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.