Monday, June 20, 2016

Sermon - Pentecost 3 - Luke 7:11-17

Pentecost 3 – June 5, 2016
Luke 7:11-17
"Jesus Saves Widows, Dead Guys, and You"

If you've ever suffered loss... you probably know how well meaning people can say some of the least helpful things. Things that they intend to help you feel better. But things that might even make you feel worse.

Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to say to someone grieving, and sometimes it's better just to say nothing at all. A warm embrace, or your mere presence can be of some comfort. Maybe.

But I think most of us would be hesitant to say to a woman who's just lost her only son, “Don't cry”. And someone who does say such a thing surely seems to know little about suffering and grief. Someone who says such a thing seems to have little compassion for what this poor woman is going through. Maybe someone who would say this is insensitive. Maybe he's just mad. Or maybe, just maybe, he's the Lord of Life and Death, and he can actually do something about the cause of all her tears.

Jesus, of course, knows just what he's doing, and what he's saying. He is the Savior of widows, of dead guys, and of you. Let's take each one in turn.

This poor widow. Grief upon grief was added to her. She had lost her dear husband who knows how long ago. And while that is hard today, it was far harder back then and there, when a woman had to rely entirely on the provision of a man. But at least she had a son to care for her. Until just now, when the young man also died, leaving his mother without family, and without worldly support. She might end up begging for her daily bread. She might not make it herself. When Scripture encourages Christians to care for the “widow and the orphan”, we are being directed to some of the neediest of the needy.

Not only did she feel the pain that any mother would feel at such a loss- but this was her only son – and now, she was really all alone.
Even in the crowd of mourners who accompanied her, she was singularly alone in her suffering.

And along with the pure sadness that death makes us feel, there are quite often notes of guilt associated with it. Things I should have said or done for this loved one, and now the chance has passed me by. Perhaps if I would have done something differently, it wouldn't have turned out this way, and he'd still be here, alive and well. Or even, survivor guilt, “why did it have to be him and not me!?”. And all of this is amplified the more with the death of a young person.
Take the widow in our Old Testament reading, when her son dies, she lashes out at Elijah, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance”. Sin and death go together. So it was in the garden of paradise. So it is in the wilderness of today's fallen world.

So here comes Jesus, crashing into the scene, with no invitation and no plea from the poor woman or anyone else. Not like the centurion in the last chapter who pleaded for his servant. Not like so many others who come on behalf of their loved ones for Jesus' help and mercy. Jesus takes the initiative. He comes first, he breaks in to the conversation and stops the funeral procession cold.

And he says to her, “don't cry”. And in this outrageous little sentence is hidden a promise. Don't cry, because you will soon have joy. Don't cry, because your son will rise. Don't cry, because Jesus brings life to the dead.

This is not a power-of-positive-thinking encouragement. That if you tell yourself everything is ok that it somehow will be. It's not a mind-over-matter manipulation of your emotions. It's not a denial of reality. It's a deeper reality, revealed in this miraculous moment, and revealed more fully on Easter Sunday, and yet to be revealed in its fullness at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

When Jesus raises her son, he gives her back more than just her son. He gives her hope.

And this hope is also for the young man. The man who isn't named. Cause of death unknown. Well, we know the root cause at least. It's the same disease that affects us all. A self-inflicted, self-perpetuated illness called sin. The law's diagnosis is clear, we are dead-men walking. In our sins, we are already dead, as dead and helpless as the young man in Nain, being carried to his grave. We can't decide to be alive.

But again, there's Jesus, who comes and touches death and speaks to the dead man, “arise”. And it is so. By the power of his word, he commands life to return, and the Lord of Life gets his way. No one asked for this, or decided on this but him, Jesus, the savior.

And then there's you. Are you a victim of suffering, like the widow? At times, to be sure. Maybe yours even seems worse than others. Maybe you are tempted to grieve without hope. Or are you like the young man, if you will admit it, on your way to the grave because of your sins – however hidden or blatant they may be? Like a condemned death-row inmate, guilty as sin, because of your sin, your own most grievous sin?

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. If we say we are alive, we are liars. If we say we are just fine, we're the lunatics. We are lost, helpless, and hopeless – and we deserve everything we get and worse – without Christ.

But Jesus Christ crashes into all that. For the widow, for the dead guy, and even for you. The only Son of the Father, comes to restore the widow's son and all sons and daughters of wrath. The one who suffered and died on Calvary is the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. As Mary, another widow, watched her son die under Roman orders, for crimes he didn't commit, the salvation of all was accomplished. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one who speaks, “Father, forgive them” and “It is finished”. And he proves without doubt his lordship of life and death, when he leaves death in the dust, stone rolled away, and only the sins of the world left behind.

The one by whom all things were made, who knit you together in your mother's womb, makes all things new, and will raise you on the last day. The one whose voice called the widow's son to rise, has called you to arise already. In the call to faith, proclaimed in the Gospel, your sinful flesh dies, and you live. In the washing of rebirth, your Old Adam is drowned, and your New Creation bursts forth. In the gifts of his table, he brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. His word of promise assures it. And as he would say to the widow, “don't cry”, he would speak words of comfort to you. Your sins are forgiven. Your future is secure. He who lives and believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live.

We long for that day, when from this vale of tears we depart. We pray for his coming, for the fulfillment of all his promises. We press on toward the eternal hope that is so clear in his word. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And as we stand in our flesh and see him, with resurrected and glorified eyes, no more harm or pain or suffering or sin or death can assail. And God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Yes, Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus. And so he shows us that death is not to be laughed at. It is no friend, but a sad wage of sin. Yet for those who trust in Christ, the resurrection and the life, we see in death the gate to eternal life. And so Paul says we grieve, but not like other men who have no hope. We cry, but ultimately we rejoice. We suffer, but we know comfort. We face our old enemy with a peace that passes understanding.

For the Lord of Life crashes in to our grief. He speaks words of comfort, even to widows, even to dead men, even to you. Believe it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sermon - Pentecost Sunday - Genesis 11

The Day of Pentecost
May 15, 2016

In French, “Bon Jour”.
In Spanish, “Hola”.
In Hebrew, “Shalom”
In Chinese, “Ni How”.
In Swahili, “Habari”.
And in a new language I am still learning, “Howdy, y'all”

I won’t say hello in every one of the more than 775 languages of the world. But if you ever wondered where we got all these languages, Scripture is clear that it all goes back to a tower. And every time we struggle with a translation, we can remember the judgment of God on an arrogant humanity which worked together against him.

Genesis 11 tells of a time when there was only one language, and the people of the world worked together. They got an idea. They would build a tower, all the way up to the sky. They would make a name for themselves. They would ascend to the heavens, perhaps even to God, on their own. They would not disperse and fill the earth, according to God’s earlier command. They had their own ideas, their own plans.

This wasn’t too long after the flood, and they were using pitch or tar for mortar – the same water-proofing material used to cover boats. Perhaps so that the next flood wouldn’t even be able to wash away their grand tower.   But didn't they recall God's promise not to send another flood over all the earth?  Did they believe his word, or not?

The people before the flood were a wicked lot.  But now, the smell of rebellion against God was again in the air. They were out for the sake of themselves and their own name. They showed no concern for the Name above all names.

God saw their little project. And you might think he'd laugh it off.  The idea that they could build a tower to heaven.  But he was concerned. Here was sinful man working together for a sinful purpose. It could have been only the beginning.  God knows what kind of trouble and grief and pain they could have caused, working together toward some evil end. And so, in judgment but also in mercy, God confused their languages, and dispersed them.
Judgment but also mercy. Much like when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden and put an angel with a fiery sword at the gate. That was not only banishment for sin, but also for their own good – so they wouldn’t eat of the tree of life and live forever in sin. It was mercy even amidst judgment.

So too was the scattering and the confusion of languages at Babel. If God had allowed it to continue, he knew the human capacity for getting into trouble was boundless. Working together as one, a tower would have been only the beginning of the trouble. So in judgment and mercy, he scattered and confused. A consequence of their sin, no doubt, but never the way things were meant to be from the beginning.

The Tower of Babel is not just a story about the sins of other people, but we can find ourselves in it too. We are arrogant and prideful at times, thinking our own magnificent work must impress God and Man alike. We try to make a name for ourselves, often at the expense of the name of others. We find ourselves challenging God and his commands and demands in our life. We don’t build a tower, but we construct all sorts of monuments to our selves with the time and energy we should be devoting to God.

And sin always separates, divides.  Us from God, us from one another.  It brings confusion and discord to our relationships. Sometimes even when we do speak the same language, we talk past each other. We argue and struggle, we bear grudges and hate. It’s not just language that divides us from each other, but also our use of words to hurt and harm. We gossip and besmirch our neighbor's good name often in the name of concern, but really only trying to make our own name look better by comparison.  No, those ancient tower-builders on the plains of Shinnar weren’t the only ones to construct catastrophe for themselves. We sinners are by nature just as rebellious, prideful and wicked.

And just as God dealt with his people of old through both his justice and mercy, so too does he deal with us. His law shows us our sin. But the good news of the Gospel of Jesus – shows our salvation.   First, the commandments knock down our feeble little constructions of self-made righteousness.  The law pokes so many holes in our pride, shows how threadbare our own works really are.  There's no tooting your own horn.  There's no, “look at what a wonderful job I've done following the rules”.  There is only accusation, condemnation.

You've worshipped other gods.  You've misused the true God's name.  You've despised preaching and his word.  You've rebelled against God-given authority.  You've hurt and murdered your neighbor, at least with your thoughts, but also your words and actions.  You've dishonored marriage.  You've taken what isn't yours.  You've failed to guard your neighbor's good name. And you're not content with so many blessings, but you want what the other guy has.  The law takes us down.  It blows over any self-righteous house of cards we try to make, and shows how hopeless it is.

But the Gospel builds us up again, not in ourselves, but in Christ.  He's the cornerstone and capstone of this house of living stones called his Church.  He's the one who builds it – not on our works – but on the confession of his name.  “Upon this rock, I will build my church”.  The Gospel is the only foundation for us, for the houses built on sand by the self-righteous fools are quickly washed away.  But the house built on Christ stands strong forever.  Not a tower, but a temple, like his own torn down in death on a Friday, and rebuilt in three days.  And this construction actually does get us to heaven, for he has already taken his place there, and prepares even now a place for us.

So the Tower of Babel is not some quaint Sunday School tale to amuse children. It is a true account of real events. And it also makes a difference to us today. Especially today, the Day of Pentecost.

You know the story – 50 days after Easter, as the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem with many Jewish pilgrims from all over the world, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples of Jesus a special gift. They spoke in tongues – the native languages of the people gathered there. And they weren’t just talking about the weather, mind you. They were telling the good news of Jesus, the promised Messiah, who fulfilled the scriptures by dying and rising from the dead.

In a way, what happens on Pentecost is the undoing of the judgment of Babel. The languages which were confused because of man’s sin, were now miraculously clarified by the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit. Divisions are healed, unity is restored, and the people who were many are, by the Gospel, made one in Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit extends and continues the work of Christ.

Recall how when our Lord was crucified, the charge against him was posted by Pontius Pilate? The sign above the cross read, “This is the King of the Jews”. And that message was written in Latin, Greek and Aramaic. Fitting, in a way, to show how Jesus is King not only of the Jews but also the Greeks and Romans, in fact, of all people. And what happened there at the cross was for all people of every language. He is the world’s Savior. He is your Savior.

Now at Pentecost, Peter preaches his first sermon – and quotes the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. So instead of making a name for ourselves, now we call upon God’s name. We approach God “in Jesus’ name.” We rely on the triune name of God we received at our baptism. For there God’s Spirit was poured out on us, along with forgiveness of our sins and all the promises of Jesus.  You didn't see the flaming tongues or the form of a dove, but the same Spirit is upon you.

In so many ways this Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit is the reversal of everything that went wrong at the tower of Babel. Communication is restored. Unity is established. Confusion is ended.

And God himself builds a new construction – not a tower, but a Church – built by his Spirit. Built on the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. He is the only way we can, and the certain way that we will reach heaven.

And his Gospel is now the language we all share.  The language of the Christian.  It informs the way we speak, what we say, and to whom.  This is the language of forgiveness in Jesus' name.  It is the language of prayer, “Thy will be done”, “Thy kingdom come”.  It is the tongue that confesses and praises and thanks and speaks truth in love.  It is when we speak what God has spoken.  The church hears, by faith, by the Spirit.  The church speaks, by faith, by the Spirit.  So that what we believe in our hearts we confess with our mouths – that Jesus Christ has died.  Jesus Christ is arisen.  And Jesus Christ will come again.  To him be all power, honor, glory and might, for his name is above every name. And all God's  blessings come to us in that same name.  Amen.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Sermon - Easter 6 - Acts 16:9-15

Easter 6
May 1, 2016
Acts 16:9-15
“The Unexpected Course of the Gospel”

Paul and Silas, Timothy and later, evidently Luke began the travels of Paul's Second Missionary Journey. Immediately before our text, we read of how these men had intended to preach in various places in Asia minor (which is modern day Turkey). But they were frustrated. Something got in the way of it all. Perhaps the circumstances didn't allow it. Perhaps they heard through some direct message from God. We don't really know. Nonetheless, the “Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” to carry on with their own plans.

Instead, Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia, saying, “Come and help us”.

Macedonia, you might recall, is just north of Greece. And so by leaving Asia and going to Macedonia, Paul and company are actually moving from one continent to another. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of salvation goes with them – from Asia to Europe.

And so they go. They go to help. But how?

Paul was a tentmaker, but he didn't go to build them shelters. Luke was a physician, but this wasn't a medical mercy trip. All of these missionaries understood that the help these people really needed was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He said “help us”, and so they concluded, “God had called us to preach the Gospel to them”.

So one thing we can learn from the Macedonian Call is that the Gospel is the help that God gives us. It is through the preaching of the Gospel, after all, that the Spirit brings us to faith. It is the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation. How can mere words do such great things? Ah, but this is the Word of God. This is the message of Jesus Christ, who has overcome the world by his death and resurrection. There is no greater friend, no greater gift, no greater help we could ask for.

Perhaps you also need help. People have often told me I need help. But all of us, as sinners, need help – and not in the sense that we will do part and need God's mere assistance to finish the job. Nor in the sense that God does 90% or even 99% of the work, an unequal partner, and then leaves us to finish the job. No, the kind of help the Gospel gives is a saving you from death help. It's a snatching you out of the jaws of Satan help. A help with no contribution from you, no you doing-your-part, no you putting a cherry on top. Grace is free and full, but it is from outside of you – and not just from a different continent – but from God's very throne above, for the sake of Jesus Christ who sits at his right hand.

So they set sail. From Troas to Samothrace, then Neapolis and Philippi, the main city in Macedonia. And now another reminder for us. We don't, most of us, know these cities and places. They are foreign sounding names to us, of cities halfway around the world whose inhabitants are long since gone. Their cultures and customs we would no doubt find strange. We don't know their languages. We really have only clues about their daily lives. So why mention the specifics?

Perhaps, partly, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes to real people who live in real places. It could just as easily have been Keller, or Denton, Bedford or North Richland Hills, or Fort Worth. And, in fact, it is to all of those places and the people living in them that the Gospel comes today. Could those early disciples, apostles and missionaries have conceived of us, in modern day America, with all of our strange customs, and fast food, and the internet, and what-have-you.... could they have imagined us hearing and believing also in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

But the Gospel, while a net that is cast wide to draw in the nations – is also a laser beam of individual promise to specific people in specific times and places. So you have been baptized. By name. You have been called. You have been forgiven, redeemed, set free. It's very personal. It's very real.

And so it was for a woman named Lydia.

Paul and friends, upon arriving in a new city, would usually seek out a synagogue and preach first to the Jews. You'd need to have 10 Jewish males to form a synagogue, but apparently there were too few in this major city even for that to happen. But there was a place of prayer. And there were some women gathered there on the Sabbath. And so Paul preached to them, and one of them was Lydia. He came because of the vision of the man from Macedonia, but it began with a word embraced by a woman. And she, Lydia, the first recorded Christian conversion on the continent of Europe.

Again we have a real person with a real history and city of origin, she has a real job selling purple goods. And we know that in some sense, perhaps through contact with Judaism, Lydia was a “worshipper of the true God”. Yet, like many of those, she had not yet heard of the fulfillment of the promises that came in the person of Jesus Christ.

So why would a woman from a far-off land, with plenty of business to tend to, listen to these strange men from an even farther land who come to proclaim a message about a man who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven? Well to that we have the clear answer: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention”. We don't believe of our own accord, you see. Our hearts and minds are closed, locked up tighter than the tomb sealed with a large stone. But the Holy Spirit changes hearts. He creates faith where it wasn't. The Lord and Giver of Life can even bring hearts dead in sin to the glories of eternal life.

And look where it leads next. She and her household are baptized. The Gospel's reach grows. And Lydia's response to all of this is noteworthy, too. She opens her home to Paul and his companions. The offers her hospitality. And thus, she supports the further preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She does what she can with the resources given to her to further the cause so that more would hear and believe in Christ and live.

You, also, dear Christians, are given to support the preaching of the Gospel. Through your own vocations and stations in life, through your generosity or perhaps hospitality. Through your invitation that others would come and see and hear about Christ. And in acts of service and love, by word and deed, to friends, neighbors, co-workers.

You see, the declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is effected by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit moves in mysterious ways. When and where he will he creates faith. He strengthens us, not only in our study of the Word, but also in applying that word in our lives. As you forgive your neighbor who has sinned against you, as you hear the words of absolution for your sins, yes, even that deep dark sin. Perhaps when you least expect it. In fact, often when you least expect it.

For who would expect God to have mercy on sinners? Who would think he would send his own son to save? Who could predict that his mission would take him, not to conquest but to cross? And who could have seen that on the third day he would rise? Did anyone foretell his restoration of those wayward and denying disciples? Or imagine that he would turn his most zealous persecutor into his greatest missionary?

Who would see this rag-tag band of preachers traveling thousands of miles, and now even into Europe, to simply tell people about Jesus? Who would think that their first convert would be a well-off woman from some other land? And who knew that she would show them hospitality, and thus help them help the Macedonians by their preaching?

Ah, the unexpected course of the Gospel. I suspect that even as you look back on your life, you can see many unexpected twists and turns whereby God did great things for you. That he builds whole households on this gospel is even better. And that one day your eyes, closed in death, will be wakened again to glory – well that will be the final surprise.

Nothing about this should really surprise us, though, for God has promised it all. And he has promised it not just to someone, or even to all, but also to individuals, like Lydia, and like you.

No matter what baggage you bring, how sketchy your past, how big your sins. Christ has died for you. No matter where you come from. No matter how unlovable you feel, how ashamed you are, or what this world of pain and death has thrown at you. Jesus is alive, and he is your Savior.

So go in peace. You are baptized. Your sins are forgiven. Serve the Lord with gladness. Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sermon - Easter 5 - John 16:12-22

John 16:12–22
Easter 5
April 24, 2016
“From Sorrow to Joy”

Because of sin, life is short and full of misery.  The relative innocence of your childhood is quickly shattered, and the world keeps on hitting you with disappointments and troubles.  It never really lets up.  Every stage of life has its unique sorrows to offer.  Stress and depression, loneliness and conflict, anxiety, physical aches and pains, emotional gunk of all kinds.  And death is always bearing down on us, it's just that sometimes we feel its hot breath on our neck a little more closely.  In many ways the movie quote has it right, “Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something."

Or as Jesus says, “you will have sorrow.”  But that's not the end of the story.  Grief turns to joy.  And no one knows this better than the one who trusts in Christ.  Let's look at Jesus' words in our Gospel reading this morning and consider how he alone moves us from sorrow to joy.

In the first few verses Jesus is preparing his disciples for the sorrow of his departure.  But he doesn't mean to just leave them high and dry.

 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Jesus would like to spend more time with his disciples, it seems, and share even more of his words with them.  He had much more to say, things they needed to hear.  But he also realized his time was short and they couldn't bear it all right now anyway.  They weren't ready.  So he promises them The Spirit of Truth.

And this Spirit, the Holy Spirit, will declare the things to come.  He will also glorify Christ by taking what is Christ's and declaring it to us.  He is the one who brings us to Christ, teaches us about Christ, shows us Christ.  Like the operator of a giant high wattage spotlight, the Holy Spirit directs our attention not to himself, but to Christ, our Savior, and his words.

These words of Christ were fulfilled, in part, as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles to write the New Testament.  Through the epistles, especially, the meaning of Christ's work on earth is expounded, and we are also given all we need to know about what the future holds for us.  For instance, Paul expounds on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.  John's Revelation gives us a beautiful picture of the church in glory – the New Jerusalem, adorned as the Bride of Christ.  And in so many other words the Spirit of Truth unfolds the truth of Christ for us, his people.

And he does so to comfort us.  Because life is full of sorrow.

If Jesus hadn't warned us, repeatedly, about the sorrows of this life, we might conclude that our sufferings mean he is displeased with us, or has forsaken us, or that he is powerless to overcome evil.  But he helps us make sense of sorrow but warning us that it will come.  There will be persecutions, natural disasters, wars and rumors of wars.  There will be false prophets who lead many astray.  All of this is to be expected.  None of it means things are out of his control.
Instead, he comforts us in our sorrows.  He works good from all things, even out of evil, for those who belong to him.  His rod and staff comfort us as he walks along side us in the valley of the shadow of death.  He even tells us “blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and those who suffer for righteousness sake.”

Jesus can comfort us in our sorrow because he knows sorrow so well.  He is the Man of Sorrows as Isaiah prophesied, and “well acquainted with grief”.  It's why he had to go away from them for “a little while”.  It began with his arrest in Gethsemane.  It was the hour of the power of darkness. The shepherd was struck, and the sheep scattered.  Then the kangaroo court trial, the bloodthirsty crowd, and the cowardly Pilate who handed him over to death.   Nails, thorns, mocking, humiliation.  All manner of sorrow and then some.  Finally, forsaken by God, he gave even his very life.  And the wicked world rejoiced at all of it.

But the God who turns grief into joy would not abandon his own Son to the grave.  After a little while, they would see them again.  And they would see him alive!  The tears of the women at the tomb, the bewildered fears of the disciples locked in their room – all would be turned to joy.  Even Peter who wept bitterly when he denied the Lord, would be restored.

This is the joy that Easter brings even to us, who live “a little while” after all of that.  The God who turns sorrow to joy will neither abandon you to the grave, dear Christian.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  Even if you don't see him.  But in “a little while”, you too will see him again.

Jesus did appear to his disciples and even as many as 500 followers on one occasion, and gave “many convincing proofs” of his resurrection.  The scriptural and apostolic witness of this historical fact far exceeds any other ancient event in the quantity and quality of its evidence.  And the Spirit of Truth confirms, even in us who have not seen but yet believe, that Christ is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

But there is another “little while”.  Not just the 40 days after his resurrection, for then he was taken from them into heaven.  But now, the age of the church, is another “little while” in which we do not see him.  Sure, we have his presence in the word, and in the sacraments.  And what a comfort that is!  But still, there are promises yet to be fulfilled, a greater hope and glory yet to come.
“Behold, I am coming soon!” Jesus says in the last few words of the last book of our Bible.  A little while, and you will see him, when he comes again in glory.  When he comes with his holy angels and with the trumpet call of God.  When all sorrows are washed away.  When all corruption is burned in fire.  And when he ushers in the New Heaven and New Earth.  There we will live in resurrected, glorified bodies, in perfect communion with Father, Son and Spirit, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Grief to gladness.  Sorrow turned to joy.  It is the way of God.  It was the path of Christ.  And it is the road we too, are on.  Taking up our crosses and following him who bore the cross for all.  Considering the sufferings of this world not worth comparing to the glory yet to be revealed.  Pressing on, never despairing, always in hope, resting secure in Christ.

And this universal picture of a woman in labor.  Perhaps there is no greater earthly pain (you moms would have to fill us in).  But when the new life arrives, when that precious babe is born, the labor pains are forgotten and the celebration begins.  And how many would say that the birth of a child is the greatest day of their life?  How much more will it be for us, who labor in this world of sorrows, who shuffle through this vale of tears, who fumble through a life wracked with one trouble and the next....  but who have a hope on the horizon.

So cling to this promise, Christian.  Live in that security, that though this life is pain, and troubles are sure to come.  Jesus Christ is alive.  His sorrow and pain, his suffering and death bring you the promise of joy eternal.  Death only had him for a little while.  But no more.  And in a little while, you too will see him.  And no one will be able to take away your joy in him, forever and ever.  Amen.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Sermon - Easter 2 - John 20:19-31

Peace, Forgiveness, Blessings, Belief, Life
John 20:19-31

John's Gospel recounts for us the events of that first Easter Sunday evening, and also a week later. And as we stand, a week out from our own Easter celebration, it only makes sense to pay attention. John uses five key words in our reading today – five Easter words – which draw our attention and interest. They are: Peace, Forgiveness, Blessings, Belief, and Life.

The first words Jesus speaks to the disciples in that upper room are words of peace. “Peace be with you”. And to a cowardly and cowering band of brothers who had deserted him in his darkest hour, the greeting is striking. They were anything but at peace. They were in fear of the Jews. They didn't want to die like Jesus. And they certainly weren't expecting to see him alive. Even so, they had deserted him! You might expect he'd be angry. Like a ghost come back to haunt them (remember they mistook him for a ghost once before). But Jesus says, “peace.” Jesus brings peace.

We know from Jesus' own words that the peace he brings and gives is a peace far different from what we're used to. “Not as the world gives, give I unto you”. The last time he gave them peace, well, how did that work out? It was 6 chapters before this, and before all the suffering and dying. Before the disciples scattered like roaches when the hammer came down on Jesus. Peace? Probably the furthest thing from their mind, now, but also what they needed the most.

Peace be with you, he says. Not, “How could you leave me in my darkest hour?” Not, “here I come to punish you for your unfaithfulness.” Nothing like that. No judgment, no throwing their sins in their faces, no come-uppin's. Just peace. Jesus left all that other stuff at the cross, and in the grave. Where our sins lay buried to rot for all eternity. The warfare is over. The time of peace has come.

The same Jesus would bring you a peace that passes understanding. The same Jesus would break in to whatever room of doubt and despair and fear you've got yourself locked into. He comes, not in terror as the king of kings, but kind and good, with healing in his wings. He comes with peace, a peace unlike the world's fleeting, temporary, outward, surface-thin peace. His peace is deeper and broader and more profound than even eye can see or ear can hear or mind can comprehend. It is peace with God.

And that peace is connected, always, to the next key word here: forgiveness. In fact the peace flows from forgiveness. The reason they could be at peace is that their sins were forgiven. The sins of the world were forgiven in Jesus' death, and the deal is sealed when his tomb is un-sealed, and he leaves death behind. That forgiveness of the cross is where our peace is always rooted and where it was forged.

But notice, he's not content simply to forgive his wayward disciples. He has a mission for them. He is sending them, even as he was sent on a mission. And that mission is: forgive. If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven. The forgiveness they enjoy is also a forgiveness they are to extend on his behalf.

And we do so, even today. When the called and ordained servant of Christ stands here, and says, “I forgive you your sins,” some might find it shocking. Some might even ask, “who can forgive sins but God alone?” Fair enough, but Jesus, the victorious-over-sin-and-death Son of God, who clearly has such authority – has commanded humble men to carry it on. He appointed his apostles, who then appointed pastors all over the world, and down through history, to carry this forgiveness forward in Jesus' stead and by his command. So when you hear it today, or any day, in Jesus' name, you are forgiven. It's just as sure as if he was standing in this room, in the flesh, nail-scarred hands and all. Peace. Forgiveness.

Thomas, ah poor Thomas. Absent from the first appearance to the 11. Various theories suggest exactly why Thomas wasn't there. Was he purposely gone, for fear he'd be caught with the others? Was it just happenstance, or even divine purpose? Daylight Savings Time? What's clear, though is that Thomas will always be remembered as “Doubting”. Even though, upon seeing, he believed. Maybe we should even call him, “confessing Thomas”, for his declaration, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus accepts this statement, and implying that Thomas is blessed for seeing and believing, but that they are even more blessed who do not see and yet believe. Clearly Jesus has others in mind – those who would come to believe in the future – people like you and me.

Blessings and believing, our next two key ideas, go hand in hand. Belief itself, faith, is a blessing. It is a gift we can't work up or choose, it's not something we can figure out on our own. It is a working on the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through the Gospel. What greater blessing can there be? For it is through faith in Christ that we are saved. Not of ourselves, otherwise we'd boast about it, but only as a pure and free gift of God's grace. Faith is a blessing, not an earned reward, not a side effect of our great goodness but something God bestows in spite of our worst wickedness. Even though we are, like they were, cowardly, fearful, slow-to-believe and full of doubts. Still he blesses. Still he bestows faith, that we might believe, and have peace, and forgiveness. And... life.

John makes this final comment, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples”. And the mind races to imagine what these might have been. Did he show them the future? Did he give them a peek into heaven? Did he transfigure before them again, or some other wild spectacle? But of all the things that John could have written, of all the words that the Holy Spirit could have inspired, he chose these. Because his purpose is clear: That you may believe, and that believing, you may have life in his name. No distractions. No fascinating sidebars that miss the point. These things are written for you to believe and have life.

Faith and life, also go together. In fact, all 5 of these things do. Peace with God flows from the forgiveness Jesus won. Blessings abound when we believe. And peace and forgiveness and faith – are all blessings of the life that he brings.

And Jesus knows life. He's the author of it. He is the very word of God that was spoken in creation... “let us make man...” In him was life, and the life was the light of all men (John 1). He is the one sent that whoever believes would not perish, but have eternal life (also from John's Gospel, chapter 3). He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14).

His death and resurrection are a life and death matter for you. By his death he destroys death – for you. Your death has no sting, no victory, because of the Lord of life... and by his rising from the dead he brought life and immortality to light. We were blind and dead. But now, in Christ, we can see and we live.

And just like the peace that he gives, the life he gives is far greater than anything the world has to offer. Life in this world is short, sometimes shockingly so. Life in this world is full of tears and misery, thorns and thistles, heartbreak and bloodshed. But the life he gives is far above any life we've ever known. It's your best life now, and your best life for eternity. It's life that swallows up death. It's life even though you die. For he who lives and believes in Christ will never die.

And that life, and that peace, and forgiveness, faith, and all blessings... they come to us through his word. Just as John wrote these words, “so that you may believe and have life”, so does the Holy Spirit work through the Gospel in all of its proclamation. The same Spirit working the same wonders and same spiritual blessings for all of us who are in Christ. So even here, all that is said and done according to that word is for your peace, forgiveness, faith, blessing, and life.

May you find them now and always in Christ alone.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sermon - Easter Sunday - Luke 24:1-12

“Remember Easter”
Luke 24:1-12

Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed. Alelluia!)

A blessed and joyous Easter Sunday to you, as we celebrate and remember the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is the high holy day of the Christian church. It is our day of victory. It is the return of the Alelluias. For Christ has crushed the head of the serpent. He has danced on the grave of death. He lives, never to die again, forever and ever amen!

I remember Easter Sundays as a child. Mom made you get all dressed up. That was the bad part. We went to church, of course. And then when we got home – the egg hunt, the candy, the chocolate, and hopefully a hollow bunny so you could break off its ears.

Maybe you'll be making some easter memories today. But it is good to be here, in God's house, to remember what Easter is truly about. For just as Christmas has a “reason for the season” and that reason is Christ.... so also Easter is about remembering Christ, who rose from the dead. Easter is a day to remember. So, our theme today, “Remember Easter”

The women came to the tomb of Jesus. They meant to finish up after his rushed burial on Friday. Saturday was the Sabbath – a day of rest in which no work was to be done. It also served as a day for Christ to rest in the tomb. They came to the place they saw him buried, and saw the large stone that sealed his grave had been rolled away. And while standing there perplexed by this, and wondering where Jesus' body was, the angels appeared and announced his resurrection. The whole event must have been one they remembered their whole lives. And since Luke has it recorded in his Gospel, we too, can remember the details of this first Easter.

The original Greek is also helpful here in upacking the meaning. The word for tomb is “mneme” from which we get the English, “monument”. And a monument is place of remembrance. We have the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Memorial Monument to remember our founding fathers. The Old Testament people like Abraham and Jacob set up monuments in various places, to remember God's good works of deliverance.

And fitting, isn't it, that a grave or a tomb is a place of remembrance. Peter mentions, in Acts, that David's tomb was still there in those days. It was a way they remembered him. We go to the cemetery, even today, to visit, and remember our loved ones long gone. We may see fancy monuments, set up in memory of this or that person, and I always wonder how much the family spent on this statue or that tall headstone – to be sure the person would be remembered.

But that's the problem with death. It is the great leveler. It wipes out your life, and leaves behind only fading memories. The wages of our sin, what we all deserve, to be sure. A problem we all share. Somewhere, out there in the future, is a monument or a headstone with your name on it. Somewhere, lurking ahead of you, is death. And when death comes, you will be only a memory.

That is, without Easter. The whole point of Easter is that Jesus takes the sting out of death for us. He conquers the grave, draws the poison out of death, and makes it, for us, merely the gate to eternal life.

So, the Resurrection of Jesus. That's what we are remembering today. That Jesus actually died, and actually rose, and truly lives even today and will never die again. It is the greatest miracle of history.

It's what the angel at the tomb told the women to do, too. Remember. Remember what Jesus told you!?

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.” And they remembered his words...

Jesus rising from the dead – great as it is – is even more amazing when you remember that he spoke plainly about it ahead of time. Take Mark 8, for instance:

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.

They came, in part, to remember a dear loved one who had died. It is only when faced with the shock of his resurrection and the awe of angelic messengers that they finally begin to remember what Jesus had spoken about so plainly. The words were all there. They heard them loud and clear. But they didn't appreciate them. Or they didn't regard them. Or they didn't believe them.

What words of Jesus do you remember? Do you remember only those words that are convenient for you at the time, like, “judge not lest ye be judged”? The words that make you feel good about yourself? The words that perhaps set you at ease, like “I am with you always”, or “Love one another”. But maybe you don't like to remember some other words of Jesus, like, “take up your cross and follow me”, or “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is near” or “The last will be first and the first, last”. In fact Jesus said so many things that it's hard to remember what he said if we are not diligent in study and worship, eagerly hearing again and again what he said. For we tend to remember what we hear and see again and again – and we tend to forget what we don't.

The words of the angel at Easter are worth remembering this day. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is risen. He is not here.” These words are worthy of being inscribed in stone, and made into a monument. They are words to remember, even words to live by. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alelluia!

They are words to remember especially in the hour of grief. When life's troubles come crashing down on you like a stone . When the sorrow of death and loss bring tears to your eyes. When you are perplexed by the nonsense and insanity of life in this fallen world. Remember. Remember that Christ is risen! Remember that Jesus lived and died and lives again. And because he lives, you live. Because he reigns, you reign. Because he has gone to His Father, your destiny there is also secure.

So don't seek the living among the dead. Jesus isn't a footnote of history, lost to the grave like all the other men we build monuments to remember. He is alive! And in his living word, even today, he is present and active. We do much more than remember him when we remember his words. We receive him. And so we gather, every Sunday. Every Sunday is a “little Easter” in which the church gathers to remember Jesus, what he did, what he said. But not just in the historical, past-tense sense. But also for our very present blessing.

And for his part – what does he, Jesus, remember? Isaiah hints at it:

“For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.”

The Resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the new creation – the new and restored world order – and the death knell of the old. The former things – wars, disasters, griefs and troubles of all kind – violence and discord, terror and fear – thorns and thistles, pains of labor, disease, death, decay – all the former things that have to do with sin and death and destruction – all will melt away, pass away, give way to the new creation that Christ ushers in beginning with this, his resurrection. That it happens on a Sunday has even led some to consider Easter the 8th day of creation – the day of the New Creation in Christ.

And the old things will be remembered no more. Not by God, and not by us. He will not hold the sins of our past against us. He simply doesn't remember them. They died with Christ on the cross. And now, in the glory of the resurrection, they aren't even a distant memory.

And remember this: that Christ's resurrection means you, too, get a resurrection. That we are buried with Christ in baptism, and raised with him to new life. But more than just spiritually or figuratively. For Christ is the firstborn of the dead, and that means his brothers and sisters will follow. Jesus Christ conquers death, not only for himself, but for you. So that at the last trumpet call of God, the dead in Christ will rise, and we shall see him as he is, for we shall be like him. We'll see him, in our new, resurrected bodies, with our own two eyes. Remember what Job once wrote, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he shall stand upon the earth. And though my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

Jesus even promises a place for us, and to come back and take us to be with him in his Father's house. And when Jesus makes a promise, he always remembers.

So I wish you a blessed and memorable Easter. I hope you enjoy family and friends, and celebrate with joy. But above all, remember Easter. Remember Christ, who suffered and died, now lives. Remember everything that he said. And know that in Christ, God remembers your sin no more. But he will always remember his promises to you – including a resurrection of your own. Remember Easter. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alelluia. Amen.

Sermon - Maundy Thursday - Luke 22:7-20

“...Just as he told them.”
Luke 22:7-20

Jesus always seems to have an eye on the future. Some might call him “forward-looking” or even “visionary”. He says something will happen, and it does. Just like he says. It's the mark of a true prophet, and Jesus is the prophet of all prophets.

For some time, he had been predicting that he would be taken by his enemies in Jerusalem, tried, convicted, suffer, and die. And also rise again on the third day. And all of this was about to happen, just as he told them.

Speaking of rising from the dead, he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. He had gotten word that Lazarus was sick, and rather than rushing to his bedside, Jesus lingered. “This illness won't end in death.” But two days later, he tells them, “Lazarus is dead. But he's only sleeping. I go to wake him up. And I'm glad this happened, for your sake, and for the glory of God.” And so, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and called his shot even before doing it.

His entry into Jerusalem at the time of this great passover feast was no accident. The buzz about his raising of Lazarus whipped the crowds into a Hosanna frenzy. The air was electric with Messianic fervor. If the people didn't cry out, the stones would have. And Jesus knew it all. He even knew where the exact donkey was – so that he would ride on, ride on in majesty, ride on in lowly pomp to die.

And now it was time for the Passover meal. The Last Supper, a poignant and intimate meal with his closest friends. One last time before the bitter task ahead. And true to form, Jesus knows, he sees the future - “follow the man with the jar, he'll take you to a large upper room, furnished and ready.”

And so they found everything, “just as he told them”. With Jesus, it's always “just as he tells you.”

The problem with you and I is that we don't always take Jesus at his word. Apart from the out-and-out breaking of his law, which we do in many and various ways. Apart from the sins of omission, those things we should be doing but aren't and don't. Apart from sins of word and sins of thought. We also lack faith and trust in his promises of Gospel. Can this really be for me? Are my sins really forgiven? Even mine? Does a little wafer and a swig of wine really do all of that? Is this really Jesus, here, for me? Oh you, oh we of little faith. Things are always the way Jesus says they are, and will be. Even when what you see or hear says otherwise. For eyeballs and eardrums can lie and deceive, but the incarnate Word of God does not.

In the second part of this passage, Jesus also tells them a little about this meal they are eating. The Passover. A yearly celebration for observant Jews with which these disciples would be largely very familiar. But it seems they didn't get the whole picture just yet. Jesus tells them this meal had to be “fulfilled”. Yes, the meal itself is a sign pointing to something greater.

Long ago, in the Exodus, God rescued the people from slavery in Egypt. He delivered them from their hard labor, from a wicked Pharaoh, and bitter persecution. God sent plague after plague and finally the death of the firstborn of Egypt. But he prescribed a sacrifice, a lamb without spot or blemish, whose blood on the doorposts marked each Jewish household to be spared from the destroyer. Each year, the Israelites would relive this event, rehearse its details, in order to remember God's great deliverance... but also... in anticipation of the final deliverer, the Messiah who was to come. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist would describe him.

In Jesus, this Passover is fulfilled. He is the great “aha!” to the year in and year out observance of this feast. He is its end, what it was always driving toward. And tomorrow he will meet the destruction he has set his face toward. Tomorrow the Lamb's Blood will be on the cross-timbers. Tomorrow the one without spot or blemish will take on all spots and blemishes to make us free of all spots and blemishes. Friday, he comes to set free all those in bondage to sin, to destroy the destroyer, and to proclaim once and for all, “It is finished”. It will be the great fulfillment. And it will be, like all things, just as he says.

So when does he eat this passover with them again? What is this great fulfillment? Is it the cross itself? Is it the sacrament he now institutes? Or is it the final feast at the second coming, the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end? The answer, of course, is yes. They are all connected. They are all part of the same great deliverance that comes in Christ, who fulfills the kingdom of God.

In this meal, you are connected to his cross. 1 Corinthians teaches us, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” In other words, the same body and blood that was sacrificed there is given to you to eat and drink. The same Lamb of God that was sacrificed for you, is now given to you for the forgiveness of your sins. Just as Jesus says.

In this meal, you are connected to that final consummation. This is a foretaste of the feast to come, when we with all the saints and angels sing his eternal praises in glory. Just as the Passover pointed forward, so does the sacrament point us forward, to the promises of Christ that still remain.

In Luke's account of the Last Supper, he doesn't use the words “forgiveness of sins”. We see those words in the other accounts. But in Luke Jesus does make it clear that this is is “for you”. This, my body, is given for you. This cup is my blood, poured out for you. And the “for you”, just like all of Jesus' words, should be understood just as he says them. For. You. This blessed meal is not for his own glory or benefit. You're not doing Jesus any favors by coming to his table.

Nor is this meal for some person who really truly deserves it. The “real Christians” or the “true believers”. No, its for sinners. And if you're a sinner, it's for you. It's Jesus, for you. And he is truly worthy to receive who has faith in these words, “given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins”.

He is the New Covenant in that he fulfills the Old Covenant. And the New Covenant is sealed with and bound up in his blood. That blood shed at the cross, that washes away sin in its holy tide of grace. That blood more precious than silver or gold, but free-er than the sunshine. Poured out, for you. Just like he says.

All of what Jesus does and says is for you. From his conception and birth. To his baptism and fasting. His teaching and healing. And especially his suffering and dying and rising. He does it for you. For your benefit and good, he takes all detriment and evil. For your forgiveness he bears sin. And for your life he swallows death whole.

So come this day, to this meal, where all has been made ready. Come to receive the one who was and is and always will be “for you.” Come and eat and drink his true body and true blood. And by it receive what you need most – forgiveness, life, salvation. Come partake in the great Passover, fulfilled in Christ, flowing from the cross, and with the promise of a feast yet to come. Come and eat and drink and live. It's Jesus, for you. Just like he says. Amen.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Sermon - Lent 3 - Luke 13:1-9

Lent 3
Luke 13:1-9
“Unless you repent...”

You and I do not, by nature, evaluate sin the same way our Lord sees it.  He compares us, perfectly, to his perfect standard of the Law.  We tend to compare ourselves to other standards.

Quite often, we re-create the law in our own image, making the 10 commandments seem more doable.  They may even seem outwardly pious and religious, these new laws we make ourselves.  Rome was expert in this by Luther's day.  Go into a monastery and you will surely save your soul!  Purchase in indulgence for a full pardon!  Pray at this relic.  Make this pilgrimage.  Pick your perfect pious poison.

Or, we compare ourselves, not to the perfect law, but to a softened law.  A law that has no teeth, but only gums us a little here and there.  This is the idea of keeping the commandments “basically” or “pretty much”.  I mean, God knows we need a little lee-way, right?  Does he really mean “be perfect as I am perfect”?

We explain away the infractions we do incur.  We rationalize why sin isn't sin.  It's not hurting anyone else.  Or if it is they deserve it.  Or its the lesser of two evils.  Or everyone else is doing it.  Or no one will know.  Or it's my only vice, really.  Or the woman you put here gave me the fruit.  Or the devil made me do it.  I was just too weak, I couldn't resist.

And all of these are the lame attempts of the sinful Old Adam to shine the light of the law anywhere other than on his own sin.  Or to at least dim that spotlight a little bit.

But today's text puts another such attempt before us.  The comparison approach.  Look at those sinners over there!  They must really be bad.  Look what their sins have caused them... don't you know you reap what you sow?  Look, if they weren't such sinners, they wouldn't have fallen victim to the sword of Pilate.  But we are far better than they are, obviously.  And oh, look at those 18 people who died when a tower fell on them.  God must have really had it out for them!  They really deserved it.  But not us.  We're still here.  We aren't THAT bad.
It's as if we re-write the old hymn to say, “Chief of sinners, though I be, at least I'm not as bad as thee...”

Don't think you play this game?  I bet you do.  Look at that church over there with all their problems.  They're not such a wonderful congregation like we are here at Messiah.  Look at those naughty teenagers.  I'm glad my kids were raised right!  Look at those immoral people.  Don't they know all the diseases they can get from that kind of sinful life?  Oh, the fellow on the corner with the cardboard sign.  He must have made some mistakes.  I'm glad I've kept my life in order.  Look at him, look at them, look at their faults and failings and sins.  And what do you not have to look at so closely?  Your own.

Sometimes we call this “fruit comparison”.  And the devil must love when we do it.  Because when we are looking at our neighbor's sins, we are ever less mindful of the sins that we love, the sins that we want to keep, the sins that we don't want to look at, or anyone else for that matter.  Especially God.

Jesus does not tolerate this sort of business.  Do you think they are worse sinners because of what happened to them?  By no means.  But what it should awaken in you is repentance.  Stop looking at the other guy's sins and punishments real or imagined.  And take a look in the mirror of the law.  There you will truly see who deserves to have a tower dropped on him.  There you will see who truly deserves to be cut down, even in the midst of his religious observance.  When we confess we deserve temporal and eternal punishment – it means we deserve the fires of hell, yes, but we also deserve all the calamaties that sin brings to this world, right here, right now.
And it is only the merciful forbearance of God that prevents our immediate and doom and downfall.

Jesus calls for repentance.  He would call for the same from you, yes, even today.  Repent!  Turn from your sins.  Look at your sins, see them clearly, that you might turn away in disgust!

And not just because it's Lent, mind you.  But as Luther says in the first of the 95 Theses, the whole Christian life should be one of repentance.  Since there is never a day that we are free from sinning, there is never a day that we should think we've arrived, that we're all set, that we don't need Christ.

Repentance, in this narrower sense, is not simply turning from being an unbeliever to a believer.  It is not going from “lost” to “found”, or bad to good.  It is the constant struggle of the New Man against the Old.  The Spirit which is willing against the flesh which is so very weak.  Repent!  It's not a one time deal.  It is your whole life as a Christian.  Repent.. or you too will perish.

But repentance is not only a turning away from sin.  It has a direction.  The word of God wouldn't have us turn to ourselves, for that would only lead to more sin and failure.  Instead, we turn to Christ.  But we turn to him, not as a mere example to follow – for there we would surely fail again.  Instead, we turn to him as the one who has mercy.  The only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.  Christ's call to repent is followed by Christ's call to believe.  Hear, and believe, and live.

Here is one, this Jesus, who suffered the ultimate calamity that he certainly did NOT deserve.  He was crushed not by an accidental tower collapse, but by the weight of your sins – he was crushed for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.  His blood was also shed by Pilate, though did Pilate know his role in this truest sacrifice of the lamb of God for the sins of the world?

He deserved no such fate, for he was without sin.  He had no need to repent, for his face was always set upon his Father, and never on himself, his own will.  But he set that face toward Jerusalem, and toward this cross, scorning its shame, for the joy set before him.  And that joy was to rescue you from destruction.  His suffering is joy, because in it he saves you!

And the parable of the barren fig tree.  A broad-strokes reminder both of God's patient forbearance in Christ, in giving ample time for repentance and faith to flourish – but also a stern warning that even the patience of this merciful gardener has its limit.  The time to repent is therefore now, today!  The time to turn from sin and turn to Christ in faith.

He cultivates you, through the spreading of his good fertilizer.  He prepares you and tends to you, by the preaching of this word – both the law and the gospel.  He stands between you and the Father just as the gardener pleaded for this fig tree.  And he does what is needed to keep you from harm.  He's not afraid to get his hands, dirty, either.  Or in his case, scarred with nails.  But nonetheless, you, the passive recipient of his work, are the object of his affections.  Just as the vinedresser tended to this fig tree.

So bear the fruit of repentance today.  Don't compare your sin to some other sinner, but to the perfect standards of love.  And see how you fall short.  Repent!  Turn from such sin, turn to Christ, and live.  For only he can make a bad tree good.  Only he, who died on a tree, can save your withering branches from being cut down, and you from being cut off.  Only he can, and only he does, make you fruitful unto faith and life and love for your neighbor.  Therefore, go in the peace that he gives...

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