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Sermon for Easter Day

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Note:  this sermon was preached at both the 8am and the 10:30 services at Heavenly Host.

As usual, you can hear the audio by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

 

Sermon for Easter Sunday

Heavenly Host, 2014

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed .  Alleluia!  Amen.resurrection-Christ-1

You know what Good News feels like.  When you’ve gone in for tests and then you have to wait scarcely able to breathe.  But then the call from the pathologist comes back, and never before has one word sounded so good.  “Benign.”  “Oh, thank God!  Everything’s gonna be okay!  You know what it feels like when you hear Good News.

The women who went to Jesus tomb early Sunday morning after the horrific events of Friday were not expecting Jesus to be alive.  They had watched Him breathe His last.  They had watched the centurion plunge his spear into Jesus side and see the blood and water flow out.  They had helped Nicodemus and Joseph get Jesus’ body hastily half-prepped for burial on Friday and now, after the Sabbath, they were coming to finish the job and they were not expecting the news that awaited them at the empty tomb of Jesus.  They were not expecting anything other than what had always happened when someone died.  Everybody knows that people don’t come back from the dead.  Jesus has upended that idea just recently in Bethany with his friend Lazarus and there was that synagogue leader’s daughter up in Capernaum, but had she really been dead?  No doubt Lazarus has been dead.  He’d been in the tomb four days.  But the only one that could do anything about Jesus now was Jesus Himself and He was dead.  The dead can’t raise themselves.  The women weren’t expecting Jesus to be alive when they arrived at the tomb.

The angel met the women and said, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”  That should be Good News for all of us.  But you know what the problem is?  The problem is this isn’t Good News, for you.  You know the difference is between good news and good news for you, right?  Sure you do. There’s a difference between hearing that someone got hurt in Afghanistan and didn’t die and hearing that your child got hurt in Afghanistan and didn’t die.  That’s the difference.  It’s personal.

I’ve never really been a sports guy, especially football, and that makes me kind of different from a lot of people.  But as an outside observer, I’ve always been fascinated at how personal fans take their team.  One fan will start talking about the game the next day to another fan and they’ll say something like, “O man, we killed Detroit yesterday!”  We.  Really, we?  Last time I checked there Leroy, you didn’t play for the Titans.  And if there was a key player who got badly hurt in the game yesterday, the fan will say something like, “I don’t know how we’re going to recover from that for next week against Charlotte.”  There it is again; we are playing against Charlotte next week.  That’s a pretty personal identification.  Think through it with me.  If “we” happen to win the Super Bowl that’s pretty good news but I’m sure it’s even better news for the actual players.  They actually get the bonuses.  That’s the difference between Good News and Good News for me.

The Good News today is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And I think I know why that might not be Good News for you.  It might be that for you today is really more about tradition and spring and the Easter Bunny for the kids than it is about the conquering of death Jesus accomplished in His death on the cross.  That kind of thinking takes us into deep waters of theological debates and we don’t feel comfortable there.  Suffice it to say that one who is not a sinner is not eligible to die and by dying, cancels the power of death.  Christ is risen is not Good News for you because you’re not really sure you believe all of it but you go along with it all because it’s nice.  Or you might not really be a functional unbeliever, but you doubt.  You feel like the facts around Jesus’ resurrection aren’t nearly as firmly fixed in your mind as they are in the mind of the one voice of the Church for two thousand years: that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified is both the eternal God who was crucified and died (I know, the paradox almost hurts to think about) and who was raised never to die again.  For that unanimous voice, see Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.  You have doubts because you’ve been tripped up by the so-called experts of the Bible question every detail of the hundreds of witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that they say are out of sync with each another.  What they say are contradictions that events did not happen the way we have them recorded, I say, is precisely the evidence against a grand conspiracy by the earliest Christians to create a “Christ of Faith” out of the Jesus of history.  The Good News isn’t good news for you because of unbelief and doubt.  There are other reasons too, of course.

It could be because of fear.  You might believe that Jesus is really raised but not necessarily for you.  A preacher I’m listening to more and more these days was telling a story about his daughter.  He was telling how he and his daughter read in their story picture Bible before bed and somehow the question came up, “How do you think God feels about you?”  Now, I should add, I think this preacher is a good preacher.  He preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly and unequivocally and if anyone should know she was a blood-bought daughter of God the Father, it should have been his little girl.  But he asked his daughter the question, “How do you think God feels about you?”  And she said, “Disappointed.”  Let me ask you, “How do you think God feels about you?”  I think I might know what lies at the root of that, too.  You think the Good News is for the good people, for the people who don’t forget to pray for others, not for people who doubt or people who have stopped believing or people who aren’t nice all the time or people who aren’t just filled with the love of the Lord all the time.  You think God only really loves the people who have it all together, who aren’t struggling, who aren’t hurting, who aren’t addicted, people like you.  Can I let you in on a the secret?  The Gospel is not for nice people.  The Gospel is not for good people.  The Gospel is for people who are suffering and have failed, the broken people, the people who have crashed and burned, the ones who are not in control.  The Gospel is for people who are flat on their back from where life put them and the only way out is up.  The Gospel is for people who sick and tired of the lies that pass for public discourse on any and every issue.  The Good News is not for the “I feel so blessed” people as much as it for the people who are worn out by war and violence and hatred and life.

The story of our Lord’s suffering and death leading up to Easter proves everything I’m saying.  Jesus died and was raised for sinners.  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  (Mt 9.12)  The reason why I know how some of you might be feeling is because I have felt all those things and more over many Easters, some not nearly so long ago as it might be appropriate to admit.  And if Jesus can love a doubting, fearful sinner like me, you can be assured He loves you too.  Let me ask you again, “How do you think God feels about you?”  And if the answer is anything less than, “He loves me.” “God is delighted with me on account of Christ Jesus,” I may need to start over here.  God put me here this morning to say it and He put you here this morning by the Holy Spirit that you might hear it for yourself.  Christ is risen, for you.  The angels might have just as well met you at the tomb this morning to say the same words into your ears.  “He is risen.”

Jesus is raised from the dead.  God has done this.  It has happened.  It is an empirical fact.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus risen body was seen by eyewitnesses.  Thomas even put his hands in his side where the spear went in.  Jesus said Friday, “It is finished.”  It is and now Jesus is risen.  You are free from the chains of fear and doubt and even death itself.  We are free.  And God has done it all in Christ for you.  Because of Jesus for you, God is well-pleased with you.

We were not there when Christ was raised from the dead.  But the angel told the truth.  “He is not here.  He is risen, just as he said.”

Everything’s gonna be okay.

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

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Sermon for the Funeral of +Robert Hedges+

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

April 15, 2014

 

The text for this sermon is 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.

The audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

 

Resurrection by Raffaelino del Garbo, 1510

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

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’ 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

St. Paul, the author of this passage of Scripture, was writing to a group of Christians that were confused about what happens when believers die.  They lived in a world where various pagan ideas about life after death swirled around their heads competing with one another and thus taking away any comfort that God would have for his people in the face of the power and pain of death.  The whole of chapter 15, the resurrection chapter, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is really this climactic “Hallelujah Chorus” kind of movement for the whole letter.  If we tune out the competing voices of the world around us and listen closely to what is happening today, we can be assured of what God has done for Bob and what God does for us all in Christ.  Just a moment ago, we said together that line in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe… in the resurrection of the body.”  And we heard in this reading that the perishable puts on imperishability, the mortal, immortality.  And just before that we heard in the Gospel that resurrection has already happened once, for Jesus.  His body was raised and changed to a new glorified body.  And the promise from Romans 6 is that what God has already done for Jesus in His resurrection, He will do for Bob, and He will do for all those who hear these words and trust in them.  If chapter 15 is that great “Ode to Joy” movement for this letter, then the last lines of chapter 15, is really the last full-throated “Hallelujah!” of the chapter.  As such it makes for an excellent text for our meditation today at the service of Christian burial for our brother in Christ, your husband, father, brother, and grandfather Bob.

I’ve only been here at Heavenly Host a little short of a year but in that time I came to know Bob a little, enough to know what he was like and what was important to him.  One of the first home visits I made was to the then president of the congregation, as Bob was at the time, even though he’d just endured a very long hospitalization and had recently returned home.  We chatted for as long as his strength held out that day.  He was still very concerned about the congregation even from a hospital bed at home.  Before long he and Barb were back in church siting in the back, and the elders and I would bring communion to them in the seat.  Receiving the Lord’s Supper was very important to Bob.  After he had the feeding tube put in, it was really the only thing he ate, a little corner off the host and just a touch of his lips to the little cup and the wine carrying the blood of the risen Christ into his still very visibly mortal body.  The rest of the nourishment his body needed came by a tube.  But medicine of immortality still came by the mouth God gave him.  Bob cared about more than just the life of this organization called Heavenly Host Church, he cared deeply about the life of faith as a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

If we do anything wrong in the Church, and I don’t necessarily mean just here I mean in the broader Christian Church, if we do anything wrong especially at times like this when we lose someone very near and dear to us all, what we do wrong is we probably don’t grieve properly together.  Instead of enduring together the tidal waves of pain as they come, we try to jump over them too quickly to say things that sound comforting but don’t really do justice to the reality of our pain.  Along with Barb, Bob was an active Stephen’s Minister, a program for deeply caring for others in the midst of great need, often that need is a time like this.  Grief.  Stephen Ministers receive many, many hours of training to learn to stand with others and hold their hands as they endure the waves of stinging pain that come in the wake of a death and hold on to them so they are not swept out to sea when the flood of pain recedes.  A Stephen Minister is trained not to say the glib cliché that sound like comfort.  They are trained to help share the burden and endure the reality knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ endured it all, even the pain of death itself to provide a victory over death for us all.

And the broader Church today is not really that much different from that little congregation in ancient Corinth.  We are tempted to believe that this funeral service is just the Christian way to celebrate the life of someone we loved.  We are tempted to believe that this service, this ritual is just a way to wrestle with something that is beyond our comprehension or a way we can find some closure.  That is what the psychologists and the anthropologists say but it’s not what God says.  Do you ever notice when you read the Scriptures that death is never treated like it’s the natural order of things?  God did not intend for Adam and Eve to die.  It’s not part of the circle of life.  Death was the curse they brought on themselves for their rebellion against God’s goodness.  And so when Paul trumpets God’s victory over death in Christ Jesus, he makes sure we know that what he says is in line with the whole of the Scriptures.  And just as God had given glimpses of His victory over death as the enemies of His people were defeated, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and many others, now the ultimate enemy of God’s people, death has been swallowed up in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So here, Paul quotes two passages from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.  But the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is bigger than two proof texts.  The whole arc of the narrative of God’s revelation to His people was given to confirm the action of the creator God to destroy the power of death, in Christ Jesus, for Bob for us all.

That’s the message of Christian faith in the face of death.  Death claims a victory and the pagan world shrugs its shoulders and calls it part of the circle of life.  The Christian claim is that God has already done a new thing in Jesus Christ, and that God will do it for all Jesus’ people.  And in that new thing, death and decay will be gone, swallowed up forever.

I’ll tell you the truth.  Bob was a good man when measured against men but he would be the first to tell you, he was a sinner like you and me.  We know that’s the case because, as have it here, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  Sin is the way death works.  And sin is that darkness that entices us to rebellion, to turn away from the life-giver God.  But through our Lord Jesus, God has given us the victory over all the powers that drag us down, he will give it to us in the future, and He is giving it to us here and now. [1]

Here and now.  This is probably the other area where we in the Church have messed up, really for a long time.  Paul talks about how this Good News of Jesus victory over death is a present reality and how do we talk?  “Oh, this is a wonderful thing we can look forward to, some day when we get to heaven.”  No.  The truth of the resurrection of the dead is not just about a future hope.  It’s about the present significance of what we are and do.  If it is true that God is going to transform this present world and raise even our bodies to new life in it, then what we do in the present time with our bodies and with our world matters.  For too long, Christians have been content to separate future hope from present responsibility, but that doesn’t hold because Jesus came to bring the Good News to this world not just news of a future world.  I don’t know if Bob would have fully articulated such a theology but that theology was articulated in him by the Creator and Redeemer of this world because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.

Perhaps here is one of the greatest encouragements for all Christians who do what they do in the name of the Lord, that all the God-given tasks they do ‘in the Lord’ during this present time matter, will stand for all time in the mind of God.  How God takes our prayer, our act of kindness, our love toward Him and one another, our daily work, our whole selves, how God will take it and work it into the other strands of the beautiful tapestry of His new creation, we can at present have no idea.  THAT He will do so is part of the truth and transformative power of the resurrection.

So we will grieve Bob’s passing and we will grieve our loss and grieve along with you Barbara and Kristi, and Jim and Kim.  But we will not grieve as those who have a false hope.  For “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  That’s the message of this Holy Week.  I know that death looks sure and certain.  But surer and more certain than death is Jesus.  The death that could not hold Jesus, cannot hold Bob.  That death cannot hold us.  Don’t fall for death’s tricks and traps as we walk into that cemetery on the way to the grave.  Whenever there is anything that tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care, that all of it finally amounts to a grave marker and some fake flowers—between that and you stands the Lord Jesus, crucified for you and risen for you.  Before they can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  You will know how sure, how true, how freeing, and enlivening those words are in the doing and living and telling of them even if it may be painful to do so.

It may be a couple days early, but today it’s warranted.  “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!”

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Amen.

 

[1] I am especially indebted to Tom Wright for this and the next two paragraph’s ideas.  I adapted them from Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (London: SPCK, 2004), 226.

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

easter2Note: This sermon started out with a paragraph or two from the Concordia Pulpit Resources for this season and I am indebted to that author for priming the pump this week.  The bit about the hollow bunny came from him.  But then I went my own direction.  As usual the audio can be hear by clicking the link 32 Sermon for Easter 2.mp3

Acts 5:12-20

Augustana, 2013

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Are you still greeting your friends and relatives in the holy joy of our Lord’s Passover?  For many people, even for many Christians, Easter is nice.  It’s kind of like one of those hollow chocolate bunnies, it tastes good when you first bite into it but it kinda falls apart pretty quickly.  And in our culture where we don’t celebrate the continuation of holidays like the twelve days of Christmas, the week of Sundays Easter season is doomed.

Sometimes it’s because the message of Easter is just too much.  Even among church members the idea that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead seems like “church talk” rather than reality.  When trouble comes in life, the message “He lives! He lives who once was dead!” rings kinda hollow.  Today’s Gospel reading should be a message of confidence but instead Thomas has become doubting Thomas instead of “Ain’t-gonna-believe-in-no-ghost-Jesus Thomas.”  Or you might actually agree with those who say that it wasn’t really necessary for Jesus to be bodily raised.  Lots of us—probably all of us at times—fall into one trap of unbelief or another but as if the message of Easter were not clear enough, God even sends His holy angels to proclaim to the apostles and to you, “Stand your ground and tell people the full message of this life!”

The full message of the resurrection of Jesus is what gives us that comfort in troubling times, that joy, that confidence in times of doubt and despair.  It’s the ground on which we, the Church, stand and that ground is solid and most certain.

It might not appear that way, at least at first.  The Gospels are both certain and sure that Jesus was raised on Easter morning and brutally honest that the disciples did not know what to make of that message.  Only the women went out to the tomb and they went not so see Jesus risen, but to finish preparing His body for burial.  What was certain up to the time of Jesus was that if someone died, that person stayed dead.  You wouldn’t expect to bump into that person on the way to market or on the road to the next town over.  And if you did see that person alive, it would be attributed to hallucination a trick of the mind like when you see someone who is the spitting image of someone you know who has died at least in your mind’s eye.  No, Easter morning and the rest of the week, really, can best be summed up with words like grief and doubt and confusion.  And yet, for forty days over 500 hundred people encountered the risen Jesus.

And as we have seen so shall we see how patient Jesus is with His disciples as they begin to wrap their heads around what this means.  He does chide them for their doubts.  He does harken them back to what He told them on more than one occasion before His arrest and death.  But He is patient too.  He knows our weaknesses, how we are more certain of “what we know” than even God’s own truth.  Jesus who healed and forgave sinners is patient with those who follow after him.  Jesus is patient where we might not be.  I have to tell you a story I heard about another preacher last week.  This is second-hand but I think it’s fairly accurate.  The preacher at some point in the sermon said he noticed there were a great number of CEO Christians present.  The expression was a new one to me which caught my ear.  Christmas and Easter Only is what he meant.  And from what I was told he went on to chastise them.  I doubt any of them are back this week.  But that occasion, this occasion, begs the question, what do we do with such folks?  The angel’s message today is clear.  “Stand your ground and proclaim the message of this Life.”  And so is there a point at which the Lord’s patience runs thin?  If we keep on reading in Revelation where we left off today, the answer is clear.  There is coming a time when lukewarm faith will not cut it.  Yes, Jesus is patient but He expects the message of the Life, the message of His resurrection from the dead, to have some effect on those who hear it.  And as we know it does.  The disciples go from huddling in the upper room locked for fear of the Jews to great preachers of the Easter message, Jesus, God’s Christ, is risen.  Our first reading this morning has jumped ahead a few chapters to see them already locked up for standing their ground and preaching the “full message of this Life.”

Oh and look what happens!  The apostles preach and get locked up and the angel of God springs them from jail.  How great!  How glorious!  But what happens the next time?  Will God’s faithful always get sprung from jail by angels?  The clear answer is no, not even back then, certainly not in recent history, certainly not today.  So is this the full message of Jesus, “Get in trouble in the name of Jesus and He’ll send His angel to spring you from jail?”  Many today say it is.  The death of Jesus and the lives and deaths of the apostles and the martyrs who came after them tell us the same.  No, the full message of this Life is Jesus’ victory over death, victory in the face of death, victory through death into eternal life.  The Sadducees had thought the battle with Jesus was over because they did not see Him after He died and they didn’t believe in the great day of resurrection anyway.  But Jesus said otherwise and the disciples preached otherwise.  No the full message of this Life is the preaching of Jesus’ victory over death.

I think we need to be very clear here and very specific when it comes to what the message of the Gospel truly is.  Some would say, that the Gospel is about getting right with God through repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  They look at the boldness of the apostles here and say, “See how the spirit of the living Christ lives in them and makes them bold to preach?”  And they’re not wrong but they’re not fully right either.  All too quickly that line of thinking can become a limited resurrection, “See how Christ was raised in their hearts?”  That’s a resurrection of the spiritual Christ rather than the resurrection of body of Jesus of Nazareth, who is both Lord and Christ of God, and lives now in resurrected glory sitting at the right hand of the Father.  The message of Easter is the Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and He is the firstfruits of the resurrection, the proof that just as He rose so shall we too.  This is the full message of this Life encouraged by God’s angel.  Anything less is less than full.  And we should never settle for anything less than the full message of this Life.

I know I sometimes preach rather, ah… fervently.  I know, it’s almost like I actually believe this stuff to be universally true.  And I know that can put some folks off—especially folks that are more used to a moralistic Christianity or a Christianity of niceness, what has come to be called moralistic therapeutic deism.[1]  I often rail against it because I was a true believer.  We Lutherans even have our own version of this.  I’m working on a name for it but I’m calling it rightness of doctrine Lutheranism but that’s for another sermon or two.  But here’s the real reason I’m so zealous: I’ve seen too much death.  I’ve seen too much unfuneralfied death and the grief it causes.  I’ve seen the kind of death that make most men wonder whether there is a God, the kind of death that destroys the god of the Christianity of niceness.  And here’s what I can’t do.  I can’t put death in a pretty box and ignore how ugly it is or call it a part of life or in the case of war or violence even blame it on those evil people.  I can’t do that because death is the wages of sin, not the wages of those evil people’s sins either, me.  God’s judgment is fair.  I’m a sinner.  The Jews didn’t put Jesus on the cross any less than I did.  Jesus went to the cross Good Friday not because of Judas’ betrayal so much as mine, because I was unwilling to bend to the Word of God.  And here’s the truth: it’s the same for all of us.

And here’s more of that message.  Jesus, God’s own Son in human flesh went to His cross gladly for me, for you.  He went to suffer the penalty of death for our unbelief, for our half-belief, for our substitution of being right for true righteousness.  And then on the third day He was truly, bodily raised from the dead.  The truth is: there is no other life.  Oh, I suppose there is some manner of “spiritual” life in those other quasi-Christianities floating around and they might fly in the face of funeralfied death but not in the face of ugly death.  I said I preach this message like I just might believe it and it’s because I have to, because there is no real life other than the life of Jesus risen from the grave on Easter morning.  And if the message of this Life makes me a little zealous, my wonder is why has it not made you so?  Peter and James and John and the apostles even Thomas and Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and Joanna and the other women and some five hundred more saw Him alive.  They spoke with Him and ate with Him and went fishing with Him and watched as He ascended into heaven.  And they heard His command to make disciples who believed the full message of this Life.  And they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to not only believe this full message of this Life but to proclaim it, even in the face of persecution and doubt and death.  It’s time to get zealous and if it puts people off, so be it.  Stand your ground and proclaim the message of this Life.  Jesus Christ has died.  He has risen.  He will come again with great glory.  Amen.

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

He is risen indeed for you.  Amen.  Alleluia.

Sermon for Easter Sunrise

April 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Resurrection-717493Note: this was the last of the sermons I adapted from from “Our Suffering Savior.” I followed the published version rather closely, so only the audio is provided.

Click here for mp3 audio 30 Sermon for Easter Sunrise.mp3