, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday form a complete whole.  I cannot urge you enough to be here for all of them.  Fully participating in the Holy Week services is to be served by Jesus.  That may sound a little sappy, but isn’t that what Jesus is doing tonight?  He is connecting us with himself by his body and blood and also connecting us to one another.  Because tonight is not just about Jesus humbling himself to wash his disciples feet; tonight is about Jesus humbling himself to bear the cross for our sins.  Tonight points to Good Friday tomorrow.  Good Friday is the end of all hope if it isn’t for the Vigil of Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord on Sunday.

Why is this night different from all other nights?  Because tonight we remember the institution of Jesus Christ’s Passover by which connects us to himself by his body and blood and declares that whoever eats and drinks in his name will not die but live eternally.  Amen.

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

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Palm Sunday

April 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: I’ve been rereading “Good News For Anxious Christians, by Philip Carey lately and this sermon was particularly influenced by chapter10.

Click here for mp3 audio 27 Sermon for Palm Sunday.mp3

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

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week and Holy Week is a great cure for most of what ails modern Christians today.  As Christians observe Holy Week, we’re brought out of ourselves and immersed into the historical accounts our Savior’s last days on His journey to the cross for us.  The focus of the Christian faith is Christ; it’s not about our experiencing Christ.  There’s a difference and it matters.  We put our faith in a person, a real historical person, not an experience.  I am going to insist on this difference because so many of us have been led to believe that what makes faith personal is our experience of it.  In essence there is a confusion of the “experiential” with the “personal.” What makes our faith personal is not the experience but the person, specifically the person of Jesus Christ.  We do experience Christ in our faith and that’s a very good thing, but that not the really important thing in Christian faith or even in Christian experience.  The person in whom we have faith is the really important thing in Christian experience.

Now I don’t mean to start off Holy Week with some esoteric philosophical discussion but hear me out.  This difference becomes especially clear during Holy Week because in Holy Week we come face to face, almost in real time, with the events surrounding the suffering and death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Now at first glance it may seem that I am trying to get you into the experience of Holy Week.  I am sure I have even spoken this way in the past.  But in many ways that puts the emphasis on us and our experience of it rather than on the person of Jesus, who He is and what He did for us.  Christianity is about Jesus.  The Gospel is always about Jesus.  The Gospel is never about us.  The Gospel is always about what Jesus Christ did for us.  The Gospel is never about what we do or even how we experience our faith.  This next statement may shock you a bit but please, hear me out:  Christianity is not, fundamentally, a way of life.  Most other religions are.  Modern Judaism certainly is and so is Islam but Christianity is not primarily a way of life.  Christianity is fundamentally a faith, because it is centered not on how we live, (it’s not), it is centered on what we believe about how Christ lives (and suffered, died and rose again, and rules at God’s right hand, and will come again in glory).  The crucial thing about Christianity is on Jesus, not on a way of life, not on an experience of God; the crucial thing about Christianity is not how to live or what the rules for living are, as they are in other religions, but rather the account about this one person, Jesus Christ.  And if what we know about who Jesus is and what He did is so vitally important, then Holy Week is the week of all weeks to get that straight because Holy Week is the telling of Jesus’ story, the unpacking of all that we heard during that long reading from Mark’s Gospel.

And so ultimately Holy Week is about how a carpenter from Nazareth is not just any ordinary man.  He is the Son of God, fully human yet fully Divine, of the same substance of the Father, present at the creation of the world, in fact, the means by which all things came into being who at just the right moment in time took on human flesh was born of the virgin Mary and entered into our world.  He came to fulfill the promises and plans of God.  He fulfilled every prophecy of the Old Testament, even one so brief and formerly obscure as riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  He is the Son of David as the genealogies declare and as the crowds knew by His ministry for three years of healing the sick, preaching the news that the kingdom of God has returned, and even raising the dead.  Holy Week is the story of the eternal Son of God, Jesus the Messiah of God, who willingly walked to the punishment of Roman scouring and the cross to suffer not just execution in a brutally inhumane manner, but suffered the punishment of hell itself as He was alienated from the presence of the Father, forsaken.  No ordinary man could have suffered in the place of all people, only the God-man Jesus Christ.  What matters most for our Christian experience is that these things really happened.  We talk quite a bit about Christian hope and Christian faith and Christian love but these things are not focused on themselves nor are they focused on our doing them, they are focused on Christ and the meaning He gives them.  Holy Week is the telling of the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Now I said earlier that Christianity is not a way of life; it is a faith and I’m still sticking by that.  Obviously, if one chooses to believe these things about Jesus, one will live life different from one who refuses to.  This is what makes Christian faith is personal but this is very different from saying our experience of faith is personal.  If our faith were only about an experience rather than a person, then the events of Holy Week wouldn’t matter so much, sound doctrine wouldn’t matter so much—all we’d need is practical advice about how to have a meaningful experience.  We wouldn’t need to care about the reality of who the Christ is, but only whether it is “real for me.”  However, because the Christian faith is about who Christ really is we need Holy Week.  We need the doctrine of the Trinity.  We need the doctrine of the incarnation.  Without these teachings, there is no point in talking about how Jesus loved sinners if He is not who these two doctrines teach us He is.  Holy Week is the unfolding of these doctrines.  Holy Week teaches us these doctrines and gives us time to ponder on them.  Holy Week gives us a chance to jettison that vague notion of an impersonal God being out there somewhere and hear again what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us in the human timeline of history in a specific place, Jerusalem of Judea.

Sadly, however, if the past in any indicator, there will not be great crowds flocking into the churches this week.  When I first arrived and mentioned I was going to do a Good Friday service at noon, some other pastors in the area kindly asked me to tell them how it went.  Despite most businesses being closed on Good Friday in this town, over the past four years, Good Friday at noon had consistently the worst attendance of any service.  The Lord is on His cross and we take it as a vacation day.  This attitude bleeds over into the rest of Holy Week as well.  It has become so bad the hymnal committees of many denominations including our own have given us a sop, cram all of Holy Week into Passion Sunday, presumably so the people who are here on Palm Sunday don’t have to ask how the guy who entered Jerusalem as king ended up dead by the end of the week.  Of course, during Holy Week we learn that Jesus came to die for even those who mocked him and counted Him as not really all that practical.  There are those who say “Holy Week services sure do take a lot of time.”  And to them I say, “Yeah, they sure do.”

In other places in the world during Holy Week, everything stops.  In places where the Church is still strong as a cultural institution, like some towns in Spain, the Philippines, and in many places in Central and South America, all of life stops and centers for a week on the retelling of the sacred story.  But here life does slow down much, not among most Protestants in the US, not in the highly fractured and individuated spiritualist, non-sacramental religion that has kicked the person of Jesus to curb and replaced him with the Christ of religious experience.  In the US Christianity has become a religion that has no problem with the Easter Bunny leaving eggs at the church for the kiddies to find.  How long before the kiddies equate the Easter Bunny with Jesus and think He’s just a story the grownups told to entertain them.  How long can that religion last?  But Holy Week fixes that too.  What are we doing with the catechumens today?  They are here all week with a front row seat to hear for themselves what Jesus did for them.  They are not here to have a religious experience; they are present to hear the news that Jesus suffered, died, and rose again for them.  They hear and they learn to echo not only in their hearts but in their lives the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for them, oh, it is deeply personal, but the focus is on Jesus.  This is the faith into which they are being confirmed.  They are not being confirmed in their own religious experience of Jesus; they are being confirmed into THE FAITH, once delivered by the apostles and to which we have handed on to them.  Incidentally, this is nothing new; the Early Church did the same thing and baptized the catechumens at the Easter Vigil, quite plainly into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Holy Week points them and us to the Jesus Christ Savior.  Holy Week ensures we pass on what we have been given.

Holy Week makes us not just casual observers of the action, but participants too.  Like we pray in the collect for the day, “that we may be made partakers of the resurrection,” we are those who today wave palms and shout Hosannas to the Son of David and, by the end of the week, we are not only the disciples who run away in fear, we have become those who cry out in blood thirst, “Crucify Him! Let His blood be on us and our children!” But Holy Week is not play acting.  It is to hear again the Word of God for us—that Jesus came to die for even those who despised Him and called for His death.  We need that.  Jesus the Son of David, the Son of God, triumphantly entering Jerusalem knows precisely what He’s doing here.  He knows He rides to His cross because by doing so, He comes to be lifted up on the cross and glorified that we might see and believe.  And so in hearing God’s Word this week we become the disciples who are fed the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  We become those who follow after Jesus bearing the cross.  We become the disciples who race to the tomb early in the morning and our old hearts still race little when we hear the angels say, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”

Holy Week is not an escape from real life; Holy Week is the very core of our real life in Christ Jesus our Redeemer.  Holy Week is a great cure for what ails us all.  Holy Week isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus for us.  And thank God for that.  Amen.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Lent 5 Midweek

April 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Midweek of Lent 5 — Psalm 143

Throughout Lent, I have been using Rev. Tod Peperkorn’s God’s Gift of Forgiveness resource.  This Sunday I was inspired by the direction he went but I went very much down my own path here.

 

Click here for mp3 audio 26 Sermon for Lent 5 MW.mp3

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The text for tonight is Psalm 143, which we prayed earlier in the service.  Throughout the season of Lent I’ve been trying to show how the penitential psalms inform our doctrinal understanding of confession and absolution.  As I said this morning, the Scriptures give us a pattern of a pastor delivering the Word of God and that word working first contrition and then forgiveness.  That’s been the purpose of having these little readings from the Firth Chief Part all these weeks.  I’ve also noticed that this has been a little tougher going than some of my other Lenten Series from years past, tougher on me to get it right and probably tougher on you if I didn’t quite get it.  I noticed too from Sunday morning Bible class where we are examining the Psalms, I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty putting these sermons on these psalms together and preaching them.  The psalms are pure poetry and explaining a psalm is like trying to explain a dance or a joke.  We either “get it” or we don’t.  I know it’s not just my lack of education to blame.  I hated studying poems in school.  The surest way to suck the life out of anything is to study it to death.  But at the same time, studying these psalms helps to understand all the better the meaning in them and learn how to pray them because the psalms really should be the vocabulary for the rest of our prayers.

It begins with a familiar phrase for us, “Hear my prayer, O Lord.”  Why will God hear your prayer dear Christian?  Is it because you are so faithful to God?  God hears all our prayers and this one not because we are faithful but because He is faithful.  Doctor Luther was captivated by such a thought.  It led him to conclude:

“Every psalm, all Scripture, calls to grace, extols grace, searches for Christ, and praises only God’s work, while rejecting all the works of man.… The life of a saint is more a taking from God than a giving; more a desiring than a having; more a becoming pious than a being pious.… Not on account of the work I do, but on account of the faith Thou givest me” (AE 14:196)

God hears our prayers because He is faithful toward us and bestows on us faith and His righteousness and God hears David’s prayer not on account of David but because God is faithful to him.

Psalm 143 is really a complaint psalm or lament psalm.  We have an idea of when and why David wrote it/prayed it.  Traditionally this psalm was thought to have been written in the desolation he experienced after he was driven from his throne by his son Absalom.  We get a sense of David’s despondency already in verse 3, “The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground.” (Psalm 143:3) David had many enemies but David’s earthly enemies were not his biggest foes.  His greatest enemies are the same ones you and I face daily, sin, death and the devil.  That is how the Scriptures speak.  Sin, death and the devil are our enemies and often combine to form an unholy triumvirate that works against us every day.  Sin haunts us.  Death lurks just beyond the horizon or maybe nearer.  And devil hounds us every day of our lives.  All three work together to get us to deny God’s Word, to get us to deny the faithfulness of God, to get us to deny God’s Word of forgiveness spoken to us through His Son, Jesus.  The first trick may be to get us to rethink sin.  “Maybe that thing you thought was a sin, isn’t really; it’s just those conservative people who say it’s a sin.”  Sounds like, Satan is up to his old tricks again, “Did God really say?”

This is why we must learn the psalms in order to learn to pray.  They put the very words that came from the mouth of God back into our mouths to be prayed back to God in confession, praise, and thanksgiving.  The psalms teach us the same thing the rest of the Scriptures teach us but they teach it to us in prayer.  The psalms teach us that God is faithful and who are true enemies are.  Like a catechism of prayer, they teach us about sin and forgiveness.  They teach us how to cling to Christ and His Word of forgiveness to us.

Notice how the catechism teach us about the very same things, about sin and forgiveness.  And notice how very ordinary the sins listed there are.

Which [sins]are these?
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?

What’s missing?  The biggies aren’t listed.  There is no murder, no grand theft auto, no adultery or sedition.  The sins listed are the little sins that are part of daily life.  Notice where they start. Who are you?  Father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker.  Each of us has a calling, a vocation where God has placed us.  This is where God has given you to live and to work.  And it is in that calling, in that vocation, that we need Law and Gospel, condemnation and absolution because it is in those callings that we sin against one another.

Who among us has not been unfaithful or lazy, hot-tempered or rude or quarrelsome? Haven’t said something behind someone’s back after they made you angry or when you didn’t get your way?  Haven’t you hurt others by your words or deeds?  Haven’t you even been so oblivious in the moment that you didn’t even realize what you were doing?

These are real sins. To the eyes of the world, these aren’t big sins. They are trifles, nothing to be so concerned about. Yet it is these very trifles that God died on the cross to forgive. If God takes them so seriously, perhaps we should as well.  And that is why we have private Confession and Absolution.  Listen to the language here in the psalm, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” (v. 8) “And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.” (v. 12) God wants you to hear of his steadfast love every day.  He wants you to live in the freedom from these sins He gives each day.  He wants you live in the protection He lovingly provides for you each day.

This Lent we have taken a journey into God’s gift of absolution.  It is not easy to focus on the confession of sins, on the first part of confession.  It is hard to confess. The words don’t come out right.  It’s embarrassing.  Or, it almost seems like much ado about nothing.  I mean, who cares about how I treat my family or what I did at work or whatever my sin might be?

But that is the whole point.  God cares; He cares so much He sent His Son into the world to die so that you might live.  The psalms are not just David’s prayer book they are our Lord’s.  We know he prayed aloud some portions of the prayers from the cross.  What did he pray those three hours in the Garden of Gethsemane?  We don’t know.  But I take comfort knowing that as Jesus prayed for faithfulness for the path that lay ahead of Him, he might very well have prayed:  “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God!  Let Your good Spirit lead me” (Psalm 143:10).  We know that when Jesus said “It is finished” from the cross, He was talking about the punishment for the sin of the world, for your sins, all of them.  How wonderful it is to be taught to pray with David and with Him, “Let your good Spirit lead me!”  Oh what joy in the sorrow of the cross.

Hopefully, this Lent we’ve learned to appreciate God’s gift of Individual Confession and Absolution.  I know this has been a new journey for many, and perhaps at times a bit strange like the language of the psalms themselves.  But still we flee to God’s Word of forgiveness.  When your old enemies, sin death and the devil surround you, and threaten to drag you down and tear you away from the assurance of God’s faithfulness, flee to God’s Word!  God will not hold your sins against you, He has forgiven you for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son.  That is our assurance.  That is our trust.  To return to each day is our life as children of God.

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Lent 5

April 5, 2012 Leave a comment

The Fifth Chief Part – Confession

Click here for mp3 audio 25 Sermon for Lent 5.mp3

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We’ve been working through the chief parts of the Small Catechism these past Sundays in Lent and we’re getting close to the end.  Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent, and so today is the Fifth Chief Part, Confession, as we just read it responsively out of the catechism.

We take time to go again into the catechism because we need to.  Because we need ever to remain students of the catechism not just because we seem to forget what we’ve already learned but because we have never learned everything that was there to begin with.  Such is certainly the case with the fifth chief part.

In the Scriptures we find a pattern.  God sends a person to speak the Word of God to call to repentance, to contrition and to receive forgiveness.  Certainly this the case when God sends pastor Nathan to King David, “You are the man.”  Certainly this is the case with Jesus and Peter, “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And [Peter] broke down and wept.”  (Mk 14:72)  We’re told in Acts chapter 2 that the same denying Peter was sent to preach to the men of Israel on Pentecost saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” And this was a preaching of repentance for the Scripture reads, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “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. (Ac. 2:36-38)  Oh, and just a side note from last week, this baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit is not just for the grownups.  Peter continues in verse 39, “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.”  Sorry, I had to sneak that one in there.  This is Scriptural pattern:  the Word of the Lord comes from the mouth of the one He sends and that Word is a call to repentance over sin so that God can work forgiveness for sin.

But I can just hear my critic now.

“Pastor, you sound just like a Catholic priest!”

“What do you mean?”

“You want us to come to private confession and you think you can forgive sins.”

“Well, yes, but…”

“When you say, ‘I forgive you all your sins,’ that’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins.  Besides Luther abolished private confession because on account of Jesus we can go straight to God and receive forgiveness for our sins.”  (adapted from The Lutheran Difference, p.377)

           “When I urge you to go to confession , I am simply urging you to be a Christian.” So said Doctor Luther in his pamphlet, “Brief Exhortation to Confession.”  Doctor Luther understood the role of pastors Nathan and Peter and saw Jesus acting like a pastor to Peter.  “In Confession and Absolution, the two great emphases of Christianity—man as sinner and God, in Christ, as man’s Savior—are brought sharply and unmistakably into focus.”  If anyone knew about a sin plagued conscience it was Doctor Luther.  As a young monk he went often to private confession and confess for hours.  He would literally wear out his father confessor, Staupitz.  And then he would leave, only to turn right back around and go back into the confessional again.  It was years before the young monk would finally hear what the old monk had been saying to him over and over.  “Luther, remember the words of the psalmist, “I am yours, save me.” (Psalm 119:94) Luther finally realized that the entire system of confession as the Church practiced it in those days was so burdensome, even more so than the sins for which he had sought forgiveness.  Luther began to continually turn to God’s Word and find in it the glorious and consoling Gospel truth: forgiveness is a free, unconditional gift of God won by Christ on the cross and freely given in His name.

But it is a fundamental misunderstanding of Luther to think he abolished private confession and absolution.  Luther could nor more do that than abolish baptism or the Lord’s Supper.  Luther reformed private confession and absolution; he returned it to the proper emphasis, not on our enumeration of sins, but on God’s free forgiveness to us.  Long after he was a Lutheran, Luther continued to urge Christian men and women to go to confession and by that he means private confession and absolution as he does in the Small Catechism.  And he lamented that because confession was no longer mandatory people never made use of it.  Hear him on this matter.

“Imagine there are poor miserable beggars.  The authorities order them to go to a certain place at a certain time, for example high noon in the square in Hickory.  The authorities never tell why or what they’ll find there or what benefit it’ll be for them if they go there.  They are just ordered to go.  How many beggars would do this?  The ones who did go would go grumbling and complaining.  Luther says this is the way confession used to be, but it’s not the right way.  Rather, imagine the beggars are told that on high noon, on the square in Hickory they would find immense piles of riches, all the food they could eat and fine clothes there for the taking.  You could be sure that the beggars would flock there to receive these great gifts.  (Adapted from Luther’s, “Brief Exhortation to Confession,” Concordia, 652, and Quardokus, CPR, 2012.)

         This is Luther’s attitude when he writes in the Small Catechism, “…we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

          “But who is the pastor to forgive sins?”  My critic has a point.  Only God can forgive sins.  But Jesus did give this authority to forgive and even bind sins to the church.  On the evening of Easter, Jesus met them in the upper room and there He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (Jn 20:22–23).  He gives the authority to forgive and bind sins to the Church.  When you called me to be your pastor you called me to carry out this authority in the public name of this congregation.  The authority to forgive sins comes from Jesus through you to the one in the office of pastor in this place so that the people here may know with absolute certainty sins are forgiven here even as in heaven itself.  This is what we mean when we confess this together in the catechism.  That’s why it is reiterated week after week, “I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all your sins.”  Let us glorify God that He has given such authority to men.  It is a great gift to know for certain that we are right with God.

What sins should we confess?  Well, that’s tonight’s sermon.  But suffice it to say, those which bug us.  Those sins that plague us, those sins from our past that haunt us, where the devil tricks us in to thinking we’re no good.  Those sins we feel most guilty about.  Our fears and our lack of faithfulness in great trial or even in small ones.  In short we should confess out lout any sin that might make us think even for one minute, “Those words of forgiveness are for other people, they are for good people, they are for people who are really sorry for their sins; they’re not for me, I’m too bad.”  Yes, that sin, your sin.  It is forgiven in Christ Jesus.  I can only assume you’re a little like me and that sometime during the day you ask God to forgive you your sins.  He does forgive, but how many times has He himself answered you with Words you can actually hear: “Your sin is forgiven; go in peace.”  This is why God has given us the great treasure of private confession and absolution in the office of the pastor.  So that through human lips you can hear God’s clear Word of forgiveness in your own ears.  Just as David’s and Peter’s pastors assured them, your sins are forgiven.  Amen.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized