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.

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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.

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.

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

What just happened? Women running from an open tomb after seeing a young man dressed in white telling them not to be alarmed. Jesus isn’t there. He is in Galilee. The women run away. They were afraid, trembling with astonishment. They couldn’t speak.

Why be so joyful over such a strange account of the greatest moment in human history? That’s the mystery before us today. Saint Mark’s account of the resurrection is a strange one, at least to us. You expect Jesus to be there, either in the tomb awaiting them or outside the tomb ready to show Himself. No Jesus. No corporeal Jesus anywhere. He’s gone.

That’s the point, isn’t it? Oh, sure, you could get suckered into thinking the disciples rolled away the stone, stole the body, found another grave no one will ever find, and then the last deception is as worse as the first, just like the religious authorities told Pontius Pilate in Matthew’s Passion account.

The point here, though, is that there is no Jesus in the tomb. He’s in Galilee, just as He said He would be. No more hiding His divine nature except in the occasional disappearing act or the occasional miraculous sign. Jesus comes and goes as He pleases, first to Galilee, then into a locked room, then on the beach by the lake with breakfast ready for His disciples.

What just happened? Death has been swallowed up by victory. Death has no grip on us. Jesus has destroyed death and the power of the devil forever. The angel guarding Eden with a flaming sword has disappeared. Access to the Tree of Life is no longer blocked. Jesus dies on the tree of life to pay for your sins. Jesus rests in the tomb as your Sabbath rest. Jesus bursts forth from the tomb as the forerunner of your bursting forth from the tomb on the Last Day.

Once you were children of wrath, in slavery to sin and preparing for eternal condemnation. Jesus’ resurrection makes His Father your heavenly Father. You receive everlasting life, the joy of heaven, with all spiritual and eternal possessions promised by our Father in heaven. No more wrath. No more judgment to condemnation. No more eternal chastisement. All the Father’s wrath goes on Jesus in His death. The benefits of Christ’s death are yours in believing Jesus has covered your sin in His blood. The curse of sin is gone. You are holy and righteous in the Father’s sight. You have the right to seek and receive help from Him in every need. In hearing His Word of reconciliation, the Holy Spirit with that preached Word is a testimony that you are connected to God and He is connected to you in your Baptism.

We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song. You receive the benefits of Christ’s victory over death in this house from my hands as from Jesus Himself. Every good work that you do to save yourself means nothing to our heavenly Father. Let your good works shine before your neighbor, so that they are able to see the joy of Jesus Christ at work among them.

Instead of trying to work for your eternity, receive eternity here and make it your own by hearing His joyful forgiveness in preaching and in the Lord’s Supper. From pulpit and altar flow the antidote for a wounded conscience. Day after day Satan works to sully your conscience by flinging your sins in your face, making you think that Jesus can’t possibly cover your sin and give you a happy conscience. That’s exactly what our Savior does. Every sin is covered, dead, and buried. Your conscience is happy because Christ fills you with His joy in His house. In the end, when death arrives, you fall asleep in Christ with the certain hope of a happy reunion in the life of the world to come. Jesus has made sure you have that happy reunion because He has passed from death into life for you.

Now that Christ has triumphed over death, now that your conscience is again clean and happy, you are able to open your lips and lives to rejoice in the resurrection. When you are saddled with unbelief and Satan’s siren calls of false security, flee to the Scriptures. Be cloaked in the joy that sets you free in the Living Word. Call on Christ with confidence. You have unfettered access to your heavenly Father Who is all ears to your requests. That is what Jesus means by seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Stay close to Jesus where He is found in preaching and the Sacraments. Rejoice in your baptism. Eat His Body. Drink His Blood. Sing hymns. Speak the Psalms. Tell Satan to take a hike, for he has nothing on you because of Jesus.

What just happened? The greatest HEY, WATCH THIS! moment ever. God has saved His people once again, this time not in an ark or passing through the Red Sea on dry ground or sparing Isaac from Abraham’s knife or by a fourth man in a fiery furnace or by lions who won’t eat Daniel. God has saved His people in His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He turns your wailing into dancing. He destroys death. He gives life. Fix your eyes on Jesus. He alone is your hope for eternity.

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.

Good Friday – John 18:1-19:42

Based on a meditation on the crucifix by The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Korby.

We are heirs of a long and noble tradition among Christians of meditating on the crucifix. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the learned monk of the 12th century, wrote a series of poems for such meditation. Blessed Martin Luther invited people to use the crucifix or a picture of Jesus crucified as an aid for their meditation. Paul Gerhardt, the great Lutheran hymnist adapted some of Bernard’s stanzas for the Lenten hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”.

The point in meditation is neither to evoke pity for Jesus nor to strive in some physical and emotional way to “imitate” Jesus. Meditation is for nurturing the life of faith, training in the fear and love of God, turning to Him in the life of repentance. We learn to weep for ourselves, not for Jesus. We renew our clinging to Jesus for cleansing, sustenance, and preservation in the faith to our end.

Meditation is thinking with the heart and loving with the mind. It is to practice the discipline of listening to God tell us in His Word how He overcame His wrath by His mercy in the suffering and death of His beloved Son.

Meditation feeds awe and adoration. Perhaps you have seen a child, or you may have been that child, who sat with gaze fixed on father or mother; full of wonder at the strength or skill or presence of the father or mother. Or you might have seen, or been, the beloved who looked at the lover with eyes of wonder and delight, with fullness and contentment. Being in and seeing this presence satisfied the longing and increased the longing.

Such is the art of meditating on the crucifix. The cross on which our Lord hung for us is the hinge on which swings death and life. He is the wide-open door into the presence of the grace and glory of God, the Gate of Righteousness through which the righteous enter.

Let us consider our Lord’s death by meditating on the crucifix while recalling the words we sung in the hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”.

In Christ’s Head we have the thought of God toward us. Despite what we think, God’s thoughts are of good and not evil. Jesus did not think His rank and position with God were the things to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself and became of no reputation. He humbled Himself and became a servant. As a servant He thought to save our lives, not His own. He thought of our interests, not His. He aimed to please and serve His Father, doing the Father’s will for us.

The face is the face of our Lamb. His eyes and face, turned toward you, are God’s sure invitation to come to Him. Come back. Come back to life Himself. And in the final judgment, Whose face shall we see on the judgment seat? It is His face. The One Who sentences us is the One Who has bought us to be His own. He is the One Who has paid the price and is even now interceding for us. Turn frequently, then to that face in your meditation, and see there the glory of the knowledge of salvation from God to you.

The meditation turns to live in the exchange that Jesus made: He takes our sin; we receive His righteousness. You honor Him most when upon seeing the enormity of that burden, you let Him have it. You do not try to cling to the burden. The confession is this: “It is my sin you carried; the wrath that is rightfully mine, you absorbed. Have mercy on me, dear Jesus, the sinner. Do not spurn me.” Such clinging to Jesus the Shepherd is your safety. He is the guardian. From His lips and mouth come words of nurture and joy. The pity we seek and live on is not our own, generated for Him. The pity we feast on is the pity of God, the mercy of God toward us in Jesus.

The journey back to God is a long way. It is from the far country of death. Weariness and fatigue beset many Christians. In the course of that pilgrimage, the love of many grows cold. The imperishable love of Jesus for you – to the bitter end – is a flame at which you ignite ever anew the flame of love for Him. Such love for Him is not the attempt to achieve a certain “feelingful” emotion. Such love for Him is to look to Him, hold to Him, cling to Him, learn from Him, and walk with your feet shod in the Gospel of His peace. The journey back to God is a walk into the valley of death. The shadow of that valley accompanies us long before we arrive at the final moment.

Soul and body languish. Weariness not only besets us at times, but the presence of death, the shadow of the valley of death is death at the door. Whether the languishing comes in the form of the death of dreams, starvation of hopes, neglects of tending to the inward needs, vexations with work, troubles with children or parents or spouses, or the mere fatigue from a long sacrifice, the call to the Savior in His anguish is to conquer ours.

The last stanza of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” is a classic meditation for the hour of death. I commend it to you to learn by heart. It is said of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux that when he was dying, the monks stood around his bed praising him for the fine work he had done. He shushed them and told them to hold a crucifix before his eyes. In death, remind me of Your Passion, O Jesus, my Consolation! My eyes shall then be on you and on your cross. By faith my heart shall then enfold you.

Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. By Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Maundy Thursday – John 13:1-15

There is palpable fear in the Upper Room. Jesus’ disciples, though having been told the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of His own people in order to suffer and die for the sins of the world, are mystified why the Master laid aside His outer garments. He took a towel, tied it around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash His disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel wrapped around His waist. Peter vocalizes what they are thinking. Lord, do you wash my feet?

We could look at this another way. The Savior Who comes among His people as One Who serves is doing what a servant does. This act does not befit the Son of God. Yet He does it. He washes His disciples’ feet because He loves them. John tells us so. He loved His own who were in the world. He loved them to the end. He is willing to do this for them to show them how much He loves them and, in turn, how much they should love others when they proclaim His death and resurrection to the ends of the earth.

How so like our Savior. How so unlike how we think our Savior should be. Why not a lecture on being nice to others? A rabbi is a teacher. Jesus should be teaching not so much with actions but with words. Yet actions speak louder than words. If you think this is something, watch what Jesus does after He washes His disciples’ feet.

Though John is the only evangelist who does not write Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper, Saint Paul picks up the slack in tonight’s Epistle. He says that he received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. Another way of putting it is that Paul traditions what was traditioned to him. Even though he wasn’t there that night when our Lord was betrayed, he was taught the apostolic doctrine of eating and drinking the Lord’s true Body and true Blood as He bids us do in His own testament. Paul is, as it were, telling his hearers about the last will and testament of Jesus Christ.

The last will and testament of Jesus Christ are the words This is my body…this is my blood…do this as often as you do this in remembrance of me. Paul also adds as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. When we think of wills and testaments, we don’t often think of them as joyful documents. When they are read, we don’t often associate them with happy times. After all, we are still mourning the loss of a loved one. Perhaps it’s more relief that we feel than anything. Our loved one’s earthly possessions are distributed as he or she desired in a legal and binding document.

Jesus gives us more than relief in His last will and testament. He gives us forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. That’s love. That’s joy. Jesus meets us here with joy every time we eat His body and drink His blood. He loves us to the end. He’s willing to be a servant all the way from His birth to His death and even to His resurrection from the dead.

We’ve been taught since our youth the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper. That’s not a bad thing to teach. What happens at this altar and this rail is indeed a solemn thing. We take the distribution of the Supper very seriously. It is a Supper for sinners who are repentant. We seek a good conscience. Jesus gives us a good conscience in this concentrated Gospel. He puts the joy of forgiveness and life right in our mouth. You can’t get any closer to Christ this side of Paradise than His Body and His Blood in your mouth.

It’s awkward to eat and drink bread and wine that are shown for us to be Christ’s true Body and true Blood. It’s awkward to think our Savior would stoop so low to do this for us. After all, we’re sinners. Why should He serve us? We should be the ones serving Him. We have it the wrong way. Jesus serves sinners. That’s what He does. He takes care of our sin and death, giving us His life, His holiness, and His joy. He loved us to the end. He didn’t go to His death with drudgery. That’s why, yes, it is a solemn Sacrament.

It is also a joyful thing to eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood. As we sang in the Chief Hymn: “No greater love than this to Thee could bind us/May this feast thereof remind us.” This feast is more than a mere reminder, though. This feast is the giving of Jesus’ last will and testament for you for the forgiveness of sins. Your baptism incorporates you into His life, death, and resurrection. You eat and drink His forgiveness, showing forth that Christ died for you, a sinner. Christ’s victory over death for you makes you a saint, a holy one. Christ gives holy things to His holy ones for their good because He loves you. He gives you a share of His joy tonight and every time you eat and drink the Sacrament.

The “Maundy” of Maundy Thursday is the mandate. Christ’s mandate is love. He loves you. As He loves you, so you love others in His love. You become His joybringers wherever He puts you in life. All that you do, even the most menial tasks, are bringing His joy to your neighbor.

The hour has come again for the Son of Man to be betrayed. Hey, watch this! Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus brings you joy in His suffering, for He loves you to the end.

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

This sermon is revised from an idea by The Rev. Ken Behnken. Soli Deo Gloria!

Though Judas’ kiss set events into motion, it was God’s saving plan that was being carried out. Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son, places Himself into the hands of His enemies as the Suffering Servant on Whom the Lord would lay the iniquity of us all. Our Lord tells His disciples, no one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.

What Judas did looked innocent enough. Jesus, however, sees through it. He wanted Judas to reckon with what he was doing, regardless of the outcome. Even at that dramatic moment our Lord reached out to Judas with a call to repentance and faithfulness: Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

Judas’ kiss is a kiss of pretended piety. Many confess Jesus as Lord yet believe and live as if they don’t know who Jesus is or what He has done for them. Even you give Christ a kiss of pretended piety. The same lips that confess Christ as conqueror of sin and death also claim any number of idols when Christ is not convenient due to friends, family, job, or other circumstances.

The kiss of pretended piety fools no one, especially Jesus. Our Lord says let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. The Light of Christ dwells among you by virtue of your baptism. The Word of reconciliation and new life in Christ is poured over you with water and our Lord’s mandate. The good work begun in you continues by His grace in believing Jesus has wetly robed you in His perfect righteousness. Robed in His righteousness, you, as it were, kiss others in opening your hands, heart, and life to show God’s love in Christ where God puts you to serve others.

Judas’ kiss is also a kiss of religiosity. The chief priests, scribes, and religious authorities expected Jesus to kowtow to their agenda. They demanded signs and wonders, but only to meet their expectations. Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, preached Good News to the poor, and raised the dead. Yet those Messianic signs and wonders performed to help others were not what the authorities expected. Jesus was a threat to them. Threats must be quashed before they become trouble.

You, like Judas, give Jesus a kiss of religiosity. Oh, yes, I’m a faithful follower of Christ. Oh, yes, when those church doors are open I am there. Oh, yes, I get involved more than anyone else. When those sentiments become more important than receiving the forgiveness of sins and rejoicing in the gifts Jesus gives His Church in preaching and the Sacraments, then the idol factory that is the human heart has pumped out another false god. Jesus reminds you the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

Trust not in what you do for Jesus. Trust Jesus. Trust He has done everything necessary for you to live with Him for all eternity. From that simple trust in Christ flows every sort of good work that is intended not so much for the Lord, but for your neighbor, the “little Christ” in your life who sees the good that you do as God Himself providing good for them.

Judas’ kiss is also a kiss of indifference and apathy. Hey, at least Judas kissed Him. Isn’t that enough? Hey, Pastor, at least I get to church more than so-and-so who is here on the high holy days. Oh, Pastor, I have some really nice gospel music CDs that I bought a while back. That’s my church. All you people care about at that church is money and time. I don’t need to be seen with that bunch. Even pastors get caught up in apathy and indifference. Why bother doing the work for a sermon or a bible study when so few people will hear them? Maybe my gifts will be better utilized elsewhere.

All these rotten kisses paint an ugly picture of sin and death among Christ’s beloved sheep. Now is the time to see things as they are. Many Sundays we hear the familiar words, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Judas’ opportunity to repent and believe the Good News came and went. The authorities didn’t help as they told Judas to see to the matter himself. He did. He went and hanged himself.

There’s no need to hang yourself or even hang your head in shame. The worst of sinners have their sins covered in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Hear it again: Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Though Judas’ kiss set events into motion, it was God’s saving plan that was being carried out. Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son, places Himself into the hands of His enemies as the Suffering Servant on Whom the Lord would lay the iniquity of us all. The kiss of death Judas plants on Jesus is, for us, the kiss of life, for Jesus gives life in His sacrifice for our sin and His resurrection from the dead.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – John 8:46-59

Jesus spends quite a bit of time in John chapter eight showing the Jews who questioned Him that there is no difference between the faith of Abraham and the faith of New Testament Christians. Yet Christ’s own people have no joy in believing the long promised Messiah Who stands before them is the One Whom Abraham trusted for His salvation.

Jesus says Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. Abraham saw it when the Lord God said to him I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. The Lord God also said Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. Just after today’s Old Testament reading concludes God says to Abraham in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. Saint Paul confirms these words in Romans chapter four: That is why [the promise] depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

How could the Jews disputing with Christ be so blind and deaf not to know the Scriptures or believe what they say concerning righteousness before God by faith in the Promise of the Savior? Jesus’ answer right before today’s Gospel reading begins makes it clear why. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.

That’s harsh. It’s also the truth. Either you are with God in trusting His promise of salvation in Christ Jesus or you are against him and take your stand with Satan. There’s no middle ground. The middle ground, though, seems to be the safest place to stand. It’s a place to hedge your bet. What if Jesus is right? I can sprint to His side. What if all those promises made to Abraham are empty words? I can sprint away and find safety elsewhere.

Outside of Christ there is no safety. You can’t say you’re a child of Abraham simply because of your blood line or because of your nationality. Being a citizen of the United States of America doesn’t guarantee your place in heaven. Being German or Danish or Irish or Jewish means nothing if you don’t trust Jesus as your Savior from eternal death. Saint Paul makes it plain in Romans chapter nine: not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

All who cling to Christ as their hope for everlasting life are children of Abraham. This happy message creates joyful hearts and soothes troubled consciences. Think of the many Scripture verses that bring you comfort. Most, if not all, are pure good news that declares your sins covered in Jesus’ blood and Satan’s head stomped in our Savior’s resurrection.

Think of the many hymns we sing in church. Today’s Chief Hymn, for example, a hymn usually sung around Holy Week, brings us great comfort. “Fulfilled is all that David told in sure prophetic song of old, that God the nations’ king should be and reign in triumph from the tree. On whose hard arms, so widely flung, the weight of this world’s ransom hung, the price of humankind to pay and spoil the spoiler of the prey.”

The burden of every sin of every human being who has ever lived, or will live, goes on Jesus Christ, the innocent Lamb of God. That message is all over the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, and psalms. That promise weaves through the history of the Israelites and later the tribe of Judah. Even in exile in Babylon God promises ransom not only from the Babylonians but from their sin. How can you not rejoice in the promises God makes in Scripture! How can you not feel sorry for those who seek to discredit Jesus by calling Him a Samaritan and possessed by a demon.

Jesus leaves them, and us, with a HEY WATCH THIS moment. As the young people say, He drops the microphone by telling them before Abraham was, I am. Behold the Son of God, Messiah Himself, telling His own people He is the God-Man long promised to them. Yet they picked up stones to throw at him. Jesus’ hour had not yet come to be handed into their hands. That time comes soon. For now, Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. We can only shake our heads at their impudence.

What about our own impudence? What about all the times we have shook our heads at what the Scriptures say about how God saves us? He doesn’t give us any opportunity to help him out. It’s so easy to distort the clear teaching of the Scriptures to make them say what we want it to say. What it says, however, is that the Scriptures cannot be broken. That is why the Church has seen fit to put this reading so close to Good Friday and Resurrection Day. You must hear how Jesus deals with those who will not hear what the Scriptures say about Him and what He comes to do for you.

You must hear the Living Word willingly lay down His life for your sake and pick it back up again so that you have life with Him. He doesn’t need your help. He doesn’t give you half credit or even leaves part of the job in your hands. He puts the Word of life in your ear and makes a stony heart into a heart of flesh. He works repentance. He declares your sin forgiven. You’re covered. You’re baptized. You cling to Jesus’ cross alone, for there all your debt is paid. You rejoice in the empty tomb, for there you see your future: your empty grave.

Abraham’s bosom isn’t a bad place to be. You’re there with Lazarus because of Jesus. The promise is for you, O child of Abraham. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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