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Sermon for Easter Morning

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

easterNote: This is the sermon preached at the Festival Divine Service on Easter morning.  As usual you can click here for mp3 audio 31 Sermon for Easter Morning.mp3

Augustana, 2013

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

Every winter folks complain about the war on Christmas, where is the hue and cry about the war on Easter?  There are far more bunnies and eggs in the shops than icons of the resurrection.  Why aren’t the stores playing Easter music?  There are far more March Madness stories than there are Easter stories in the news.  I think it’s a conspiracy, a war on Easter.

Okay, so it’s not a conspiracy.  And the war on Easter is something I just made up but for how many of you is March Madness more than Lent and Easter?  Or if college basketball is not your thing, pick something else—shopping for the new Easter dress rather than preparing your heart to celebrate the paschal feast with sincerity and truth.

Do we even acknowledge today for what it is?  Yes, Easter is the highest day in the Church Year, but that’s faint praise.  Easter is truly only second to the Last Day.  Think about that for a second.  Easter, truly, is second in significance, really, only second to the Last Day and we might be able to make a case that it’s even more important because it is on account of Easter that we will stand and be blessed on that great day, on the Day of the Lord.  It is on account of the Lord’s resurrection from the grave on Easter morning that we will stand on the Last Day and be blessed by God.  That first Easter morning, and all the ones that have come after it, is the sole basis for our hope that when we are buried we will not stay in the grave.  The angel’s message is, “He is not here; He is risen.”  Easter is not just about celebrating some vague sense of something new and springlike; Easter is about the end of death.

I’m struck this year by the loss of so many loved ones so many of you have suffered this year.  We’ve not lost many of our congregation but many of you have lost so many of your  people, brothers and sisters and other family members.  Easter is personal for you because the Easter message is Christ Jesus’ victory over death and what is true for Him is true for all who believe in Him, who have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection.  Easter is about the end of death.

I know what it looks like.  I know what it looks like all too often.  Death looks like it has won.  We make trip after trip to this funeral home or that one.  That’s how the first Easter morning began.  The women were taking the spices they had prepared to the tomb.  They were going to the funeral home.  Preparing a loved one for burial was a much more hands-on affair back then.  But back then, death was far more real and less funeralfied, you know what I mean?  They even put astroturf over the dirt pile.  Funeralfied.  Jesus had spoken about resurrection prior to His death, twice actually, but the disciples didn’t understand what He meant by it.  In Jesus’s day, resurrection was something that would happen on the Last Day for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and for all the righteous of God.  There would be no mistaking that Day when it came and so the women were not expecting resurrection when they went to the tomb that morning to finish burying Jesus.  Nobody had ever dreamed that one person would die and be bodily raised again on the other side of the grave while the rest of the world carried on much as it had before.

Usually about this time in an Easter sermon I thump on about how there are many Christians today who don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body that day.  They are spiritualists, we might more accurately call them Gnostics, but few know what a Gnostic is, so “spiritualist” makes a good handle.  They don’t believe they will be raised in their body on the Last Day either.  They’ve turned the Last Day into something else entirely—their own Last Day.  And when they die they think their soul just flies up to heaven forever.  They don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body and they don’t believe they will either.  Even though that’s not what the Scriptures, Old and New, say.  Although I really shouldn’t blame them, they’re not that much different from the women and the rest of the disciples on that first Easter morning.  But Easter morning really does change all that.  There really is a resurrection of the body; Jesus was raised.  Next week we’ll hear the account of the week after Easter when Thomas put his finger in the place where the nails were and his hand in the place where the spear was.  And if Christ was raised in His body, that’s your promise that you will too.  Death will not have won because, we know, death has not won.

The mood of Easter morning then, is one of great astonishment, confusion, maybe even, but as the Good News begins to sink in, great joy.  “He is not here but has risen.”  The Good News of Easter morning is that death no longer has the power it once had.  Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God and true man, the one who was crucified Friday for the sins of the whole world, had not remained in the grave but has shown us the way through death and the grave to the resurrection from the dead for us and for all who believe.  “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  Remember?  “He is not here; he is risen just as He said He would.”  It is the certainty of Christ’s resurrection that gives us strength and confidence in the face of loss and tragedy whether in our own lives or in the wider world.

From the beginning, the message of Easter was the message of Christ’s victory over death.  That’s the Good News—the conspiracy of sin has been wiped out; the madness of death no longer reigns.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  One of the oldest easter hymn texts in our hymnal is from John of Damascus, from the late 7th century.  He writes:

The day of resurrection!

Earth, tell it out abroad,

The passover of gladness,

The passover of God.

From death to life eternal,

From sin’s dominion free,

Our Christ has brought us over

With hymns of victory. (LSB, 478:1)

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

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Sermon for the Funeral of Linda Ritchie

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Easter 020

Note:  As always, click the link for mp3 audio  15 Sermon for the Funeral of Linda Ritchie.mp3

Just a side note, thanks to all the folks who helped feed the family and friends after the funeral.  It’s such a nice thing to do for a grieving family; I’m glad so many folks got together and made it happen.

Also the photo here is one of the “east” window at Augustana.

 

 

February 8, 2013

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

Jerry, Brenda, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Jesus is speaking privately with his disciples as he did often.  The special occasion for these words is Holy Thursday, the night when Jesus gave us his Supper.  The picture for our minds is Jesus gathered at the table with his disciples and this is what He’s saying to them.  Jesus is saying some very encouraging words.  What become Jesus’ last words before he died.  He promised them the Holy Spirit and he kept on teaching until it was time to go out and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and He began His last steps to the cross.  Jesus’ last words, at his last supper shortly before his last steps to the cross.

Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what they were about to experience over the next two and a half days—a whole lot of misery and suffering, denial and guilt and grief.  Not too much unlike what we feel as we grieve the loss of our dear sister, Linda, today.  Linda’s passing was quiet and peaceful but the hole left in our hearts is just as big.

There was one dimension that was simply lost on the disciples throughout the entire episode of the Last Supper.  They had watched Jesus take Passover and turn it into something completely new but they did not fully understand that the eating and drinking of his body and blood would be the way in which Jesus would abide with them until the end of the age.  They missed out on the cosmic significance of Jesus washing their feet, of his humble ministry to them in this way.  It had never been done that way before and therefore they didn’t know what to make of it.  And so when Jesus says, of course you know the way to the place where I am going on ahead of you, they did not understand and Thomas blurts out, “how can we know the way?”

We are all tempted to be a little like Thomas today. We are tempted to think that this is just a nice way to say goodbye to someone we loved.  We are tempted to think that this service, these words we say, this ritual is just a way to wrestle with something that is beyond our comprehension, some measure of closure, they say.  But Jesus’ words here in John 14, on the very night that he was betrayed, will not let us settle for something so trivial.  Jesus speaks on the night before his death..  From the other evangelists we know he said at that table that whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim my death until I come.  Jesus said these words about going on to prepare a place for us in his father’s house not just for our comfort as though he could simply teleport to His Father’s house and start making beds and setting out fresh towels.  No, he said these words to them so that they might know not only was he going to prepare a place for them but that he was going to do it by His dying, by dying on the cross for us.

Many years ago, God spoke to Linda and called her by name and declared Linda Diane to be a daughter of the Heavenly Father.  At holy baptism, Linda died in those waters.  She was crucified with Christ and buried with him.  That’s why we read that passage from Romans 8 at our funerals.  Because when Christians die, they know they have nothing to fear, they have already died once, they have nothing to fear by dying again.  Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life not to show that we must follow his example and say the right words to receive eternal life.  We are often tempted to think that we can make our own way through this world and that we can search out and find our own truth.  But if we are to go to the Father’s heavenly house we do it only by dying and only by dying through the death of Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” to show us the way.  We know he came and suffered so that all people might come to know him and be saved.  And he did this not so that we would think that the way to heaven is acting like him, or that the way is being able to correct expound certain theological truths.   If salvation is dependent on our being able to say the right words, believe the right things, we are still lost.  We cannot even believe rightly and purely.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by Him, most specifically through His death on the cross.

Those of you who knew Linda, knew that she was a little different than the rest of us.  She had a different set of abilities.  She was very talented with her hands.  She could sew.  There are two dolls over in the parish hall that Linda made by hand.  She was an accomplished baker.  I’m a cook and I know that baking is quite a bit more difficult than cooking.  Even in the midst of her injuries and illness over the past three and half years or so, she was still ever so very kind.  She never became embittered by what she was going through.  And Linda was given a strong faith in Jesus Christ.  Linda believed when Jesus spoke, “Let not your heart be troubled.”  And she didn’t.  She believed.

Linda confessed that faith with her mouth when she was confirmed here and she confessed that faith in her home and among her co-workers and her family, specially her parents before they passed and with her brother and sister.  That’s what a Christian life is, a daily living out of what is believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth.  A couple weeks before she died, I made a call on Linda at Bryan Center.  She didn’t know who I was but knew I was the pastor at her church, Augustana and she was happy for my visit.  It was the first time in several visits that I had found her awake and talkative so we had a lovely visit.  I read Scripture and we prayed.  And we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.  It turned out to be my last visit with her awake. Not two weeks later, Linda had what appeared to be another stroke and I went to visit again and she was not the way I had seen her.  She’d stopped eating.  On Saturday she was close to dying and I went and we prayed the commendation of the dying.  For one last time we heard together those comforting words from the Lord, Psalm 23, comforting words of the Lord from the Gospels, Revelation 7, those deep sources of our strength from the Lord and we prayed, at last, to commend Linda into the hands of her Lord, Jesus who had gone before her through this valley to prepare a place for her in His Father’s house.  And I gave her the blessing of the Lord for one last time and she was gone in less than a day.  A last visit, a last word, a last blessing from the Lord.  But there was one last thing happened.  Mid-morning on Sunday Brenda was at the bedside and Linda was struggling a little to breathe.  And calmly began to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Linda’s breathing became less labored and soon she had breathed her last, at was rest with her Lord to awake the Day of Resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”  “I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

I want to make something perfectly clear this afternoon.  We’re here because Linda was not perfect.  Jesus loved Linda not because she was so sweet a lady in our eyes but because that’s what he does and that’s why he was born.  Jesus did not come down from heaven and wave a magic wand to forgive people’s sins.  He came to suffer on the cross and die for the penalty for sin, for Linda’s sin, for your sin, for my sin, for all sin.  And because death is what it is, no matter how we might like to dress it up, death is not something we can quietly let pass.  It won’t let us.  The pain is too great, the grief too deep.  The message from the Lord today is stronger than our pain and greater than our grief.  Today in the face of death, do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in the God who sent His Son to save the world, to save Linda, to save you, purely out of His divine fatherly goodness and mercy, His great love.  Believe in the One He sent, Jesus His Son, who died to sin, who died to death.  He knew no sin, who should not have died and yet allowed Himself to die.  He died to cancel out death, to nullify death for you.  Believe in that God.  Believe in that God who cancels out death by dying to it.  Believe in that Jesus.  Linda did, by the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

I know that death looks sure and certain.  But even more sure and more certain than death is Jesus.  The death that could not hold Jesus, cannot hold Linda, cannot hold you.  Don’t fall for death’s tricks to despair as we walk into that cemetery today on the way to the grave.  Whatever tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care—between that and you stands the Lord Jesus, crucified for you and risen for you. Before death or illness can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  Jesus has the last word because He lives, and by His true Words and Spirit puts death to death and His life into you just as he put his death and life into Linda.

“Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  Amen.

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

Back to the blog

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Business and Busy-ness

I’ve had about a 3-week hiatus from the blog. I doubt many folks have missed by contributions to the “Interwebs Thingy” but I didn’t really start for readers as much as I started to discipline myself to think about things a little more deeply by writing about them as well as post the sermons.

Immediately after the last blog post on Lent 4, I was called to the hospital in Charlotte to visit a member who was struggling very hard to stay alive. He lost that earthly fight the next day and was received into the arms of His Savior. The same day, I was called to the house of another long-time parishioner who had also taken a dreadful turn for the worst and ended up entering eternal life on Wednesday. So that meant, funerals on Friday and Saturday and visitations and trips to funeral homes etc as well as Sunday service on Lent 5. Then I had a brief break before Holy Week.

I was busy. But that work was not burdensome because it was work that I love.  But there is more.

I have lovely people in my congregation who understand, I think better than most, that pastors do more than work on Sunday.  They are a blessing and a delight to pastor.  Many of them, as we say in the south, bless their hearts, told me, “Pastor, get some rest,” or some variant thereof.  There is a time for rest and a time for action.  These times, when death strikes, are times for pastors to act, speak, do, and be with their people as a vocal and visual reminder that even though the old foe has struck, he has no victory, no sting.  My first roomate in the Navy was an Academy grad, weapons officer.  He said that a lot of folks don’t understand chaplains.  He said, “Chaplains are like goal keepers in soccer.  They won’t run the hardest the whole game, but when you need them, you’re glad they’re there.”  I’m glad to be there for folks so that they aren’t overcome by what their eyes see and begin to think God’s reality in Christ has faded away.

In my prayers and meditations and preparations for that week I stumbled across a little gem in The Minister’s Prayerbook, by Doberstein.  I can’t recommend the whole thing enough but this was the gem I found in the anthology on p. 362ff.

You are standing now at the most shattering spot in the whole wide world–an open grave.  There are others there with you, but how many are really standing there, how many will endure the gaping reality that opens here?  The mourners, who are the most affected, are not, as it were, really standing at the open grave, but rather before their own pain, the grief of their hearts, the void that has been opened in their circle. And the rest of the funeral company, how quickly they will flee, as soon as it is over, back to their everyday life, to chatter, to the funeral baked meats, or perhaps even a bit of a spree!  What are they fleeing from? They are fleeing above all from the open grave.

And in your own soul too, my friend there is something that would like to flee that feel how utterly impossible it is to endure standing here on the rim of the world.  For down there, where they have no lowered the coffin, our world has come to an end, the world of everyday and the world of heroic greatness, the world of passion and pain, of merriment and tears.  This pit, little deeper than the height of a man, is the deepest abyss that the eye can behold.  No wonder you feel dizzy!  But you dare not flinch; you dare not allow yourself to be drawn into a misty sea of emotion, you dare not take refuge in phlegmatic insensibility which would armor your feelings; you dare not do for the others’ sake and you dare not do it for your own soul’s sake.

And because you refuse to flee, because you stick it out here, physically, mentally, and spiritually, death does something to you.  It asks you now, as it will one day ask you in your last hour, whether you really believe that Jesus Christ is the conqueror of death.  And if in your heart there is a joyful Yes, then death has lost its power; then there is no other power of eternal life, the peace of forgiveness, the omnipotence of Jesus Christ, and the death that is life.  But if you cannot say this joyful Yes, if you can speak of nothing but the immortality of the soul, the grief, and the doubtful fame of the deceased, then make haste and save your soul! Then go and struggle for certainty and do not rest until you have found peace!

I’ve been a pastor now for over a decade, a Navy chaplain for most of that time, and this was not my first rodeo with death.  I stood in the cargo holds of airplanes as the pallbearing detail loaded the caskets of our nation’s dead and remember praying the prayers and reciting the psalms for them before their last flight home.  At Bethesda, I was a chaplain not just for the wounded returning from combat but the nurses and other staff who were in a combat with reality seeing the devastation explosives (and in my time there, cancer)  can do to the human body.  I never left the edge of the world.  It is the place where our paramedics and emergency medicine docs and nurses live.  It is the place where our hospice workers and nurses live day in and day out.  There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have been, almost overcome by it all.  Asked if Jesus had overcome death, I would have said, “It sure doesn’t look it this time.”  To paraphrase the father of the demon-possessed boy, “Lord, I believe, but just barely.”

Maybe those images of grief and loss are not as fresh in my mind as they once were but the assurance of Jesus’ resurrection, the assurance of Easter is eternal life on account of Jesus.  It has to be.  The thing that keeps me going is the empty tomb.  As the angels said that morning, “He is not here.”   No one in that highly-charged atmosphere following the “supposed resurrection of Jesus” could find a body that even looked like Jesus.

And so, when death begins to whisper in my ear and show me my own end or the end of people I love so dearly, I must embrace and hold fast to the message I am given to proclaim and say just as loudly and clearly as the angels said it that morning, “He is not here.  He had risen, just as said.” Amen.

To unbelievers, and our society’s movers and shakers, I guess it doesn’t seem like much.  It must seem rather absurd, really.  But that’s my job.  Shepherding folks, getting them through the valley of the shadow of death, following the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus.  So after all the busy-ness, I did take some time off and putter in the garden.  In the next few days I hope to catch up with posting all the sermons of the past couple weeks.  But I’m going to pray and study more too.    I gotta keep my game up if all I’m going to be is a goalie.

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

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