Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

            When I was a child, Sesame Street had a Christmas album that my nephew owned. The last song on the album was “Keep Christmas With You All Through the Year”. The song encourages the hearer to keep Christmas memories in your thoughts long after the decorations and presents are put away.

            What about Easter? The celebration of the resurrection of our Lord is the feast of feasts. Yet it is so quickly put away like Christmas even though the Easter season last much longer than the Christmas season in the ecclesiastical calendar. We get tired of responding “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Easter hymns a month from now won’t have the same punch as they do today. Yet Easter extends not merely through these next few weeks, but through the entire church year.

            Jesus’ appearance in a locked room among ten of His disciples, as well as His appearance one week later with an eleventh disciple present, shows us how the events of Easter extend long past wearing Easter bonnets, eating ham or lamb for Easter dinner, and eating the last Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg. Our Savior’s resurrection greeting sets the tone for our life in Christ: Peace be with you.

            The disciples certainly needed peace in their lives. All save John fled their Lord as He suffered an innocent death. Now reports of an empty tomb circulated among His followers. There was an encounter with Cleopas and a fellow traveler not far from Jerusalem. Women were the first to spread the news that Jesus lives. Believing their word should bring peace to their hearts. We find them cowering behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews. What if the religious authorities come looking for them next? What if they will follow in Christ’s footsteps and give up their lives?

            The time of their witness had not yet come. The time of Christ’s witness of His resurrection has come. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” His words bestow what they say. They are not a simple greeting from a friend. They are truth. Peace is with them because Jesus is with them.

            Then Jesus does something extraordinary. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Of all the things one could do to bring peace, showing them wounds from a crucifixion and a spear going through your side is the last thing you would want to see. Nevertheless, the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. He Who was dead now lives. His wounds are the witness of peace made between God and man in Jesus Christ. Their sin no longer clings to them. Jesus Christ has accomplished what He was sent by the Father to do: bear their sin and be their Savior.

            Your name is added to the list of those standing in that room who were glad when they saw the Lord. Granted our Savior isn’t going to walk through our doors and display His hands and side, but He is present among us in His preached Word, in His mandate to baptize all nations, and in the setting apart of bread and wine to be His very Body and Blood for us to eat and drink. Our time together each weekend around pulpit, font, and altar is an extension of Easter. It is more than following the lead of the Sesame Street song to keep the sentiment of Christmas, or Easter, in your thoughts. It is Easter becoming present for you today and every day.

            How do you extend Easter into every day? Let’s let Saint John tell us. This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. The two things you heard John say in his passion account pouring out of Christ’s side are the witnesses that Christ died for your sins. It was not merely blood that flowed, but water as well. The Spirit, Who never works without attaching Himself to something, attaches Himself to the water and the blood, as well as the word preached to you. These are your Easter witnesses.

            Easter is kept through the year in the testimony of the Holy Spirit pointing you back to water and blood. Water directs your attention to your baptism, where you became a child of God. All the precious possessions Christ has for you, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation, not to mention sonship with God, are yours in that washing away of sin and death with life-giving water. Blood directs your attention to the Lord’s Supper, where you eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood for the forgiveness of sins. As Christ’s blood covers you and declares you righteous, so eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper strengthens and preserves you in body and soul to life everlasting.

            After Jesus greeted His disciples, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus gives to His Church, pastor and people, the authority to forgive and retain sins. There are times when the Church binds sin to those who are not repentant and will not believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Her joy and delight, however, is to set sinners free from sin by proclaiming forgiveness in Christ’s death and life in Christ’s resurrection.

            Keep Easter with you all through the year by making time for resting in Christ both here in His house in Word and Sacrament, and in your home as you read and meditate on the Scriptures and pray for all needs and conditions of mankind. Christ is with you, ready to speak His Word of joy as He first spoke it to His frightened disciples: Peace be with you.

The Resurrection of Our Lord – Mark 16:1-8

            I could tell you a story that happened 2,000 years ago and you might halfway pay attention. But if I tell you a story about what happened to me recently and I was sincere about it, you’ll really listen, won’t you?

            On June 18, 1972, Marvin and Josie Juhl brought their fifth-born child, David Michael, to the font at Bethel Lutheran Church, Du Quoin, Illinois, where The Reverend Timothy J. Bickel baptized him in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. His sister Brenda and his sister-in-law Robin were his godparents. As David grew in years, Marvin and Josie brought David to Sunday School and Divine Service. One day his confirmation pastor, The Reverend Robert A. Dibell of blessed memory, told David, “You would make a great pastor someday.” The seed was planted, watered, budded, and flowers to this day in Momence, Illinois.

            We all love stories. You might think that this world is getting more and more unchristian and that it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the story of our faith, but in today’s culture it is actually easier than ever to tell the story. Even as our culture increasingly seems unchristian, it is actually easier to tell the story. Today’s culture is called “postmodern.” In this postmodern world there is a shift taking place. There is a shift from provable science to authentic and truthful personal expression. This is great news for us because, as Saint Paul tells the church in Corinth, we live by faith, not by sight. To paraphrase Saint Peter, even though we don’t see Jesus, we still love Him and believe in Him. Why, then, especially in today’s culture, do we believe in Him. Because we’ve heard the story: Christ is risen!

            Why can’t you share your story of faith? Why can’t you tell others, your family, your neighbors, your friends you go out to dinner with…. Why can’t you tell others about the faith and hope that makes you the person you are? Are you afraid someone will only hear you say, “Blah blah Christian blah blah”? Does the political correctness of the world have you tongue-tied over the word “Jesus”? Then share yourself! Tell the story of your hope, your faith, and your joy! People are listening; they value an authentic and sincere story from the heart. Don’t be afraid of what you are going to say.

            At first, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome didn’t know what to say but the angel gave them the words to tell. You too will be provided with words. Think about your faith story. Were you baptized as an infant, a child, or maybe an adult? When chaos breaks loose in your life what do you cling to? Do you look to yourself for answers or do you look to your Savior Jesus Christ? Do you just fall asleep at night or do you say a prayer for your loved ones and the situation at hand? The stories of your life are a witness to what God has done for you. No one is asking you to become a street-corner preacher. Just share your story in the same way the women went and said: Christ is risen!

            There is an old saying: “Your eyes are the window to your soul.” Rather than your “EYES” being the window to your soul” the saying may be better stated that “your ‘I-s’ are the window to your soul.” “I” as in me, myself and I. As believing Christians gathered here this Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, our souls are filled with an inexpressible joy! This joy is expressed in the story that we tell. Our story is the story of forgiveness, love, and hope. I have a story and you have a story about how we’ve been forgiven. I have a story and you have a story about how the love of Christ keeps us going.

            The twentieth century German theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer says in his book Life Together that it is inconceivable that the things that are of utmost importance to each individual should not be spoken by one to another. We get to tell others the most important story of all time! A story of eternal life. A story that is ours—it belongs to you and me. A story that is told by the hope that we have because the tomb is empty. It is empty because Christ is risen!

            But what is the point of God’s story, your story, and my story? Why can’t we simply be satisfied with hearing it whenever we make it to church? Saint Paul tells the church in Ephesus that His intent was that now, through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. You are the church. You are the community of Christ. You are brothers and sisters brought together through the waters of Holy Baptism.Brought together as His church, so that you would tell the story of Christ with your I-s.

            Telling the story with our I-s is not ultimately about you or me. Telling the story with our I-s is not saying this faith is true because I have had these great faith experiences. Our faith is founded on the Word of God. Saint Paul says that Christ Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Telling the story with our I-s, with our life experiences, is the way in today’s culture to get the life-changing word to others. Telling the story with our I-s is a genuine way to witness what God has done. After all, as Paul said to the church in Rome and as he says to us, how can the world believe in Jesus if they haven’t been told about him?

            We have a story to tell our families, friends and neighbors… and you don’t have to shove Jesus done their throats! Just tell the story with your “I-s,” because after all, isn’t your story Christ’s story living in you? That is exactly why we ring the bells every time we gather here in this place. We want to announce to the world that it is time to tell the joyous story of eternal life that continues on to this very day, time to tell the story that doesn’t end here but goes on because Christ is risen!

Sixth Sunday in Lent – Matthew 26:1-27:66

The sermon this weekend is shorter than usual due to the reading of Saint Matthew’s Passion in its entirety.

            The mockery of Jesus Christ as He hangs on the cross by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders seems to be their self-confirmation that this man is not Messiah. When you consider Jesus’ body of work over a three year span, you would think that He would perform the ultimate miracle and come down from the cross. After all, He saved others, he cannot save himself.

            What these men will not believe is that their salvation is taking place before their eyes. They seek a different salvation, one that does not include Messiah, the sent one from God, shedding blood for their sin. They are looking for a miracle of another sort. They are looking for a miracle that confirms their sin rather than redeems their sin. If only this guy would come down from the cross, then we will believe. If only this guy would save Himself, then we might want to be saved ourselves. He said, I am the Son of God. Shouldn’t the Son of God save Himself?

            The Son of God does not need salvation. He is the perfect Lamb offered by God the Father as the perfect sacrifice for sin. God will not deliver Him, for the Father has forsaken Him as every sin committed by every human being since Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden goes on Jesus Christ, the innocent Victim.

            In spite of all the complaining by the Jews, in spite of all the tears shed by the women on Golgotha, in spite of Peter’s denial, in spite of the other disciples except John abandoning Him, Jesus does what He set out to do when He became man in the womb of His mother Mary. He accomplishes salvation for mankind in His innocent suffering and death. What looks like a convenient death accomplished by His own people through the machinations of the Roman Empire is actually their salvation, both Jew and Gentile.

            This is why you get to hear this account twice this Holy Week. Lord willing, we will gather again this Friday to hear John’s account of the Passion of the Christ. Today we listen to Matthew as he colors our Savior’s suffering with key passages from the Old Testament. Matthew tells us how Jesus fulfills everything that the prophets say about Messiah. For his Jewish hearers the matter is as plain as the noses on their faces. For Gentiles like you and me, we rejoice that by faith Christ’s death is for us as well. We are counted to be children of God through believing the promise first made to Adam, then to Abraham, and to countless children of God through the centuries.

            Why repeat the account when once should do us good? This week in the church year is the heart of what we believe as disciples of Jesus Christ. It does us good to hear it twice in church, let alone at home as we open the Bible and take time to meditate on our Savior’s death. Where Matthew’s Passion ends is where we will pick up in a week’s time as we hear about the disciples and the women running to the tomb to discover there is no body in the grave. There is no need to preserve human remains that do not remain. Jesus lives. His wounds remain as evidence of His death for sin, yet Jesus lives that we live with Him forever.

            With Jesus we laugh to scorn the gloomy grave. With Jesus we have our eyes opened in the breaking of the bread with Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. With Jesus we see Him ascend into heaven to fulfill all things and to send the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus is always with us and we are always with Him. Even in His darkest hour we see the light breaking forth into the world…the light of the accomplished sacrifice for sin.

            He saved others. Yes and Amen. Jesus saved you and me on Calvary. Believe it for His sake.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – John 8:46-59

            Sometimes we don’t understand something being said when it is said in a subtle way. I often have that problem, especially with verbal subtlety. Sometimes you have to tell me something in plain and simple language so I can understand what you are telling me. So it is with Jesus in John chapter eight. There’s no need for Him to tell a parable. There’s no need to hold back a secret. Jesus drops all pretenses when He says: If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.

            What Jesus is saying here is the same as someone telling you that you are not a Christian because you are not hearing what Christ says. You believe Jesus Christ is Lord. You attend Divine Service. You give your time, your talent, and your finances to support the preaching of the Gospel in this place. You pray. You frequently receive the Lord’s Supper. Yet you are told the condition of your heart is not inclined to the things of God even though everything you believe and your response to what you believe tells you otherwise. You would probably stand with the Jews in their position and think Jesus is a Samaritan and has a demon.

            What is at stake here is Who Jesus is and what Jesus comes to do. Certain Jews have a much different picture of who Messiah is and what He comes to do than the picture set before them in Jesus Christ, David’s son and David’s Lord. Certain Christians even today have a different picture of who Jesus is and what He comes to do.

            Some cast Jesus as a political hero. God is on our side because if we can take the Bible and put it into a political platform, then we can win the hearts of our country to Christ. Yet these words of Jesus still stand firm against any politician’s pipedream of heaven on earth: My kingdom is not of this world.

            Others cast Jesus as an agent of societal change. Jesus is always lifting up the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcasts of society. He comes to break down all man-made social structures, or so we think, and create a sort of heaven on earth where losers are winners and winners are losers. Again these words of Jesus still stand firm against any notion of a divine societal utopia: My kingdom is not of this world.

            Some of the Jews of our Lord’s time seek to be free of the Roman Empire and bring back the salad days of a millennium ago. The united kingdom under King David was the glory days of Israel when everything was going their way with both God and empire. Soon the temple would be built. Soon there would be temporal peace. All of it would be gone in a matter of decades. The kingdom would be divided and most of the tribes would be conquered by the Assyrians. God’s promise of a Savior remained intact, even though there was very little of His people’s former glory that survived through the years.

            God’s glory is not found in structures, in wealth, in prestige, or in the spoils of war. God’s glory is found clothed in flesh and blood, born of the Virgin Mary, raised in Nazareth as the Son of a carpenter, and now walking on earth to proclaim His suffering and death for the redemption of Israel, a people no longer by blood but by faith in the promise of a Savior. There He stands before His own people, and His own people reject Him by calling Him a Samaritan and saying He has a demon.

            Jesus has not finished speaking the truth to His people. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. Abraham did not live to see the birth of Messiah according to the flesh, but He did live to see it by faith in Messiah. Even when everything spoke against God’s love for Him, even when Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his only son, Abraham took the leap of faith. He was ready to slay Isaac until a voice from heaven spared his son’s life. In Isaac’s place was sacrificed a ram caught in a thicket, foreshadowing the Lamb of God Who wears and crown of thorns and is sacrificed for the sins of the world.

            Jesus lays it out plain for some of the Jews. Yet they picked up stones to throw at Him. His hour had not yet come. Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. The time is coming when Jesus is betrayed into the hands of men. What some of His own people see as being rid of a pesky nuisance is actually their salvation…and our salvation as well. How much more can Jesus say but before Abraham was, I AM. Jesus today says: you seek Messiah. Here I AM. I AM before your eyes. I AM among you proclaiming the peace of God. I AM the day of the LORD you have heard in Torah all your life. Believe what I AM saying. Trust what I AM saying.

            Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. The day of salvation draws near. Jesus honors His Father by suffering in our place the death you and I deserve because of sin. Jesus takes on the stripes, the wounds, the humiliation, and ultimately death. You are healed in His passion. His healing is total and perfect. No sin is charged to you because of Jesus Christ. The great I AM is your substitute, your ram caught in a thicket. This is why He took on flesh and dwelled among us. This is who Jesus Christ is. Like Abraham, you have seen the day of the LORD. Your vindication is coming. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Fourth Sunday in Lent – John 6:1-15

            The first word of today’s Introit is rejoice. Rejoice is not usually what you’re thinking when you’re thinking Lent. Nevertheless, today is an oasis of sorts in our Lenten discipline. Next week things get real with Christ’s passion approaching. Today, however, our Lord prepares us for what is to come by nourishing us with the bread of life in Word and Sacrament.

            Jesus does more than merely nourishing us with bread in the wilderness. He provides everything we need; both physical and spiritual need. No wonder the first word of the Introit is rejoice. The hard part, however, is to learn to be content with what He daily provides. The Lord will provide all I need, if not in super-abundance then certainly in sufficient quantities to care for my necessity.

            That previous sentence is enough to drive those hungering for equity into a rage. We live in a time where everyone should live, work, and play on a level playing field. There is nothing wrong with equal opportunity for all. The problem lies in how those provisions are given. The Lord provides some with more, and others with less, but all with what they need.

            What is our response to His provision? NO FAIR! Shouldn’t God make sure that everyone receives everything just the same? After all, Jesus says in the parable of the vineyard that everyone receives the same wage. What you forget about that particular parable is that Jesus is talking about eternal life. Eternity is all gift without measure. Physical provisions are also all gift, and are subject to measure. Yet our eye remains evil because God is so good. Shouldn’t He be more good to me than to others?

            Drop yourself into John chapter six. Put your feet in Philip’s sandals for a moment. Jesus says to Philip: Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat? John lets us in on what’s happening by telling us that Jesus said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Let’s pretend for now that you didn’t know that Jesus was testing you. How will you provide food for five-thousand men in the wilderness? You might answer like Philip did: Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little. All you and your compadres come up with is five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Then you tack on the disclaimer: but what are they for so many?

            So how’s that self-reliance working out for you? Without the Lord’s provision you will go hungry in the wilderness. You will ultimately die. The cause of death will be that you won’t let the Lord of life feed you with bread in the wilderness of life. You wanted to live your way. Or perhaps you considered the Lord’s way of providing insufficient for your necessities. Maybe you told Him exactly what you need and He gave it…but not in the way you wanted Him to give.

            Granted your super-abundance may not be another person’s super-abundance. But you did receive from the Lord’s hand what you need to support your body and your life. The feeding of five-thousand men in the wilderness from five loaves and two fish should bring us to our knees in repentance. If the Lord was able to provide for so many from so little, how much more will He do for you, O you of little faith? What has been given to you is much more than you’ll ever need. Don’t believe me? How much did you donate last year to the rummage sale? How much did you bring in to be given to the co-op at one of our synod’s seminaries? How much do you donate for the community food pantry? I’ll say it again: What has been given to you is much more than you’ll ever need.

            All of a sudden the cries of equity grow faint. Instead of griping about what you don’t have, your tune is changed to one of joy because Jesus gives you in the way of more. Here we recall Luther’s explanation of the first article of the Creed. God the Father made you and all creatures. He gives you your body parts, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them. If that’s not enough, Luther adds physical provisions like clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, land, animals, and more. Our heavenly Father provides, defends, guards, and protects. “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

            Our response seems to be a pittance compared to His love for us. Our Father in heaven has every right to stop providing because of the nefarious ways we use what we receive. The Lord still gives because He loves His whole creation. Not only does He give, He also provides us a way to give to those who have not been as blessed as we have been blessed. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” We gather the leftover fragments of our earthly blessings and give them to others so they also may receive joy from the Lord through our hands. We give more than earthly treasure to them. We also speak about the hope of eternity that is in us for Christ’s sake. Our cup runneth over with joy in the forgiveness of sins; a joy that is shared among those who do not know our Savior.

            When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Yet Jesus withdrew from them after the people said it. His hour has not yet come. Jesus comes not to be a temporal bread king. Jesus comes to shed His blood for the sins of the world. His death and resurrection is our ultimate provision. Though it doesn’t look like much to our eyes, Christ’s passion is our everything. Without His blood covering us we remain stuck in our sin. Death then is our final word. Yet Christ is triumphant over death for our sake. Now the final word is resurrection.

            Rejoice! Jesus is the Living Bread that comes down from heaven to provide all that you need here in time and there in eternity.

Third Sunday in Lent – Luke 11:14-28

            “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door.” This is most certainly true. The devil’s mode of operation is to use any means necessary to pull you out of the ark of the Church.  It doesn’t take much for a Christian to cast aside the Scriptures, not to mention coming to Divine Service, and return to the “good ole days” of living it up without worrying about God.

            The devil is already raging against those outside of Christianity. His star prize, however, is a child of God who is saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. If Satan is able to pull one of God’s children away from the Lord and back into his clutches, all of hell rejoices in another soul snatched from everlasting salvation.

            Don’t think it cannot happen to you. There is a war for your soul going on right now. You live in the no man’s land of that war every day. You feel the tug to chuck the Bible, forget about receiving Christ’s gifts in the Divine Service, and live a life free from God. There are days you are certain that every malady that afflicts mankind is foisted upon us by God, Who has a problem with sinners and wants to show everyone how angry He is about it. The devil is the one who puts those thoughts in your mind. He wants you to think God has reneged on His promises. He cloaks lies in truth’s clothing and works hard to make sure you can’t see his deception. The devil wants you secure in his house.

            You are secure in his house…until the Stronger Man, Jesus Christ, breaks down the door and takes you into His possession. There’s no way you can get yourself out of this entanglement. You may be strong, but you are certainly not that strong. The devil cannot cast out himself. God alone is able to save you from the devil’s claws, just as Jesus says in Luke chapter eleven: when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.

            Jesus has done this for you. You are so precious in the eyes of God that His only-begotten Son has rescued you from darkness and brought you into His light. Jesus does this for you in His suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead. Your house is swept clean from Satan and washed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ in holy baptism.

            Our Lord says if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. What we forget when someone is baptized is that the act of baptism is not merely an initiation rite into the club of Christianity. Life and death contend at the baptismal font. When Martin Luther revised the baptismal rite of his time, he made a few changes but largely kept the rite the same as he received it from the Roman Catholic church. One part of the rite he kept was having the pastor lay his hands upon the child and say, “Depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

            This may seem like hocus pocus to us at first glance. We see a baby, a young child, or even an adult before our eyes. There’s no way that the person is possessed by an unclean spirit. Where’s the foaming at the mouth, the 360-degree head turn, or the gravely demonic voice like you saw in the movie The Exorcist? What you forget is that the person being baptized is outside the camp of Jesus Christ. Baptism now saves that person from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Baptism bestows sonship with God. Baptism sweeps that house clean to make room for the Holy Spirit. The person is now claimed by God as His own. This is shown when the pastor makes the sign of the cross on the forehead and on the heart. The one being baptized is marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.

            All the more reason for Satan to go on the prowl to snatch that person away from the Lord. The devil certainly has enough people in his power who willingly serve him. But to him they are dry places. The wolf of hell seeks new nourishment. He sees this new nourishment in faithful Christians. The devil cannot stand the fact that once we were his property but now we belong to God. He wants us back. Right now. That is why Jesus says that the unclean spirit says, I will return to my house from which I came.

            How bad does Satan want you? He goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself. He assails you with all sorts of temptations and agonizing struggles. One of his favorites is the old Adam and Eve trick: “Did God really say?” Are you sure you are saved by God’s one-way love through believing in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind? But what about this sin or that sin? Surely God will not cover those sins. Or he will make you think you have no sins that need His blood to cover them. You’re not doing anything that bad. Besides, don’t you think God asks too much of His children as it is? He’s more worried about the really bad sinners. He has no time for your nickel and dime transgressions.

            If that demon doesn’t get you, Satan will send many others. There’s the demon of sloth and security and indifference toward God’s Word. The Bible is too hard to understand. I’m not sure even my pastor understands it. Or maybe I understand it better than any preacher? Or maybe the Bible is impossible to understand. And what’s with having to go to church? All they want is my precious time and my precious money. There’s much living to be done. So let’s live it up. A little less Jesus Christ and a little more Jim Beam or Anheuser-Busch or television news that tells me I am not scared enough. Pretty soon the last state of that person is worse than the first.

            The devil wants you. Only God’s power is able to save you. God’s power is shown for you in the application of His word. This holy house is where His word is applied to you in preaching, in the Lord’s Supper, in Holy Absolution, and in your baptism. Wherever God’s Word is applied to you, the devil must flee. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! To keep the Word is to hold it sacred, gladly hear it, and learn it. It’s not as if an hour a week in a pew will protect you from the devil. The vigilance never stops. You watch. You pray. You sing. You avoid sin. You fight against temptation. Above all, you cling to Christ even when the world is falling apart before your eyes.

            The devil’s chapel has one less person because Jesus entered that place and took you as His own. Despite the constant demonic onslaught, you belong to Jesus. The finger of God has come upon you and given you everlasting salvation.

Forgiven All Along

Sunday after Sunday we come into church with the same list of tiresome sins: our lust, our laziness, our anger, our jealousy, our pride. And Sunday after Sunday we begin our worship by confessing them. Why? What is the real purpose of Christian confession? Is it to present them to a God who doesn’t know about them, or to haggle over them with a God who might possibly be talked into forgiving them? No. It is only the bring them to the light of Jesus and to see clearly that they were forgiven all along. It is only (to put it in the startling terms of the Exsultet, the old Latin proclamation sung on Easter Eve) to force ourselves to rejoice over our sin because it has become the occasion of his grace – to see it as a felix culpa, a happy fault – and to wash away the whole sorry history of the world’s transgressions in the absolving blood of the Lamb. “O certe necessarium Adae peccatum,” the Exsultet sings, “O certainly necessary sin of Adam,” “quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem“: “which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer.” We have always been home free, lightened even in the house of our sins by the Light of Light in whom they were all wrought. The only thing we do in confession is drag ourselves back in out of the dark that never was.

Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pages 369-370

Second Sunday in Lent – Matthew 15:21-28

            Where is the good news when a Canaanite woman is called a dog? Her request is ultimately granted, but she had to go through the humiliation of being called a dog in order for it to happen. Has our Savior turned over a new leaf and is now a misogynist? Is Jesus so Jewish that He has to mock a Canaanite?

            No, Jesus has everything planned out when it comes to how this woman responds to His brutal treatment of her. Our Lord comes to this time and this place for a reason. He sets before us a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, to show us, and especially His fellow Jews, how she will not back down from believing Jesus is able to help her daughter. This Canaanite woman is a truly remarkable hero, even though our Lord at first seems to consider her a zero.

            What has made this woman so heroic? She’s a Canaanite, so you can’t say that her ethnic heritage gives her an advantage. She’s a woman, too, so she’s at a disadvantage in a culture that favored men. Her daughter is demon-possessed. Perhaps something happened in her family’s history that brought about this tragic happening. Maybe it’s because she’s a Canaanite. That would be enough for some Jews to believe she’s wasting her time asking Jesus for help.

            That’s the sentiment Christ gives to her at first. She cries, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. But he did not answer her a word. His disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us”. Jesus continues to pile on the despair by adding, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

            By now you may be wondering why Matthew wrote down this incident in his gospel for our consideration. Is he trying to show the superiority of being male and being Jewish? No. Jesus is setting everything up in such a way that what happens next ought to be an impossible dream. The Canaanite woman gets the silent treatment. Christ’s disciples beg Him to send her away. Jesus finally opens His mouth, but seems to reject not only her request but also the fact that He’s not about to help someone outside God’s chosen people.

            If everything so far sounds familiar, it should. You and I have been in her predicament many times. A bit ago we sang, “What a friend we have in Jesus/All our sins and griefs to bear/What a privilege to carry/Everything to God in prayer.” No wonder the hymn is so beloved among Christians in our country. The hymn text lines up with Martin Luther’s explanations of the Lord’s Prayer. We talk to our heavenly Father like we talk to our earthly father. This can be a scary proposition because for some people their earthly father is or was a dingbat. Some of us would never go to our father to ask for anything for fear of how he might respond. One listen to today’s holy gospel shows that perhaps dingbat earthly fathers learned a lesson from Jesus’ behavior toward the Canaanite woman.

            Our heavenly Father is not a jerk. He loves to hear you talk to Him. He wants you ask Him for whatever is on your heart. He wants you to be bold and ask in confidence. In turn, we expect an immediate answer. After all, if our Father in heaven wants us to shoot for the moon and beyond in our asking, He should respond in kind. Often the response we want is not the response we get. Sometimes it’s long periods of silence. Other times it’s something else entirely, perhaps something for which we didn’t ask but we still receive. So we lose heart. We stop asking. We figure our heavenly Father is omniscient. He knows what we’re going to ask so we might as well not ask and let Him decipher our thoughts.

            That would be a good plan for this Canaanite woman. She’s looking more and more like a zero. She came and knelt before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Things are going from bad to worse for this woman and her cause. Even a personal plea at His feet is not changing Christ’s mind. Then Jesus seems to put the final nail in her coffin by resorting to name calling. The bread belongs to God’s chosen people and not to half-breed yipping lap puppies like you, Madam Canaanite.

            We would have long since quit by now, but this woman is sticking it out to the bitter end. It’s a good thing for her, and for us, that she does stick it out. Don’t look now but Jesus has set the trap. What trap? The trap that not this woman, but He lets Himself be caught. What fool would set their own trap? Jesus is no fool and neither is the Canaanite woman. Zero is about to become a hero.

            “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Click. The trap is sprung. Jesus is caught, just as He planned it. Even though the woman is called a dog, a yipping lap puppy who won’t stop begging for food, she will receive what she desires because she believes Jesus Christ will help her. She has wrestled with her Lord and Savior and, like Jacob, has prevailed.

            What? A Canaanite believing in Jesus? That’s the point. That’s why Matthew, a gospel writer who takes great pains in showing the Jewish way of life, a gospel writer who frequently quotes the Old Testament, includes this account under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This woman is a hero of faith because she stuck it out to the bitter end and did not lose hope. O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.

            Where else are you going to go for help? It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, your hope is in the Lord Who made heaven and earth. Even though His answer may not be sudden, He loves to hear you ask Him for all you need to support your body and your life. What is more, He also loves to hear you ask Him for forgiveness, for salvation, and for strengthening your faith.

            God often conceals His undeserved love for us. We’re so used to considering people and things according to our feelings and thinking that we use those things toward the Lord as well. He’s gone silent. Was it something I said or something I did? It’s not so much that as it is looking to where the Lord has set His promises: in His Word. That’s how the Canaanite woman heard and believed that Jesus is Lord. She heard the Word. That’s how we hear and believe Jesus loves us and wants to hear our prayer. The Word says it. Rather than pray harder or pray more, the Word says to pray. Cast your burdens on the Lord, for He cares for you.

            The Canaanite woman cast her burden on Christ, hung on for dear life, and watched Jesus trap Himself in order to set her daughter free from a demon. This same Jesus will be trapped upon the cross for her sin, and yours as well. His death sets us free from the devil and sin. His coming back to life sets us free to live with Him for eternity. In the meantime, we take Christ captive in His Word and hang on for the ride of our life. It’s a ride where zeroes like you and me become heroes with Him, covered in Christ’s blood and righteousness.

First Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

            In the so-called Resurrection Chapter of Saint Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth, he compares Jesus Christ to Adam. The first Adam is a living being from the earth. Christ is the second Adam, a life-giving spirit from heaven. You see the great difference between the two men. Matthew points out another great difference in how Jesus handled temptation compared to Adam.

            Both Adam and our Lord were tempted to doubt God’s Word and God’s wisdom. Both were tempted to disobey God’s will, stepping out of their stations in life in which they lived. Yet one temptation takes place in a safe space while the other happens in a vulnerable place. Adam is tempted in the Garden of Eden, the Paradise God created for him and for Eve. Jesus is tempted in the wilderness after forty days and nights without food or drink.

            Adam is a mere creature. He is not God although his nature had not yet succumbed to sin. Christ is the Lord of creation. He has two natures according to the flesh, yet His human nature is perfect and cannot succumb to sin. Adam is tempted once and falls into sin. Jesus is tempted three times and withstands the devil’s cunning.

            When we hear the account of the fall into sin, we may be quick to blame Eve for the sin. All the blame goes on Adam, for he could have stopped the temptation before it grew out of hand. He could have stepped in on behalf of his helpmeet and reminded the serpent exactly what the Lord God told them about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He remained silent. He ate the fruit. He even tried to cover his own hind end when he was asked what happened. Adam voluntarily disobeyed the divine Word and the divine will.

            We know all about covering our own hind end. When we fall into sin, we look for something or someone to cast blame. When a child does something wrong, the child tries to blame a sibling, another parent, or the thing that led to the bad behavior. When an adult sins, he or she also shifts the blame. The devil made me do it. The church made me so mad that I had to do something. God hates me so I must reciprocate the hate.

            No, you did it, and you can’t play the blame game. Your sinful nature led you to disregard what God’s Word says to you and what God’s will is for you. That’s what is behind the Lord God’s dealing with Adam and Eve after they tried to hide from Him. He wants Adam to confess what He did. He wants both Adam and Eve to see the consequence of their action. The Lord God also wants to make a promise that has the ultimate consequence for them, and especially for the serpent. The Seed of the woman will one day appear to crush the head of the serpent. Everything that was undone in Adam’s fall will be made perfect in the Seed of the woman.

            The Seed of the woman now appears in the wilderness. Though Satan knows who He is and knows what He has come to do, Satan will still give it the old college try. If you are the Son of God, he tells our Lord. He did something similar to Adam, though in a more cunning way. Did God actually say? Both Adam and Eve knew what God actually said. In that moment they regard the word of the serpent to be truth and life. They reckon God a deceiver, having been deceived themselves by the great deceiver.

            It is no lie that Adam’s fall into sin makes us children of wrath, doomed to death. It is also no lie that the promise the Lord God made to the serpent has consequences for him, as well as for you and me. The serpent knows that when the Seed of the woman appears, it is curtains for him. That is why Satan does all he can to stop Christ from His divine mission. If you are the Son of God is answered every time with It is written. Satan knows what is written. He conveniently casts it aside as untruth because he knows the truth. The truth is that Jesus has come as our Champion. Jesus has come to hold the field forever.

            It is written, great deceiver, that you are powerless before Jesus Christ, the Seed of the woman. We carry Adam’s type in us. We are unfit to save ourselves. We cannot live out the example of Christ and survive every temptation. Behold, our Champion arises on the battle field, ready to fight for us. Christ wins the battle in our form. He gives us power and courage to fight in the way He fights for us. The victory is ours because Jesus, the second Adam, will not be led astray.

            Christ holds fast to give you something better than gold or silver: His holy, precious blood. Christ will not succumb so that you are recreated in His image and likeness. Christ ultimately goes the distance with the devil upon the cross to give you forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Christ breaks forth from His three-day prison as Victor over death for your sake. When you are laid in your tomb, like Him, you will rise a new creation whom the devil cannot claim. You belong to Jesus. You are covered in His righteousness. You, man of dust, are a companion of the Second Adam, the Man from heaven.

Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

            Although you may still be sweeping up bits from your Christmas tree around the house, we stand at the doorstep of Lent. It’s almost time to consider the suffering and death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. The closer we get to Good Friday, the more intense that consideration becomes. Though Christ’s passion may seem to us as comfortable as old leather, we are blessed once again to hear our salvation accomplished in the shedding of Christ’s blood. Saint Paul reminds us in First Corinthians chapter one that the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

            The power of God is on display for us in Luke chapter 18 in the healing of a blind man as Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem. When we pull the focus back on our lens of Scripture, we see what comes before this healing and why Saint Luke puts what Jesus says to His disciples before He heals the blind man. Taking the twelve, Jesus said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

            This is the third time in Saint Luke’s gospel that Jesus tells His disciples He will suffer, die, and rise from the dead. When you tell something to someone once, you hope the person gets the message. You might have to repeat it because sometimes details get lost when you first hear it. When you tell something to someone for the third time, the telling borders on exasperation. Can a person be that thick-headed not to hear what is being said, especially knowing how important that message is for them?

            Yes, a person can be that thick-headed not to get the message. My parents had to repeat themselves numerous times in order for me to understand what the word “no” means. My father repeated the same words to me numerous times about safe driving or taking care of my car or any number of things. Perhaps you were privy to the same conversations when you were young. Perhaps you had the same conversation with your children or with another family member. It makes you weary to repeat the same thing and have the hearer not understand what you just said.

            How do you think Jesus felt when He predicted His passion to His disciples for the third time…and they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said? If it was me, I’d be ready to blow my stack. Thank God I am not in our Savior’s shoes. Jesus takes a different approach.

            While our Lord and His disciples were passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, a crowd of people gathered around them. One man in the crowd was blind. He wondered what all the fuss was about. He was told Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. The blind man wanted our Lord’s attention. He got it by crying out, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

            Notice the subtle shift in what Christ was called. The crowd tells the blind man Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. The blind man, however, sees something even in his blindness. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus is not merely of Nazareth. Jesus, for this man, is Son of David. That’s a Messianic title. Jesus is both of Nazareth and the Son of David. Jesus is human and divine. While not being able to see Jesus, he is able to “see” Jesus through the eyes of believing.

            Jesus asks him, What do you want me to do for you? He said, Lord, let me recover my sight. And Jesus said to him, Recover your sight; your faith has made you well. What Jesus does to this blind man is what He does for us today. On the doorstep to Lent, Jesus opens our eyes to see Him as He is: truly God, yet truly man, born to suffer and die, yet also to rise from the dead. The disciples, as it were, need their eyes opened because they will be sent into the world to preach Christ crucified and resurrected. Although they did not understand what Jesus said to them, they would soon understand everything when our Lord opened their minds to understand what happened and why it happened. Then they would go forth into the world to tell the good news about Jesus.

            A good story is worth hearing over and over again. Among family and friends you may have certain phrases or even long-form stories that are frequently told. Family oral tradition keeps the stories of lives fresh in our minds as we pass them down from generation to generation. Sometimes we forget a story. When we hear it again, it brings us joy to be reconnected with a piece of our past.

            That is why Jesus doesn’t blow His stack because His disciples need to be told a third time what is about to happen. He expects this reaction even from you and me. So Jesus opens our eyes once again today to see Him for Who He is: the Son of God, the Son of David, and our Savior from sin, death, and the devil.

            Last year we were not able to be together in the flesh to hear Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Maybe you forgot something about your salvation since last you heard it. Jesus isn’t mad at you if your eyes and ears are closed. That’s why the story is told every year. Beginning Wednesday, once again, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.

            We’ll stop at some familiar places along the way. We’ll go down into the plain with Christ as the devil tempts Him. We’ll hear a Canaanite woman be called a dog and how she responds to it. Jesus will feed five thousand men with a small amount of bread and fish. He will triumphantly enter Jerusalem…only to suffer and die under Pontius Pilate a few days later.

            We’ll also hear some new things as we consider selected verses from First Peter during Lenten Vespers. We’ll hear how people distort or deny what Scripture says to suit their own purposes. We’ll hear the catholicity, the universality, of the message of salvation in spite of how we twist and turn that good news.

            Some forty days from now we’ll stand at the door of an empty tomb and marvel how our Savior has risen from the dead. We, too, will rise from our own grave just as Jesus did, and join Him and all believers in Christ in the Sabbath rest of eternal life. Some of what you will hear you will know well. Other things you’ll hear may be new to you. Amid the old and the new is the one thing needful: Jesus Christ winning the victory over death and giving you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Now there’s an old, old story worth telling and hearing again and again!