Monday, April 13, 2015

Sermon - Easter 2 - John 20:19-31

Old St. John. Grand-daddy of the early church. Last living Apostle. Living out his days in Ephesus, in the late first century. And he writes letters to the church, his “dear children”. We have three of these in the New Testament.

And he writes his Gospel. A Gospel which is different than the first three. It gives a very different perspective than Matthew, Mark and Luke, which we call the “syn-optics”. John's optics, his view, is different. Complementary, of course.

For instance, you have the Great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, the longest recorded prayer of our Lord. You have an extended description of the events in the upper room. You also have the great “I Am” passages. And familiar favorites like John 3:16 and John 14:1-6 (I go to prepare a place for you).

Today's Gospel reading from John gives us three chunks of Gospel goodness, each a sermon's worth in itself. So we'll the first two briefly, and the third in some more depth this morning.

First, the appearance of Jesus to the 12, er, 11 – take away Judas, er 10 – take away Thomas. Jesus miraculously appears without any action on their part, without any merit or worthiness. Jesus comes, and brings peace. He declares it, “peace be with you”, he doesn't ask them if they want it, if they deserve it. He knows they need it, and so he gives it.

He gives them His Spirit, too. Not that they didn't already have it. Anytime the Word is preached or proclaimed, the Spirit is at work. Even today, here and now. We are continual recipients of the Spirit, who brings us also the good gifts of Christ.

And Jesus gets right to the point of what he wants these Apostles, these first public servants of the Word to be about. The forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness that brings the only real peace. “If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven”. What an authority and power, and what a responsibility also to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant. So does he charge pastors even today. We call it the “Office of the Keys” because by such forgiveness, heaven itself is unlocked. Thanks be to God we have heard this forgiveness proclaimed, even today. In the stead and by the command of Christ. And that command to forgive comes from right here, in John 20.

Section two deals with Thomas. Poor Thomas who goes down in history as “Doubting Thomas”, even though he eventually came to believe and confess beautifully, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas, whose doubts anticipate the doubts of many who would follow, and through whom Jesus encourages us all, “stop doubting, and believe!” The resurrection is real. Jesus is alive, in the flesh. We may not get to touch him like Thomas did, but that only makes us more blessed. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

Which leads us to the third section, John's purpose statement for his Gospel:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

The mind races at the thought of all the wonders and signs the resurrected Jesus might have done. What miracles did they see? What divine powers did he show them? Perhaps when we meet the Lord he'll fill in the gaps for us, but for now it is enough. The Holy Spirit inspired St. John to write these words, to record these things, for a very specific purpose. That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you may have life in His name.

There are a lot of people who want to use the Bible for a lot of different things. Sometimes it makes for entertainment, like the new show on NBC: “A.D.” Some would use the Bible as a secret decoder ring for the latest fad diet or personal wealth building scheme. Most of us laugh at these sorts of things, though.

But then there are those who would make the Bible a rulebook for living. A how-to of the law that shows us which way to go. A sort of expanded version of the 10 commandments that teaches us “what would Jesus do”. This is a pretty shallow understanding, too. Those who take this approach aren't usually that familiar with what Scripture actually teaches when it comes to the law.

You and I know that the laws and rules of the Bible are full well impossible to follow. We can't love God with all our heart, soul and strength. We don't love our neighbor as ourselves. We worship other gods. We take his name in vain. We kill and lie and steal and gossip and covet and lust. We do it in our heads and hearts at least, and often in word and deed as well. The Law of God stands in constant accusation of sinners like you and me, who are never good enough. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We must repent!

But these things were not written that you would be instructed in how to be good. These things were not written that you would know right from wrong. These things were not written that you would simply be crushed and brought to despair that you'll never be good enough for God. These things were written that you might believe and have life in Jesus Christ.

This is a Gospel, after all. Good news. The law kills, but the Spirit gives life. The work of Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection. These things are written, that we would believe.

His life – all that he did and said that are recorded for us in Holy Scripture. All that we confess in the creeds – that he was conceived of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. That he suffered in accord with the scriptures. That he fulfilled all prophecies, right down to the last moments of his life. He did all things well. He healed the blind and deaf and lame. He cast out demons. He commanded nature. He even raised the dead. He did all this for us, that we might believe and have life.

And his preaching – a new teaching, and with authority! That he himself was the content of the message. That in him, the kingdom of God has arrived. That in him is rest, healing, peace, forgiveness and life! He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die.

And his death. The cross- we preach Christ Crucified, Paul says... nothing more or less. Oh sure, the whole counsel of God. But the whole counsel of God always leads to and stems from the cross. The lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, is the one who bears his nail scars and pierced side into his resurrection and eternity – the cross should never be far from our hearts, minds, lips.

And his resurrection. We rejoice not only a week after Easter but every sunday, every “little Easter”, the Lord's day because he renews all creation on Sunday – the day of his own resurrection – this eighth day of creation as some have called it. The cross and empty tomb go together – two sides of a coin, if you will, the death he died and the life he now lives for us forever. These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing have life in his name.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sermon - The Resurrection of Our Lord - Easter Sunday - Mark 16

Easter Sunday
April 5, 2015
Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, WI

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Death lies in shambles. But Jesus is alive!

Your sins are distant memory. Jesus has paid the price!

The devil has been brought to ruin. And Jesus has won the victory!

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Easter is the great surprise of history. Oh, battles have been won before. Enemies have been defeated, even at the last moment, even when little hope remained. Last-second, shot-made at the final buzzer triumphs do happen from time to time. But this victory is different.

This man was the God-man. He was the Christ, the son of the living God. And for him to die... it was the darkest hour of the darkest day. It was the great injustice of all history. It was the ripping away of all hope. If even one so pure as Jesus couldn't escape the jaws of foul death, then what hope is there for someone like you or me?

We had hoped he would be the one. We had hoped he would deliver Israel. We had hoped he would bring comfort and peace, but it seemed, all that Friday brought was violence and humiliation. Darkness. Sorrow. Death. The disciples were scattered and hiding in fear. The women who stayed behind could only wail and cry. At least they got to bury his body hastily. Then the stone shut the tomb with a loud thud.... and... silence.

And then bright Easter morn breaks through! And all of that is forgotten! The nails, the spear, the flogging, the bleeding, the shame.... gone... because... because Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It is the great surprise of history. But it shouldn't be. He had predicted it, many times. He promised them the sign of Jonah – who was in the belly of the whale three days and nightsHe spoke to his disciples plainly – the Son of Man must be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and he will suffer, and he will die, but on the third day he will rise again!

How much plainer could he be? But they tried to rebuke him. Or it went in one ear and out the other. They just couldn't wrap their minds, their hearts, their faith around it. The Christ must suffer, die, and rise again.

Let us wrap our minds and hearts and faith around it as best we can today. By faith in God's word, rejoice with me that Jesus has won the victory over our sins. That his death satisfies God's righteous wrath. That the devil can go fly a kite, but he has no claim on you or me. For Jesus is alive, never to die again. Jesus is the victor, our champion in the fight. And through him, we too share the victory!

Let's start with the women at the tomb. The first to hear the news of his resurrection. They were flabbergasted. They had come in grief, to finish up a hastily prepared burial. Their grief was such that they didn't think about all the details – they forgot about that stone that sealed the grave. How would they roll it away? Just another disappointment to add to their list of miseries. But still, somehow, they came to the tomb.

And imagine their surprise to see the stone rolled away! What were they to do now? Obviously something wasn't right.

But there was a messenger, a young man, an angel – sitting in the tomb (who sits around in tombs dressed in white anyway?) and he had a message for them. It was a surprise to them, too, but it shouldn't have been.

Don't be alarmed. You seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He has arisen! See the place where they laid him. Now, go tell Peter and the disciples that he'll meet you in Galilee, just as he told you.”

And friends, this angelic message is for us, also, on this Easter Sunday.

Don't be alarmed!” No don't you be alarmed either! With Jesus there is nothing to fear. With Jesus there is nothing that can harm you – ultimately, for even though you die, yet shall you live! Don't let your own sins alarm you. They've been buried with Christ. Don't let the accuser accuse you. All his might has come unraveled. Don't fear the one who would ridicule or shun you, discriminate against you or even behead you.... for Christ is Risen.... and that makes all the difference in the world.

You seek Jesus, who was crucified.” Yes, friends, you too seek Jesus who was crucified. You seek him, not of your own reason or strength, but because the Holy Spirit has called you to faith in baptism, and by his mysterious working in the word. And you seek a Jesus who was crucified. For without the cross none of this matters. Without the payment for sin, there is no saving from sin. And Jesus' crucifixion is the only thing that could do it. Without Easter, the cross is a big question mark, and our faith is in vain. But without the cross, Easter matters even less.

He is not here. He is risen” the angel said. He has risen from death. He's passed through it, and come out on the other side. Who does that? What a miracle! A precious few had been raised from death before – the widow's son raised by Elijah. And then those raised by Jesus – Jairus' daughter, the widow's son at Nain, and Jesus' friend Lazarus. But never before had one called his own resurrection ahead of time, and delivered the good. He is risen, just as he said.

And not just for him, friends, this is also for you. The reason Jesus' resurrection is so great is that it's not just for him, it's for you, too! He goes before you – to death, and to resurrection, and to eternal glory with the Father.

See the place where they laid him” The place. A real, historical place, where his real, historical body was laid. The place, a borrowed grave, belonging to a rich man, Joseph. But it wasn't his place for long. Long enough to take his rest on the Sabbath. Long enough to prove he was really, truly, dead. But not forever. He lives, now, forever. His place, now, is his rightful place in heaven. And he prepares a place for you there (John 14) – where you will live, resurrected body and soul together. A place with him forever.

Now, go tell the disciples he'll meet you in Galilee, just as he told you”
Yes, everything is always just as he told you. He was arrested and suffered, just as he told them. He was crucified and died, just as he told them. He even rose from the dead, just as he told them. And now he would see them again soon, just as he told them.

Everything is just as he tells you, too, Christian. He forgives your sins, just as he told you when you were baptized in his name. He gives you his body and blood in Holy Communion, just as he told you – that's what it is - given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. And here, he meets you, just as personally as he met those fearful disciples in the upper room and in Galilee. His mysterious but very real presence, to bring you peace.
And just as he told them, so does his forgiveness tell you, “fear not”.

And so today's Gospel ends with this cliffhanger – the women leaving the tomb afraid, confused, not knowing what to make of it all. But we know their grief would soon be turned around, as Jesus' resurrection sunk in. As they and the other early Christians came to see just what it meant that Jesus had lived and died for them, and rose again for them and for all. This good news has to be shared, proclaimed, preached even to the ends of the earth.

And so it was. And so it still is today. That Christ Crucified for sinners and raised again in glory is preached – and that all the promises of Christ are fulfilled – just as he has told us. They are proclaimed in far off places like Singapore, and Texas. The same Christ is proclaimed here at 3700 Washington Avenue. The word of his law and gospel, the forgiveness delivered in the mystery of the sacraments. All the gifts of God for the people of God. And for you. And the victory that he wins – is ours. Just as he said. There and here. Now and forever. So do not be afraid.

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