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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 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.

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