Monthly Archives: April 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-23a

The song “I’ll Be Seeing You” carries a lot of emotional freight. For those of the Greatest Generation, the song sung either by Bing Crosby or Vera Lynn is an anthem for soldiers separated from their loved ones overseas. For younger generations the song is tied to Johnny Carson’s farewell from late night television in 1992. It was his favorite song and was the last song played on his last show.

The lyrics begin, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart embraces all day through. In that small cafe, the park across the way; the children’s carousel; the chestnut trees; the wishin’ well. I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day; in every thing that’s light and gay. I’ll always think of you that way.” The song is about the fondness of someone far away and all the things that stir the memory of one who isn’t with you.

We could use the title of that old standard to summarize the Gospel readings over the next five weeks. The Upper Room Discourse in John’s Gospel prepares the disciples for their Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He has come to do what He became flesh to do. Soon He will bodily depart to His Father. The disciples will no longer see Him face-to-face. Jesus calls the time He will not be seen a little while. This phrase confuses the disciples and perhaps confuses you, too.

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since our Lord’s ascension. You’d think Jesus would be back by now. Think of all the history that’s happened, even the atrocities, since Jesus’ ascension. We could have been spared from it all had He either stayed with us or returned to judge the living and the dead. Then again, perhaps none of us would be here. Our own existence, our family, our friends, and everyone we know wouldn’t have happened if the Lord would not have tarried. Then again, the growing of the Word of the Lord also would not have happened; a growth that continues today.

Now you see why it’s easy to be confused by the phrase a little while. What is more, Jesus also says you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. As if Jesus doesn’t confuse you enough with a little while, He now throws in the fact that there will be sorrow, but then there will be joy.

WHEN? WHERE? WHY? How about now, Lord! Can’t you see the mess this old world is in right now? It seems to get worse every day. A student of history should be the first to tell you that the world hasn’t ever been full of joy and light. The first 300 or so years after Christ’s ascension saw great persecution of Christians until Emperor Constantine “legitimized” the Christian faith in the Roman Empire. Whether or not he did us a favor with that move is another discussion for another day. The point is that there has never been, nor will there ever be, “good ol’ days” for Christians.

So back to our interrogative questions. When is the joy that Jesus talks about coming? Where is this joy? How do I get this joy? Let’s do the where first. In the midst of sorrow Jesus is where He said He’ll be: in the proclamation of His Good News that goes in your ears, at the font as Word and water splashingly save young and old from death and hell, under bread and wine in His Supper where forgiveness and life are put in your mouth. If Jesus sang “I’ll Be Seeing You”, He wouldn’t send you to the small cafe, the park across the way, or any other place in the song. He points you to where He puts His promise of forgiveness and salvation. That’s why you’re here today. This is where the action is for a Christian. This is where His glory dwells; His glory under earthly things that bring you joy.

The how was just done with the where. All that’s left is when. When is this joy coming? Christ’s end-time joy is already among you. His death and His resurrection begin the end times. All that He promises you concerning eternity is yours right now…but not in its fullness. It’s like the pregnant woman Jesus uses as an illustration in today’s Holy Gospel. There’s a baby in the woman’s womb. If all goes well with the pregnancy, the end result is that the baby will be born. All the pain and all the inconveniences of the pregnancy will go away in the joy that a baby has been brought into the world.

Consider the baby to be the life of the world to come. You know that’s yours because Jesus has acquired it for you and given it to you as a gift. Until Jesus returns on Judgment Day, a lot of good and bad things happen, just like in a pregnancy. The end result for a Christian is that you will see Jesus again and your heart will rejoice, and no one, not even Satan, will take your joy from you. You may be alive when it happens. You may be dead. What matters is that you will see Jesus with your own eyes.

That’s your hope right now, a certain hope because of Jesus. The end result is certain. You’re waiting with expectant joy for that time when it happens…and it will happen. Granted our Lord and His holy angels aren’t going to sing, “I’ll Be Seeing You” on Judgment Day, but the sentiment is there. Remember last week when Jesus told you that He knows you even when others don’t know you. He certainly knows you because He covered you in wet righteousness in your Baptism, feeds you His forgiveness in His Supper, and puts His expectant joy in your ears in preaching from this pulpit. This is how Jesus sees you now. The day comes when what is seen under Word, water, bread, and wine is seen in the flesh. Then, as now, your hearts rejoice.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

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Third Sunday of Easter – John 10:11-16

Everyone wants to be wanted. Everyone wants to be known by someone else, especially someone well connected or famous. Even if your desire is to labor without being seen or recognized, there’s still a gnawing desire for recognition.

Consider our congregation for a moment. We’re in the far southeastern corner of the Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. All the action in the district tends to happen in the western or northwestern suburbs, where the people are and where the money is. We’re “halfway to Champaign”, “downstate”, and in an economically depressed area. We don’t get much attention. That can be a blessing as the work of the Gospel goes on no matter what happens up north. It can also be a problem as good things happen in our area, but it seems no one notices because we’re so far away from the population centers.

Perhaps you saw the same thing at work or at school. You might have known someone who did a lot of work behind the scenes but never was recognized for all the work. Maybe that was their choice. Maybe the person really went without recognition and was secretly thinking it would be nice to receive a mention of their work.

Whether or not you want to be noticed, Someone knows what you’ve done and cares for you whether or not you know it. Someone sought you and brought you into His flock. Someone is taking care of you even now. You may not be aware of Him but He’s there. He’s the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. When others pay no attention to you, Jesus is always watching you. The Good Shepherd tends to your eternal welfare, not to mention your temporal welfare.

Jesus tends to your eternal welfare by bearing our sins in His body on the tree, as Saint Peter says in today’s Epistle, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. We don’t broadcast the fact that we are dying to sin and living to righteousness every day. That’s simply what we do as a new creation drowned in baptismal waters.

When we wake we ask the Lord’s blessing on the day. Luther’s Morning Prayer begs our heavenly Father to keep us this day from sin and every evil, that all our doings and life may please Him. Even when we, as a baptized child of God, attempt to avoid sin and every evil, both crouch next to us, seeking to devour us like a roaring lion. All the more, then, does the Good Shepherd protect His flock.

He knows we will stray. Any other shepherd is a hireling who doesn’t care for the flock he’s given to tend. The hireling will let the sheep stray. The Good Shepherd, though, will seek lost sheep. Jesus says, I know My own and my own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. The Good Shepherd willingly goes to His death for the sheep. That’s how far He is willing to go for your sake.

Now step back for a moment and ponder that Jesus lays down His life for His sheep. You are one of His sheep. When Jesus says He’s willing to die for His sheep, you must see yourself in His words. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for you. There’s your recognition. Granted it’s not a shiny plaque or a gold watch or even a monetary gift. The Good Shepherd knows you. He dies for you. He wants you to be in His sheep pen for all eternity. His desire is for one flock and one Shepherd.

This thing about one flock and one Shepherd is hard to believe. There are so many Christian congregations in Momence or Grant Park, let alone in the county, the state, and around the world. You would think the time has come for all Christians to forget what separates them and unite into one flock under one Shepherd. That’s a laudable goal. However, it’s a goal that is not going to happen this side of Paradise. That doesn’t mean we stop talking to fellow Christians. What it does mean, however, is that we wait for the life of the world to come when there will not be any division between fellow Christians.

How do we know that our congregation remains with the Good Shepherd? What about other congregations in our community? Where can we rejoice with them even know we don’t have closer ties with them now? We rejoice with them, and they rejoice with us, when we listen to the voice of the Shepherd. Where do we hear the Shepherd speak? We hear Him in His Word proclaimed in His house. He sends shepherds who stand in His stead and by His command to proclaim the Good News of the Good Shepherd’s victory over sin, death, and hell in Christ’s laying down His life for our sake and picking it back up again in the Resurrection.

Contrary to what we may think about ourselves, there will be more than Missouri Synod Lutherans in heaven. There are others who hear the voice of the Shepherd even though their congregation distorts the Shepherd’s voice. One of our synod’s theologians called it a “felicitous inconsistency”. You may know someone who is under the felicitous inconsistency. You talk to them about what you believe and confess as a Lutheran and they respond, “Hey, that’s what I believe, too!” Even though they remain in a church with an unclear confession, they hear the voice of the Shepherd through the baggage of human additions to the Shepherd’s voice. Though separated now by confessional boundaries, we rejoice with them that a time comes, and is even now, when there is one flock and one Shepherd. Jesus knows them, too, just as He knows you.

But what about those other sheep that are not of this fold that Jesus mentions? You look at all the congregations in our town and see the empty pews. Even we pastors get nervous about the future of the congregations we serve here. Once the pews were full. Once there were full Sunday Schools and lots of other activities. Now it seems more are transferred to the Church Triumphant than are welcomed into the Church Militant through baptism or through Christian instruction.

It’s easy to throw up our arms and worry. Jesus has a better way. Leave it to Him. I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Granted we may never see numerical growth in this congregation. The flock that cannot be seen with human eyes does grow, especially where the Church suffers persecution. Even here in our country where there is no great persecution the Church grows when and where the Lord wills. When the opportunity arises, we speak as we believe. What the Lord does with it from there is out of our hands. We know, though, that the Word does not return to Him void. He will tend to His flock, for the Bridegroom loves His bride, the Church.

You are loved by the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Whether or not anyone else knows it, He knows you. That’s all that matters for now. You are known by Him, fed by Him, and cared for by Him. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for you. Everything else is window dressing.

Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

It’s been a miserable week around our house with Influenza B running rampant. I’ve come up with some talking points for this weekend’s sermon.

The Church is about what Jesus is about: peace and forgiveness.

Peace, sure, yes. Who doesn’t love peace? We love peace as long as we get to state the terms of the peace.

Jesus sends His disciples to proclaim peace…His peace…not theirs. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

This peace is more than “be excellent to one another” or “everybody stop fighting”. The peace Jesus proclaims is a peace that heals wounded hearts and binds up broken consciences. It is a peace that raises the dead. That is why Jesus breathes on His disciples. They are sent to wake the dead from their slumber through the proclamation of peace.

Jesus does more than proclaim peace. Jesus makes the peace between God and man. That peace also proclaims forgiveness.

We want to limit and control forgiveness. “I’ll forgive you as long as you clean up your act and keep it clean. One slip and no more forgiveness.” “I forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you did.” That’s not forgiveness. That’s giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Old Adam has a hard time separating forgiveness from the hurt. A peace and forgiveness that controls rather than releases and revels in a merry heart and joyful spirit.

Thomas is a prime example of a forgiveness that needs proof. For him, seeing equals believing. For us, believing that Jesus does us good and never bad brings us to believe that our neighbor, even when he or she does us bad, is covered in the blood and righteousness of Jesus, just like you.

As your neighbor is quick to forgive you, so you are quick to forgive your neighbor and let go of the sin and the hurt. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Jesus had a grudge He could have easily kept. He let it go for the sake of the joy set before Him to endure the cross for our sake.

The Church is about what Jesus is about: peace and forgiveness. Jesus puts both in His Word. He puts His Word to water, to bread, and to wine to bring you peace and forgiveness. As peace and forgiveness is put in you, so you put peace and forgiveness in others when you forgive them as you have been forgiven.

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