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Message from Ascension Sunday, May 21

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment
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Message for Easter 5, May 14

May 18, 2017 Leave a comment
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Message for the Second Sunday of Easter

April 24, 2017 Leave a comment

You can hear the message from the Second Sunday of Easter by clicking here.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia.

Put the first reading next to the Gospel for today and there’s an interesting
interplay. In the Gospel, which is probably far more familiar to us, we have Jesus
in the upper room with the disciples and Thomas bringing peace. In the first
reading, is the the result of that peace Jesus brings, suffering dishonor for the sake
of the name of Jesus. It doesn’t really make sense, does it? Jesus comes to
bring his disciples, us, peace, and wherever we try to live in that peace, it bring us
the opposite of peace from people around us. Luther would say its the nature of
Christian faith to live in such a paradox. But it’s very difficult and to the world
you’re a chump.

Friday on the radio, there was a story about how the Tennessee legislature
was going to pass an ethics rule to force lawmakers to disclose when a trip they
took was paid for by someone else. The kicker is there is already an ethics rule
that forces them to disclose if a registered lobbyist pays for a trip but not for an
unregistered organization or person. Now wouldn’t you think the that spirit of the
first rule would take care of it? It doesn’t. Instead of bringing transparency to
government and the lawmaking process, it just creates more shadows to hide in.

That’s an example from the world of politics and they’re easy targets. What about
us? Do we live with the kind of transparency that we’re supposed to live in?
And do we have the resulting peace that we’re supposed to have? Why do we
prefer to live in the shadowy chaos of rules than in the daylight of peace?
This is the Sunday after Easter and to show just how strong the echoes of
Easter are, we still have readings from the first Easter, that first Easter evening.

Jesus appeared in the room where the disciples were meeting and said to them,
“Peace be with you.” Now this is extraordinary for a number of reasons: 1. the
bodily risen Jesus made it into a locked room, we know it’s really Him because He
showed them the scars from the nails and spear, and 2. the door was locked
because the disciples were afraid they were sure to suffer the same fate as Jesus.
And Jesus comes and brings them peace in the midst of their fear. But remember
this is no ordinary peace. It’s the kind of peace that will equip them in the future,
as we see in our first reading, to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. That’s a
very different idea of peace than I think we normally deal with.

I don’t know what you did after services last Sunday, but I went home and
had a very peaceful nap. It was a long week. My nap was peaceful. On Monday, I
drove over to Knoxville and after my radio station conked out at the top of the
mountain in Monterey, I didn’t bother to find a new one and the drive was quite
peaceful. Not having to be anywhere specific, not having a big agenda for the day,
that was peaceful, especially after the pace of Holy Week. On Tuesday, I went
fishing. That was peaceful too. Moments of absolute calm. Those are moments of
the kind of physical peace that comes with rest and recreation and reset. Right?

Is Jesus talking about that kind of peace? Yes. He brings peace to the chaos
of the disciples’ fear. But the peace He brings is not limited to that kind of peace.
Remember, God gave the give of a day of physical rest once a week to His people.
It was called Sabbath. It worked for a bit, but people being who people are, they
either worked around it or ignored it entirely and in so doing, ignored a
fundamental part of creation. So, yes, Jesus brings physical peace but He’s
bringing much more.

Jesus comes and brings the peace that comes as a result of His work on the
cross. Have you thought about Holy Week being a week of Jesus’ work much like
the first week of work of creation? Think about it. On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters
Jerusalem as king and spends the week teaching in the temple steps and courtyards.
On the evening of His last day, He establishes the meal of His Body and Blood, is
arrested, tried, convicted, and executed. As the sun sets on the sixth day of the
week, Jesus work of rescuing the world from sin, death, and the power of the devil
was complete. He rested in the grave on the Sabbath. And early on the first day of
the new week, the first day of a new life as a result of His rescuing work, the news
of what He accomplished started to be told.
There is now a peace that comes from being right with God, a peace that
comes not from just being in the presence of God but being in the presence of God
and being welcome in His presence. Think of the kind of open relationship that
Adam and Eve had with God in the garden and we begin to understand the kind of
peace Jesus has restored to us with God. Not only do we know God but we know
the depth of His love for us, that He would even send His Son to the cross that we
might be reconciled to Him. That’s a different aspect of peace than the gentle
passing of the lane dividers and the sound of the road or watching your bobber on
the water. It’s a bigger peace.

Recently, I’m especially attentive to the ways in the which the world tries to
look for and find peace. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices. What was once
on the hippy fringe is now mainstream. These are practices from the East that are
coming into the West because people are looking for peace. What do we call
shopping? Retail therapy? Looking for tranquility? Head to the spa get a facial or
better a massage. I’m not putting any of these things down. I’m simply trying to
say that all of these things in and of themselves can only begin to touch on the
peace that will still the chaos of our our hearts, minds, and souls. An attempt to
find peace apart from Christ is no different from the practice of Sabbath by
following rules. It didn’t work then amongst hyper-pious religionists and it won’t
work today among hyper-hedonists.

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus had promised He would bring peace to
His disciples. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world
gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’” (Jn 14:27)
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you
will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)
After His grand work of overcoming the chaos of this world and reordering
creation to a perfect relationship with God on the cross, Jesus rested on the
Sabbath, and on the very next day, the first day of His resurrection, He appeared in
the midst of His disciples and brought them His full and abiding peace. And He
does the same thing among His disciples, among us, today. He stands in our
presence and through the office of the Holy Ministry, proclaims peace to His
people and the world. He declares sins forgiven. He declares the world overcome.
He declares the chaos reordered. He declares it accomplished. Behold His hands
and side. Behold His body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins,
for eternal life even now.

Peace to you. Peace not as the world gives. Peace that Jesus won for you.
You have peace with God in Christ Jesus.

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

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Message for Easter Sunrise

April 24, 2017 Leave a comment

This is the message from Easter Sunrise service.

You can listen to this message by clicking here.

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

This is the great day!  It is the greatest God has created since the first days of creation itself!  This is the first day of the new creation, the day when Christ was raised.

And it happened when it was impossible to imagine it.  John only mentions Mary Magdalene but there were others with her when they went to the tomb early that morning, they were thinking of nothing but doing their last honorable service for their deceased teacher.  On Friday afternoon they had hastily wrapped His body and laid Him in the tomb.  They had worked so quickly on Friday because of sundown and the beginning of the Passover Sabbath.  But this morning, they had returned to the tomb in the garden to complete their task.  They most likely bought the spices Saturday evening when the market reopened after the Sabbath was over.  And they made their way to the tomb the first chance they had in the first light of the first day of the week.  They were worried about the stone set in front of the tomb and rightly so.  Stones like these were very heavy to keep wild animals out of the tombs.

But that mourning, when Mary and the other women arrived at the tomb, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away and the tomb was empty.  The only thing that made sense was someone had taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb.  Cruelty added upon the Friday’s cruelty only added to their darkened spirits.   Mary Magdalene, maybe the other women too, ran back to Peter and the discipline whom Jesus loved, most likely John the author of this Gospel.  Make no mistake, Mary and the other women are the first apostles, the apostles to the apostles, the first “sent ones” entrusted with the news that the grave is empty, that Jesus is risen from the dead.  The women passed along what they had seen and heard.  The stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus’ body was gone.  Their words only added to the chaos of the morning.  Peter and John and Mary rush back to the tomb and find it just as the women had told them.

The whole scene reads like an eyewitness account because it is.  They don’t just rush to the tomb and arrive together.  John gets there first but doesn’t go in immediately but he kind of stands outside and stoops to look in.  If the tomb where Jesus was laid is anything like the tombs archeologists have found in the area, like the ones I showed in Bible class last week, I think I understand how John stooped to look in.  But as soon as Peter gets there, he rushes into the tomb and he saw the linens that had wrapped Jesus’ body just laying there with the face cloth folded up by itself.  Someone has taken the body.  It’s the only thing that makes sense and yet, someone took the time to unwrap the body first.  That doesn’t make any sense.  And who in the world would tidy up a grave robbing by folding the face cloth up by itself?  And then John goes in and sees what Peter sees.

He sees and believes.  After years of reading this every Easter, I think I might finally understand what this phrase means.  It reads, “he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”  Now, did he believe or did he not believe that Jesus was raised?  Well, I think a way to read this and it make sense is to remember back to what John was asked to believe first that morning and that was that Jesus body was missing.  Mary had been to the tomb, ran back to the apostles and reported Jesus’ body missing.  When he gets to the tomb, he sees the body missing.  “He saw and believed [that is, he believed what Mary had told him and John believed that Jesus was missing, at least for the moment]; for as yet he did not understand the Scripture, that [Jesus] must rise from the dead.”

Don’t blame John or Peter or Mary.  No one could being to order the chaos of what had happened.  It was beyond belief to think that Jesus, who had been very clearly dead Friday afternoon, was now very much alive.  It had never happened before, well, except for Lazarus, about two weeks earlier, but they weren’t thinking about that.  And besides that was different wasn’t it?  So, they were consumed by their grief and sorrow and not thinking about any other possibilities than that Jesus body had been taken.

So, having seen for themselves, Peter and John left and went back.  Mary stayed but had not gone back into the tomb.  She stood outside weeping.  She was crying the kind of deep and sorrowful tears that come when we are completely undone by our loss.  If you’ve ever lost someone you truly loved, you know the kind of grief Mary felt that morning.  And His body missing was now insult to injury.  She kept looking in where she had laid his body and where it wasn’t laying any more, trying to grab hold of reality, trying to make sense of it.

And then she sees the most extraordinary sight, two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one up by the head and the other down by his feet.  The angels ask her why she is sobbing so sorrowfully.  They already know.  They already know that today is the greatest day that has ever been.  They cannot imagine why anyone would be weeping today.  “Woman, why are you weeping?”

And it is just as we thought.  It is bad enough, Jesus has was killed so cruelly, but now she fears they have taken His body away.

And then she turns around and sees a figure, a man.  She doesn’t recognize him.  It is the Lord.  And He asks her the same question.  Woman, why are you weeping so sorrowfully.  Hope against hope, still looking for the body of Jesus, she thinks this man might be the caretaker of the cemetery and she says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

And Jesus says to her, “Mary.”

Into the darkness of her sorrow and the chaos of her grief, the Lord Jesus speaks her name and she knows.  She knows it’s Jesus.  She knows He’s alive.  She knows now what the angels knew.  And something in her swells, a wild delight at hearing the very voice of God.  She’d heard it before in words of kindness and forgiveness as He’d taught, and even as He’d hung on the cross.  It was enlivening to hear Him call her by name.

It was a little bit maybe like not just seeing but feeling a sunrise, like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought.[1]  It hearing and experiencing and feeling hope and love and peace and faith and trust all at once.

That’s why today is the greatest day ever.  Even when Jesus raised Lazarus, poor Lazarus had gone one to die again.  Jesus would not.  Jesus was not just resuscitated back to this life on this earth but He was bodily resurrected to a new life, a guarantee of the promised new creation where even death itself has been defeated forever and life in its fullness is restored.

Ask people around the world what they think the most important time of the year is for Christians, ask even some Christians, and you’ll hear, “Christmas.”  The true answer, is of course today, the day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christians have always celebrated Easter.  If Jesus had not been raised, there’d be no reason to celebrate His birth.  The Good News is that Jesus conquered death.  That’s the reason for that other, lesser, season.  The world that sits in the darkness of chaos and grief and greed and hate needs to hear that message.  The old darkness is gone.  The new day has dawned.

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

[1]Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 142.

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Message for Good Friday Evening

April 24, 2017 Leave a comment

This message was give at the evening service on Good Friday.

The message can be heard by clicking here.

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

John gives us details that some of the other Gospel writers don’t tell us.  John is the only one who tells us about the spear and the soldiers’ reason for using it.  John is the one who tells us, no, more specifically, testifies like a court witness, about the blood and water coming from the spear wound in Jesus side.  And all of it, the details, the specifics, the whole of the account told so that we too might believe.  That we might believe, a.) that it really happened just as they report it and, b.) that we might believe Jesus did these things for us and for our salvation.

It was the day of preparation, says John.  This was a Jewish vocabulary for the day before sunset of Sabbath.  The Jews would have been prepping not only for the Sabbath but a special Sabbath because of the Passover celebrations.  And so it is today, Friday.  And because it was about to be a special Sabbath, the Jews had asked that the bodies of the executed not be left on the crosses.  There is a command from God in Deuteronomy that says those executed of capital offense should not be left overnight on the hanging tree.  The Romans however, were somewhat famous for leaving the bodies of their executed in place as a instrument of terror as scavengers did what they do.  It was a concession to the Jewish people they ruled as occupiers that they allowed them in this case and in others to remove the bodies and bury them.

From about the middle of the 1800s, some Bible scholars suggested that the Gospel writers were overly dramatic in describing Roman crucifixion practices.  After all, it’s hard to conceive such inhumanity.  The 20th century’s evidence of man’s inhumanity toward fellow man, notwithstanding, recently found archeological evidence corroborates the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.  This leg breaking was itself a brutal form of punishment that would have caused incredible pain and would have hastened death.[1]  With broken legs, the victim would not be able to hold himself upright to take a breath and would have hastened the asphyxiation which was the usual cause of death by crucifixion.

They broke the legs of the first and then of the other who hung on the crosses beside Jesus.  Why they avoided Jesus, John doesn’t say.  Maybe they were afraid.  Matthew reports the centurion in charge of the detail was terrified.  When they approached Jesus, they found He was already dead.  But these are Roman soldiers.  There must not be any doubt.  And so they pushed a spear into Jesus’ side and out flowed a rush of blood and water.  Jesus had died.  The blood that flowed was not in the body but from his ruptured heart that mixed with the water that had collected in His lungs from asphyxiation.  Jesus was truly dead.  Roman soldiers know how to carry out orders for execution.  There is no doubt about that.

But John seems to go much further than simply reporting the fact that Jesus had died.  He makes a special point of testifying to the blood and the water flowing from Jesus’ side.  He links this event to two prophesies from the Old Testament, one is a link to the instructions about the Passover lamb in Exodus 12 and Numbers 9, and the other from the prophet Zechariah, chapter 12.

Every year we hear this account and no doubt after so many years of attending Good Friday services you’ve heard the facts I’ve mentioned tonight as a way of opening up the account of Jesus’ death on the cross.  We’ve gone a little further than John does to explain what was happening so that we understand.  All four Gospel writers do not really focus on the excruciating pain Jesus endured.  We’ve highlighted that just for information’s sake because we are so far removed from the brutality of that world.  And because these are some of the facts that are questioned by critics today, whether they are Muslims who deny Jesus really died or Bible scholars who deny the authenticity of what are clearly eye-witness reports.  It’s not a new challenge to the faith but it is a revived one.

The fact that Jesus died and was buried is a cornerstone of our faith.  We confess it every week in the creeds.  Its why we use the creeds the way we do.  That fact is born out by the testimony of eyewitnesses, among them, John who saw the blood and water with his own eyes.  He needed to be there to see it all even if he didn’t understand what it was he was seeing.  In fact, even over the next two days he continued to see things and still not quite understand, even when he saw the spot where the grave clothes laid but the body of Jesus was not there.  And it’s not really John’s or even Peter’s or the women’s fault.  Nobody, in no society, or culture, or religion, up that point could understand someone being thoroughly dead on a Friday afternoon, hastily prepared for burial and laid in a tomb, and then alive again by Sunday morning with a life so thoroughly vibrant death can’t touch it.  Some would say that Jesus hadn’t really died.  That’s been the case even since the days of Peter and John.  Some said, and still say, Easter morning they saw a ghost, or a spirit, or experienced a mass hallucination and continued to do so for 40 days until they all mass hallucinated as they saw Jesus ascend into heaven.  That starts falling apart pretty quickly doesn’t it?

These things really happened.  And not only did they really happen, they happened just as they were prophesied to happen.  “Not one of his bones shall be broken,” and they shall look on him whom they have pierced.  Jesus was the Passover Lamb.  That’s clear.  The second prophecy from Zechariah is a little more complex.  The prophet foretold a coming time of great suffering for Jerusalem out of which God would deliver them.  And on the day of that deliverance, says the Lord through His prophet, “there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”  (Zec 13:1)

What the Romans did in cruelty, God has delivered to you in His mercy.  Behold Him whom they pierced.  John saw it with his own two eyes that you may believe.  Jesus hung dead on the cross is the fountain of cleansing and forgiveness; it literally has gushed forth from His side, water and blood poured out for you.  Amen.

[1] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods/

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Message for Palm Sunday

April 24, 2017 Leave a comment

This is the version of the sermon that was preached at the late service when we had a baptism and confirmation.

The message can be heard by clicking this link.

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Jesus is king.

That’s what today is all about.  Palm Sunday is the evidence that Jesus is king.  The people proclaim Jesus king with shouts of Hosanna.  “Hosanna” means, Lord, save us.  They also call Jesus the King of Israel.  He’s riding on a donkey like a true servant king of Israel.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna.  There’s no doubt Jesus is king.

But if Jesus is king what does that make you?

If Jesus is king, what does that make you, Alyssa, Samantha, and Blase, as you mark this milestone on the journey of your understanding of the faith?  If Jesus is king, what does that make you, little Michaelangelo, as the Lord begins in you, baptismal life in the death and resurrection of Jesus?

If Jesus is king, what does that make you dear listener?  Whether you are young or old, whether you remember your baptism or your confirmation or not?  I would suggest that if Jesus is king, that makes us his subjects, and in so many very ways we are not loyal subjects to the crown.

The past several years, we have observed the Sunday of the Passion with the long reading of the account of our Lord’s trials and crucifixion on this day.  The people who put together the new Lutheran Service Book, actually recommend this because so few people attend Holy Week services.  When I got confirmed, I was confirmed on Palm Sunday and I remember that my first communion after I was confirmed was on Maundy Thursday.  That has remained special to me all these years.  What will be special about today for you?  What will stay in your memory?

Today is not just a very important day in the lives of our confirmations or even in the life of little Michelangelo, it’s an important day in the life of the Christian Church and for the life of our congregation. Today, as the people of God in this place, we are participating in what God is doing among us in the Divine Service today. Yes, it started unconventionally, outside, with foliage, but we are hearing again, witnessing the mighty acts of our God to save us.  Jesus entered Jerusalem for us, to be our king, to re-establish God’s active reign again in this world, the kingdom of His grace and mercy, the kingdom of the forgiveness of sins.  It is not like any earthly kingdom.  Jesus is unlike any earthly king.

In earthly kingdoms, you’re supposed to ask not what your king can do for you, but what you can do for your king.  Alyssa, Samantha, Blase, Michelangelo, it’s the other way around in Jesus’ kingdom.  Ask what Jesus has done for you.  That’s what you learned over the past 3 years in catechesis.  You learned what it all means.  You learned to hear it, over and over.  Rejoice in it.  Tell others.  We all just saw what God did for Michelangelo.  We about to you hear you three confess that baptismal faith as your own.  And we all participate and witness what God is doing today and everyday in our lives.  In our rejoicing is the beginning of our responding to such a word and growing in faith and faithfulness.

There are two ways you can look at things like attending church services and your confirmation instruction and all the services this week.  You can see them as requirements or you can see them as places of pure joy.  A boy once asked his father, “How much longer are you going to make me go to church?”  He wisely said, until you stop asking that question.  You can treat the them as obligation or you can treat them as opportunities to hear once again your sins are forgiven and be in the presence of your king who serves you.

We are actually very fortunate people.  Many of our Christian brothers and sisters will hear messages today that tell them the services this week are days of obligation. Many will hear the message of Maundy Thursday as “do this” rather than “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Many will hear on Good Friday their sins put Jesus on the cross as though it was a guilt trip instead of the love of the Father to send His Son to make it all right again.  Many will even arrive in churches next week and hear how terrible they are because they’re “Easter only Christians” and will wonder why they ever came.  They will hear this Law and search inside themselves and realize they don’t have it in them to fulfill the Law of God and they will despair and stop listening to the Word altogether.  I wonder how long it will be before they ever return.  That’s why we still need to tell others.  They don’t know Jesus did what He did for them.  They need to know.

So, listen again to what God has done for you, what your king does for you, how He will suffer and die as your servant king and be raised to life everlasting, and tell others this great news.  Jesus is king.

Ask not what you can do for your king, rejoice in and tell others what He has already done.  Hosanna!  Jesus is our good king.  Everything flows from that.  Amen.

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Sermon on March 26, Lent 4

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment
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