Category Archives: Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 15:26-16:4

We could make a long list of “it used to bes.” It used to be that business closed at noon on Good Friday so you could go to church or perhaps take the afternoon to contemplate our Lord’s death before a church service at night. It used to be that businesses didn’t open on Sunday in order to give employees some family time and, yes, let them attend church. It used to be that the pastor was once one of the most educated people in a community. He received some privileges among businesses, and even in the public school. To this day I am asked each year to help choose scholarship winners at Momence High School.

It used to be that everyone in town had a church. They actually went to that church. Children attended Sunday School. Oh, sure, some parents dropped off and picked up their children rather than attend a Bible Study, but at least the children were there. It used to be that you knew where your friends went to church because nearly all of them went to church.

When it comes to the Christian faith, there are a lot of “it used to bes.” Many of them are now history. So it goes. Yet the Christian faith remains in our country even among churches once large but now small. What we notice among the fewer numbers is the greater hostility toward Christians. Granted the hostility isn’t overt and doesn’t involve shedding blood. Still, the world reward God’s charity and a Christian’s love with ingratitude. Here’s one more: it used to be that unbelievers had a grasp on what a Christian believed. You can’t assume that anymore. Many people misunderstand what the Christian faith confesses. Even Christians misunderstand their own confession of faith.

What does Jesus have to say about it all? They will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. I have said these things to you that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. These things Jesus is talking about with His disciples are more than shops closing on Sunday and pastors being respected in the community. He’s talking about two things much worse: martyrdom and being kicked out of the synagogue.

For a Jew, being kicked out of a synagogue means you have all but lost your identity as one of God’s chosen people. Parents, as it were, have no son. Siblings have no brother or sister. You are an outcast, worse than a leper. All this will be done to you because you confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus also mentions dying for the faith. Those who kill you actually think they worship God when killing you.

Some perhaps lose family and friends when they practice the Christian faith, or perhaps even when they leave one particular fellowship and join another. We’re blessed in our country not to have to face being killed by fellow Christians and have it considered a form of worship. Yet these things do happen elsewhere in the world and elsewhere in history.

So much for us being mad about losing little privileges in our country. Yet we panic every time we see what we think is the fabric of our life being unraveled in front of us. We hit the panic button. We think the Gospel of free grace for Christ’s sake for sinners will make others want to go rob a bank or change their sex. So let’s double down on preaching good behavior. Pretty soon the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes “try harder, do better, don’t do this, better do that, or you aren’t a Christian.” The it is finished of Jesus on the cross becomes a “well, not really, until…” in our hands.

Jesus sets a roadblock on our march to the panic button. The roadblock is the coming of the Helper, Whom He sends to us from the Father, the Spirit of truth. The Helper bears witness about Jesus. His witness is true. What is the witness of the Spirit? The water and the blood flowing from the side of Jesus. The words from the mouth of Jesus in His teaching. Where Spirit, water, and blood are, there is Jesus, forgiving sin and giving life to the dead.

That’s what Saint Peter is writing about in today’s Epistle: be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Do. Not. Panic. Your suffering, though perhaps not what others are suffering for Christ elsewhere, is bound up with the suffering of Jesus for your sake. When our Lord suffered upon the cross, He begged His Father to forgive those who put Him there. They didn’t know what they were doing. The same remains true today. Many misunderstand what a Christian believe. It’s not hard to see why because our minds, mouths, and hearts aren’t always in sync. That’s hypocrisy, something well practiced by sinners redeemed in Christ.

Peter continues, above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Notice Peter says one another, not just Christians only or unbelievers only. Love one another. Love those who despise you. Love those you despise. Even if the time comes when you must speak words that you know will anger your neighbor, do so with humility and, above all, love. Yes, Jesus showed anger, but His anger was directed at all the right people: those who despised Him.

Do. Not. Panic. Jesus tells you that you will suffer much this side of Paradise. You are not alone, though. Many fellow Christians suffer with you. Jesus Himself first suffered for your sake. What is more, the Helper has come, the Holy Spirit, Who keeps you connected to Jesus in His Gifts of life and forgiveness given in this holy house. Among all the “used to bes” one thing hasn’t changed. Jesus says, yes, there will be trouble, but “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places” with the joy of freedom in the blood of Christ that cleanses you from all sin.

Advertisements

Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 16:23b-30

If there’s one thing that encourages a Christian to pray, it’s Christ’s words to His disciples in today’s Gospel: Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Jesus makes a twofold oath with this encouragement. He’s not kidding. Whatever you ask the Father in Christ’s name, He will give it to you. Then comes another encouragement: Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. If it isn’t enough to have a promise that whatever you ask the Father in Jesus’ name He will give it to you, now you have an invitation to ask in order that your joy may be full.

So how come you don’t have everything you want, let alone everything you need? Where are the dream house, the dream car, and financial security? Where’s a lifetime of never being sick? Where’s the disappearance of cancer, especially among young children? Where are all the people you love who have died? Why haven’t they returned to life?

That’s what we might be thinking when Jesus encourages us to pray. Lost in the middle of all the things we’ve prayed for that never happened, or yet to happen, are these words from Jesus two chapters earlier in John’s Gospel: Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

The last clause is the heart of the matter. Does your desire of whatever earthly creature comforts you think are necessary glorify our heavenly Father in Jesus Christ? Raising someone from the dead certainly would, but we have no certain promise in Scripture that anyone will be raised from the dead before Judgment Day. Some types of cancer are treatable. Many cancer victims go into permanent remission. Yet other cancer sufferers die. It’s not as if the Father in heaven spins the roulette wheel of life to see who lives and who dies.

What, then, glorifies our heavenly Father in Jesus Christ? The epistle reading for today from James gives us a clue: Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. So how do you do the word? Better still, do you merely listen to the word, or do you do what the word says? What does the word say in the first place?

The word says believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Your salvation is not your own work. God works salvation in His grace, His undeserved love for you, for the sake of what Jesus Christ does for you in His perfect life, His perfect death, and His glorious resurrection from the dead. Christ is at the center of everything your heart desires. He alone is the doer of the word; at least the doing that avails before His Father. To do the word is to believe in Jesus. To hear the word creates the desire to do the word. Yet the word is never done perfectly among us. All the more to cling to the word of Jesus, Who tells you plainly about the Father. You abide in Him and He abides in you. His word of reconciliation covers your sin and delivers life.

The disciples think they “get it” when Jesus promises to tell them plainly about the Father. Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God. It was naive at best for them to assume this about Jesus. They were about to see something that would change their lives. After Christ’s ascension to His Father, the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. Jesus also opened their minds to the Scriptures so that they could, as it were, see the top of the puzzle box and how all the pieces fit together. The word and the Spirit go together in the Christian Church, opening minds and hearts to hear salvation in Jesus Christ.

The joy that we have in Jesus is amplified in believing that whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name, specifically when we ask for matters pertaining to our life in Jesus Christ, He will give it to us. There are times when our trust in Jesus for eternal life wavers. Our sinful nature takes our eyes off Jesus and puts them on what we must do or have not done. The words of Jesus today come as a refreshing reminder that you shouldn’t be bashful to ask for stronger faith, a merry conscience, or renewed joy in believing that eternity is yours for Christ’s sake.

It’s a hard sell for a person who is both sinner and saint at the same time. Remember, you’re not so much asking for a five percent reduction in being sinner or a five percent increase in being a saint. You’re asking for a stronger confidence in Christ; a confidence that places all hope against hope in the Eternal Word born in the flesh as a carpenter’s Son from Nazareth Who gives His holiness and His righteousness to you as a gift.

If the twofold oath isn’t enough to convince you, then consider the simple request to Ask. Our ears hear this as a command, as if we had better do it or the boss will come along and scold us for not asking. The thrust of the request, though, is more like a reminder. Now that the Father is well-pleased with you because He is well-pleased with the aroma of His Son’s all-availing sacrifice on the cross, you get to ask Him in Christ’s name for those things that glorify His Son.

Maybe your earthly father hated it when you asked questions or made a request. Perhaps that makes you gun-shy to ask your heavenly Father for something. That’s why Jesus bids you to Ask…that your joy may be full. This Father cannot wait to hear your petitions. Don’t say no. Open up your treasure chest of questions and requests. He’s all ears. He has all the time in the world for you. In fact, He loves it when you ask Him. He’ll never get annoyed with all your pestering because you are not pestering Him. His joy is full because of Jesus.

The Ferrari, the mansion, or the windfall may not be yours, but so much more awaits you when you ask the Father in Jesus’ name. Salvation is yours. Eternity is yours. Ask in Jesus’ name. You will receive it or even something better. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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.”

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.

An Apology for The Easter Vigil

I didn’t attend an Easter Vigil, let alone know what one was, until I was in college. My pastor at the time started the tradition on the night before Easter not long after he came to my home congregation. Once I saw it, and once he let me participate in it by taking some of the readings and liturgical parts, especially as I was discerning whether or not to be a pastor, I fell in love with the service. It has become a part of my life ever since. When the congregation I once served did not have a Vigil (I was hesitant to start one there as I wished to abide by their customs and traditions), I tried to attend one near where I served when I was able. When I came to Momence, I was happy to hear the Easter Vigil had been introduced here and was celebrated.

The Easter Vigil is a relative newcomer to Missouri Synod Lutheran customs. Much like the Roman Catholic or Anglican counterpart, the service has multiple parts. The kindling of the new fire calls to mind new beginnings, a new hope for Christ’s faithful. The Exsultet sets the tone for the evening: REJOICE! Twelve readings from Scripture showing how God delivers His people may be read. We choose a shorter option and use six of the twelve, always beginning with creation and ending with the three men in the fiery furnace. The Benedicite, Omnia Opera is sung, followed by a renewal of baptismal vows. Here is where baptisms and even confirmations can take place if there are any. My predecessor here did confirmation at the Easter Vigil; an appropriate place for it. Then comes the litany of the resurrection and the first thunderous proclamation of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” as the faithful respond, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” The bells are rung for the first time since Maundy Thursday and the Gloria in Excelsis resounds in the church building. The collect and the reading of Mark’s account of the resurrection follow. A short sermon may then be preached. I use St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily every year. It’s short and to the point; a beautiful homily. Then comes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Suddenly, everything becomes “normal”, so to speak, as the special liturgy of the day gives way to what is often heard among us in the Communion liturgy. The benediction is sung. We go home ready for the Feast of Feasts in the morning.

I understand why many pastors and/or congregations don’t celebrate the Vigil. I’ve heard the reasons. “No one will come.” “I need a day of rest before Easter.” “It’s too Catholic.” “That’s not our custom here.” “We’ve never done it before.” Why not give it a shot next year? If that’s not possible, why not attend a congregation that offers a Vigil? Some congregations do the Vigil differently than others. Whatever way a congregation does it, try to attend one sometime. It’s perhaps the most moving service of the church calendar. Once you’ve gone, it might become habit forming.

You’re welcome to Our Savior Lutheran Church in Momence, IL for our Vigil this Saturday at 6:00 P.M.

Seventh Sunday after Easter – John 15:26-16:4

Christ’s kingdom is a cross kingdom. Saints Paul and Barnabas were stoned in Lystra for preaching the Gospel in Acts chapter fourteen. In the face of bearing witness to Jesus Christ, Paul encourages the Christians there and elsewhere by saying through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 116: I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted.”

Christians throughout the ages have dealt with persecution by continuing to remain steadfast to Jesus Christ, ready to suffer even death rather than deny Him before men. In the wake of recent societal changes, however, it seems some Christians are ready to take their ball and go home, so to speak. There have been calls to retrench into local Christian communities in order to take care of each other and forsake the world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, however, does not call us to sound a retreat, circle the wagons, and hide in our homes and church buildings. We shouldn’t become scared or angry that the world thinks it does God a service by barely tolerating Christians among them. Christ has previously said this would happen. Christ has also provided for rich consolation when it does happen.

Jesus tells the apostles before His ascension that you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. There’s more to the word “witness” than merely opening your mouth and telling the Good News about Jesus. “Witness” also means to be ready to shed blood, if necessary, for the sake of confessing Christ. Confessing Jesus as Lord is more than making some sort of testimony about what you believe. You confess whenever you read a Bible story to a child. You’re passing down the ancient confession of the Christian faith by relating the family stories; God’s family’s stories.

The Holy Spirit is with that confessed word you speak, whether to a child or to an adult. Jesus calls Him Comforter and Spirit of truth in today’s Holy Gospel. The Holy Spirit is first called a Comforter because He brings consolation against the evil spirit who rules in the world. You know there’s an evil spirit in the world because of the way people react when Jesus Christ is confessed. Some people tend to recoil in anger. Perhaps they are confused. Perhaps they have had a bad experience among Christians. Perhaps they simply despise any notion of God. No matter what the reason, as Jesus says, they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. The Spirit opposes all lies and false arguments. Jesus gives the Spirit Who makes you sure and convinced of the truth. Granted, though, that very few are argued into Christ’s kingdom. Apologetics, the practice of defending the Christian faith using Scripture to make logical, sound arguments for the Christian faith, has its place. Nevertheless, it is the preached Word of God, the Word of God confessed with the lips, used by the Holy Spirit, that changes the hearts of mankind. The truth in the preached Word sets them free.

Jesus says to His apostles, you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. Of the eleven with Him at that time, ten of them will die a martyr’s death; a death of witness to Jesus Christ.

Bearing witness to Jesus is more than opening your mouth and talking about what you believe. Bearing witness to Jesus also means to suffer. This suffering doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the gridiron, as St. Lawrence the Deacon died, or on an upside down cross, as St. Peter reportedly died. Suffering for Christ’s sake also happens on one’s deathbed, or even in a prolonged sickness. The sick person bears witness that Jesus will bring them comfort in affliction. The truth proclaimed to them that Christ has died, risen, and will come again, is borne in their bodies as they suffer pain.

It’s hard for us to see it when we’re right there next to one who suffers, or are even the one suffering. “What have I done to deserve this?” often comes to our mind. Your witness in suffering is united with the suffering of Jesus Christ. As He bore your griefs and carried your sorrows, so you carry His wounds within you, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection. Whether you die or whether you live, you belong to the Lord. You are a witness in life and in death, in health or in sickness. Where the world sees a pitiable sight, you see a lamb of the Good Shepherd who waits for healing, either temporal healing or ultimate healing in death.

The Holy Spirit also strengthens churches, especially when they suffer. Wherever the Lord sets up a church, the devil sets up a chapel next door, so to speak. You have seen it play out in this congregation, or in another congregation, through the years. You see and hear the divisiveness among God’s people. The wounds remain fresh even as the years go by.

In the midst of the chaos of Satan destroying a congregation, there stands the Comforter of priceless worth, ready to draw God’s people back to the preached Word, back to their baptism, back to the Lord’s Supper, back to forgiveness and salvation. No one congregation on earth is perfect. No one pastor on earth is perfect. The Church is full of 100% sinners and 100% saints. All the more do we cling to the Word of Christ confessed from lectern and pulpit. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us in Christ’s church, keeping us connected to the Savior.

Then there’s our life among our neighbors. Satan seems to set up a playground in the home. He seemingly moves mothers, fathers, and children like chess pieces. He sets everyone against each other. He makes everyone look like fools. Most of all, he sets up every obstacle to keep them from hearing the witness of Jesus Christ in the Divine Service. Before long, everyone at home is at war, and the Lord God is an unwelcome presence there. It can happen even in the homes of widows and widowers, even unmarried people. Why does God want me here? I’m worthless. It’s all a mess, and it’s all my fault.

The Holy Spirit must take up the sword of truth, the Word of God, and bear witness with that Word. He might say, “Whoa! Why are you up to talking like that? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this frightening sight. Don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven?

“Why do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? Stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But He says, ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ For that reason He suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding He is seated now at the right hand of His heavenly Father.”

There’s your comfort. There’s your witness. The Spirit witnesses Jesus Christ in the preaching of His Word and in His sacramental gifts. Jesus does not leave you as an orphan. He comes to you today in this place, in these gifts, and your heart rejoices. Do not be afraid. Do not sound a retreat. You are His witness. He will comfort you and speak His truth. You live, even in death, for Jesus’ sake. That is your confession, and it is good because Jesus is good.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 16:23b-30

“Come, my soul, with every care,/Jesus loves to answer prayer;/He Himself has bid thee pray,/Therefore will not turn away.” Prayer is a blessed privilege of all children of God. Isaac prayed before Rebekah married him. Hannah prayed for a son, and nine months later along came Samuel. Daniel prayed three times a day. Paul and Silas, bound in jail, prayed and sang hymns.

These days, however, Christians often lack confidence for prayer. Even though our blessed Lord will not turn away from your prayer, you are timid. You throw up all sorts of objections. There are temptations that lure you away from prayer. Yet Jesus bids us to pray in today’s Gospel. He even takes it a step further: Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The joy is in the asking, not to mention the receiving.

There is joy in praying because God has commanded us to pray. “Joy” and “command” usually don’t go together. Who has joy in any command? Yet there is joy in prayer because Jesus promises that our prayers are heard. There can be no joy in prayer because of unworthiness. God is King. We are beggars. God is Lord of heaven and earth. We are dust and ashes, returning to dust and ashes when we die. It is better to hole up in a cave rather than seeking His face and pouring out the heart to Him.

Jesus says, Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Not only are you allowed to pray, you are also commanded to pray. Again, it’s hard to understand that joy and command go together. It shouldn’t be that hard. A child has something he or she wants to tell you. You tell them to tell you. That’s a command. Please tell me what it is you want to say. You have joy in commanding. The child has joy in telling you, even if what the child says isn’t joyful. At least the child was able to speak without fear of being silenced. The child suppresses unworthiness and pounces upon the opportunity.

If Jesus commanding us one time to pray isn’t enough, consider some other places in Scripture where prayer is commanded. Psalm 50: call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 27: you have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” The Sermon on the Mount: Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy: I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. Again and again in His Word God asks us to pray. That gives us courage to pray.

Consider also the sinners, yet saints, who joyfully prayed. David was caught in adultery among other things, but with what joy he prayed. Since his first prayer in Damascus Saint Paul made his prayer with joy, as he tells the Philippian Christians. Command and joy do go together, for in God’s command we find the joy in asking as well as in the hearing.

As important as the command of God is to joyous prayer, there are other reasons to pray with great joy. By nature you are under God’s wrath. Solomon says in Proverbs, If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. Yet Christ has reconciled us to God as He departs to His Father. The Father loves those who love Jesus. If the Father is well pleased with His Son, then He is also well pleased with you. You pray with confidence that the Father gives you a fair hearing for Jesus’ sake.

All the more does this give you gladness for prayer. Satan says your sins ought to frighten you to silence. Jesus takes away your sin and gives you His righteousness. You stand before the Father without spot or blemish. Ask away. Don’t be bashful. Pour out your heart to your Father in heaven. His ears are gracious to the voice of supplication.

Consider Abraham’s request that Sodom not be destroyed as God promised. He enters into a knock-down, drag-out negotiation for Sodom. What if there are fifty righteous people there? Will you destroy it? God says, No, I won’t destroy it. How about forty? No. Thirty? No. Twenty? Still no. Okay, how about ten? For the sake of ten I will not destroy it. We might get testy in a negotiation, especially when someone gets as picky as Abraham. Never once does God get angry at Abraham. He loves to hear Abraham ask, especially when it comes to sparing lives.

Consider also the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Unlike Abraham’s reverse auction, the thief has one simple petition: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. It sounds to our ears like an easy way out of a difficult situation, especially when you are dying. Jesus takes seriously his request. The asking brought the thief joy, for His Savior lay next to him. The answer brought even more joy: Today, you will be with me in paradise. The thief is remembered. There is joy all the way around, for Christ has died and the thief in Christ’s peace-making death.

Despite the command of God to pray, in spite of our blessed sonship with god, we would soon quit praying if we weren’t heard. The Lord will hear. The Lord will answer. He says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

So you ask. Nothing happens. You ask again. Nothing happens. You keep asking, just like Jesus tells you in His Word. Nothing happens. So you quit praying because He wouldn’t hear you. Jesus hears you. He answers you, too. The answer you expect and the answer He gives aren’t necessarily the same thing. Yet the answer you get is the answer you desire.

How can this be? You asked for one thing and got another thing that God says is better for you. Consider what lies at the heart of your asking. A little boy asks his mother for a knife. The boy is not afraid to ask for something that mom knows is going to hurt him and perhaps someone else. So the boy doesn’t get the knife. What the boy gets instead is what he actually wanted: something to play. The intent of his heart is to play. The knife would be the instrument of play. So mom makes sure he doesn’t get the instrument, but he does get the joy of playing. Perhaps mom is nice enough to buy him something better than a knife.

Put anything else there besides a knife. You have joy in asking. Jesus has joy in hearing and answering. The answer you get may make you pout for a moment. Yet the answer you get is your heart’s desire. You pray for healing on behalf of someone. The person is healed…by death. You’re angry about the death. You’ll soon be glad that suffering is over. You’ll also soon see that death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory over death and sin. No matter what you ask, He will give it to you. You might not get exactly what you asked, but you will receive something that will gladden your heart.

Our Lord commands prayer. He is gracious to you in Christ in both the hearing and the answering. You pray in faith that what you pray will be heard. Nothing is too big or too heavy. He is not too small or too meager that He can’t hear you or give you what you desire. Come, dear Christian. Come before the Father’s throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus. Ask for all your earthly and spiritual needs. The Father is all ears and full of grace. There’s joy in both the asking and in the receiving. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

The office and work of Jesus Christ continues on earth even today. Although our Lord is not corporeally present, our heavenly Father has sent His Spirit, Whom Jesus promised before His departure to the Father. The Holy Spirit, working in the preached Word, in water, in bread, and in wine, delivers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Pastors today, though not apostles in the way of Peter and company, proclaim the apostolic doctrine handed down from generation to generation. The message of the witnesses of the resurrected Christ continues until our Lord physically returns to complete our salvation in raising the dead, glorifying the bodies of the faithful, and inaugurating the new creation.

The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ before both enemies and friends of the Gospel. The Spirit, working in the preached Word, chastises the world for not believing in Christ. All who hear the preached Word sense there’s something behind it, even if they don’t receive the proclaimed Word as the Good News. Unbelievers might comment about rhetoric or even how the words used were well crafted. But they won’t hear it as the everlasting Gospel given especially for them. The Lord wants to give them a good conscience in His Gospel. Yet they won’t receive it. The world has a bad conscience in her unbelief.

Think of it. The proclaimed Word says God has devised an eternal righteousness through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. This righteousness is outside themselves, yet it is specifically for those who hear it. Hearken to it, treasure it, receive the Spirit’s Word and you have what it says. Outside of Christ there is no salvation. With Christ there is hope for eternity. The prince of this world has lost all rights and all power. Eternity is yours in Christ.

There are those who politely, or impolitely, say, “No, thank you. It may be for you, but it’s not for me.” The Gospel is for you. It’s yours before you believe it. The Gospel becomes yours when you hearken to it. Yet the Spirit uses that same Word to convict the world of unbelief. The world rejects Christ and His righteousness. The world falls under the same judgment as her prince. The conviction of the world concerning sin brings you comfort because the Spirit has poured the Gospel into your ears in preaching. He has bathed the reconciling Word of Christ over your head in baptism. He feeds the reconciling Word into your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. The world is judged, and so are you. The world is judged guilty, and you are free for Christ’s sake.

The Holy Spirit also glorifies Christ in the hearts of His faithful. After Christ rose from the dead, He opened the minds of His disciples to the Gospel. He does the same with you when you hear His Word read and proclaimed in His house. He also opens His Word when you read the Scriptures in your home. The world sees this and wonders why you would go through the trouble of going to church. After all, you can believe in Christ and not go to church. You can maintain a personal relationship with Him and not need to sit in an uncomfortable pew next to people you only see once a week for an hour.

Saint Paul wonders how shall they hear without a preacher. Christ sets up His Church as a place to receive, up close and personal, the forgiveness of sins. Opening your Bible at home is one way you receive the Good News. Hearing your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake is the apostolic custom of the Christian Church. The apostolic way is to gather at least once a week to hear the Scriptures read and explained, to pray for all needs and conditions of men, and to receive the Lord’s Supper. These things are done in community, one body coming together to be glorified in the Gifts Christ gives you. He speaks it. He puts it in your mind and heart, using men set apart for this work. Victory over sin and death is yours in Christ.

Jesus Christ is glorified when His Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Your sin is forgiven. You are righteous for Christ’s sake. You have been judged worthy of everlasting life. Psalm 98 says, Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for him. The new song is Jesus Christ. He changes your tune from a death dirge to a song of joy.

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

Sorrow for a Christian is not everlasting. It is a frequent visitor, but it doesn’t always stay forever. King David fasted and prayed for his son’s life, the son Bathsheba gave birth to in their affair rebuked by Nathan. When the child died seven days after his birth, David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house.

His servants didn’t understand why David could resume life so soon after losing a child. David responded, While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, “Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

David’s last sentence says it all. Though there is sorrow in losing a son, David rejoices that he shall go to him someday. As he sings in Psalm 30, [The Lord’s] anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

For the disciples on the night when Jesus was betrayed, the night of which King David sings is coming. Jesus will soon leave them to complete the work of reconciliation in His death and resurrection. He also will ascend to His Father’s right hand of power, grace, and glory. Yet He promises the coming of the Holy Spirit not long after His ascension. They will sorrow, but their sorrow is turned to joy, and Jesus tells them no one will take your joy from you.

Sorrow is an easy place to hang your hat. The devil persistently attacks you, bringing what seems like an endless string of temptations into your life. It’s easy to see the absence of God wherever you look. One look at obituaries online or in the newspaper show a constant procession of death around us. When a death happens in your family or among your circle of friends, especially when that death is sudden or unexpected, you have sorrow. Even if a death occurs after a long slog of suffering, there is a release of pent-up sorrow that is tangled up inside our body and soul.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Jesus sees you again today in the preaching of His Word that proclaims an end to death and the hope of everlasting life for you for His sake. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory? Yes, it was necessary. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Sorrow hits closer to home when you realize how you stand before God outside of the promise of the Savior. If the heavenly Father left the work of your redemption in your hands, you would have long ruined it all. Your redemption is a fool’s errand. You can’t save yourself because you are not blameless. Consider also that it was your sin that sent Jesus to the cross. As we sang on Good Friday, “Mine, mine was the transgression/But Thine the bitter pain”.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. God the Father puts your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. Jesus takes your sin. Jesus gives you His righteousness. It’s a sweet swap that saves you.

Sorrow hits even closer to home when the world ridicules you for clinging to what looks to them like ancestral religion or, worse yet, a legacy of ludicrous belief in a seemingly absent God Who is always out to get you. When His love and mercy has its way with you, the moment is fleeting and an exception to the rule. Worse yet, it’s a backstop to the standard that seems to be you trying hard to do the right thing to please a deity who is always angry at you. The world wonders why would you want to partake of something so bad that is supposed to make you feel so good.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Jesus meets you here today with the joy of the resurrection. You have new life. You are a new creation. He puts His Word in your ear, changes your heart of stone to a heart of flesh, works repentance, fashions a living trust in Him, and sustains you with baptismal water, with His Body and Blood under bread and wine, and in the preached Word that creates and sustains hope in this life and in the life of the world to come.

The devil wants you to wallow in sorrow. Yet the devil’s cries are choked by the hand of God Who sends His Son into the flesh to crush Satan’s head and call the devil what he actually is: a liar. Your sorrow is turned into joy by Jesus Christ, Who is joy in the flesh, for He goes to the Father and sends His Holy Spirit to point you where true joy is found: in His house, in His gifts of forgiveness and life. Come and see what God has done: He is awesome in His deeds toward the children of man.

Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

“Pessy”. That’s the nickname my mom calls my dad when he gets in one of his moods. Everyone is out to get him. Everything bad is happening. Nothing right will ever happen. My mom, having been married to him 65 years, knows to aggravate my dad by saying one word: “Pessy”.

“Pessy” is short for “pessimistic”, an adjective worthy of Thomas. When the disciples were on their way to Bethany, it was Thomas who said let us also go, that we may die with him. Thomas saw that Jesus was walking into the hands of His accusers. He couldn’t help but think they would die with Jesus when He went to see Lazarus’s body.

Perhaps it’s better for us to be pessimistic rather than optimistic. Pessimism saves us from become another Pollyanna. So when the disciples tell Thomas, We have seen the Lord, it’s easy to put up a front and think the other ten men are fools. You are the wise one because you’ve been trained not to be so gullible, especially when it comes to the death of Jesus. The smart answer is I will never believe.

Thomas leaves himself an out, though. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. What sounds like the ultimate pessimistic comment is actually an opportunity. One week after the ten disciples saw Jesus alive in that locked room, Thomas is with them. Thomas isn’t ready to give up hope. But he’s also ready to be let down. That’s a fair and balanced way to live.

Jesus gives Thomas a fair and balanced presentation. Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. There’s no scolding. Jesus doesn’t kick him out of the inner circle. He brings the truth to his face. Thomas doesn’t need to touch the scars. All it takes it what he sees and what he hears. His response says it all: My Lord and my God! Thomas saw and touched a man and confessed God Whom he did not see or touch.

Jesus pulls Thomas through. God connected Himself to Thomas in Jesus. We call that connection “faith”. Faith doesn’t need to fool itself. Faith isn’t about what you can see. Faith doesn’t need to protect itself against disappointment by building a wall of pessimism just in case hope is dashed.

Pessimistic wisdom gives way in faith to a new realism that replaces both always expecting the worst (pessimism) and always expecting the best (optimism). Pessimism and optimism is about me. Both are centered in my expectations. Faith connects with God, not with me. God in Christ Jesus guarantees the expectation of victory. Saint John’s Gospel calls the expectation of victory “life”. Life is the real thing because it is connected with God, replacing the disconnect with God that is death.

Life and victory is ours because we are connected with and share in the life and victory of Christ. No longer are they centered on the teetering uncertainty of ourselves and factual evidence. Success in life is no longer judged according to what is seen and touched. Whether rich or poor, whether happy or sad, whether melancholy or at peace with the world, in Christ everything is all right with no qualifications.

The trick, though, is having “you” taken out of the center and having God in Christ at the center. If our eternal welfare depending on what you see and feel, we are already doomed. It is sad to say there are Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe everything is not about them. They will pay Jesus lip service, yet their faith is misplaced. Jesus is the second parachute just in case the first one, our own thoughts and deeds, doesn’t work.

Those Christians look like you and me. Unless I have some sort of experience where Jesus personally comes to me, unless He is right before my face telling me what I need to hear, unless He does everything that I expect Him to do, I will not believe. Unless I have control over God’s grace in Jesus Christ, unless I get to put words in Christ’s mouth, I will not believe. Unless God decides to forgive my sins in a different way than through the Church, I will not believe.

There we go again, putting ourselves in the “I” of the storm, so to speak. When God has His way with you, when He uses His Law to show your sin and let you see how unpleasant things are with you in the driver’s seat, and when, having brought you to repentance, He declares your sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake, at last will you say with Thomas, My Lord and my God.

A life dependent on what is seen and touched is breakable. A life connected with God in Christ cannot be broken. Not even sin, pain, and death can break this life, for such a life goes through these things with Christ. Only in Him is there a victorious way through it all. That’s what Good Friday and Easter means to a Christian. The mess of life has a way out. That way is Christ for you. Christ’s death for you. Christ’s resurrection for you. Christ’s wounds for you. Christ’s proclamation of peace for you. Christ’s baptism for you. Christ’s true Body and true Blood for you.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. He’s talking about you. Live on what you see and touch and you will be broken. Live at bedrock level, live connected with Christ, and you will never be broken. There will be days when you feel as if everything is broken and on fire. In Christ, even those days will have an end in Him, for He says I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Advertisements