Monday, May 25, 2009

Sermon for May 23-24

The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord
May 23-24, 2009
Text: Acts 1:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
Back in the 1600's a movement began in England, springing from the radical holiness and inner light movements. They were called Quakers. This term came from the idea that if a person was overcome by the Holy Spirit, they would begin to quake. Because of persecutions in England, many Quakers came to the United States, settling in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. We’ve had two Quaker presidents, Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. One wonders how good of Quakers these two were, but that was their religious affiliation. Quakers were heavily involved in the abolition of slavery, and in prison reform. Our prison system is sometimes called the Quaker model. Quakers also refused to the bow to the king of England. Why? Because only Christ was King. Other groups that developed in America shared that view, including many New England Congregationalists. This seems like a good sentiment, though it actually violates Christ’s commands given to us Romans 13 and other places. In subsequent generations, this anti monarch attitude has permeated the American church. We could call it our American heresy. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were understood that we don’t bow to earthly kings because Christ is our true King. But, over the years, people have come to even reject Christ as King. They want a buddy, or a divine vending machine, but heaven forbid that we should ever think of Christ as our King. There is only problem here, with this American heresy. Christ is our King.

In Philippians 2 we read: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11) Here the ESV translation is weak. It is not that this is something we ought to do. Rather, this is something that will happen. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ as Lord. The question is whether a person does it willingly in faith, or with an angel’s sword at their back before they are sent to hell. That is a frightening thought indeed.

As Americans we don’t like kings. We’ve fought wars to throw off kings and make the world safe for democracy. Of course one must wonder if this world, filled with sin, ever could be safe for anything. Here is where we as the Church must separate ourselves from the world. We must not listen to the world’s ways. We do have a King - Jesus Christ. He is a great and powerful King who has conquered sin and death on our behalf. He has fought, as our great champion, against the old evil foe, Satan. With a King of this nature, it seems odd that anyone would object. But many in our world want no king but themselves. Ironically, far from leading to freedom, such a view only leads to tyranny. For many it is a tyranny to the needs and wants of the self. But in a real sense, if only I am king, then to get my way, which is my right as king, I must impose my will upon others. How many times have we seen this very thing played out in history? This is not ivory tower theory - this is Hitler, Stalin, and hundreds of other despots throughout the present day and historical world. So it is a dangerous thing indeed to reject the true King.

So why are we talking about Christ as King on the Feast of Ascension? Think on it for a moment. Let’s go through the festivals of the Church. Christmas is about God the Son become flesh. Epiphany is about this man, Jesus, being revealed to the world as God. Good Friday is about Christ becoming our Savior. Easter is about Christ’s victory over sin and death. Ascension is about Christ returning to heaven to take His place upon the throne, as the victorious, resurrected Lamb of God - the Lamb who was slain, but now lives, as we see Him depicted in the book of Revelation. So it is the Ascension that is really about Christ as our King. When Christ ascends into heaven, this is His coronation entrance.

But wait a moment, wasn’t Christ already King? Here is where God operates in a curious way. And Scripture reflects this. Again to Philippians 2: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped...” (Phil. 2:5-6) Christ is King but He does not claim His kingship. Why is He King? Because He is the creator of all things. We belong to Christ because He made us. To see ourselves in any other way would be to rebel against God as Adam and Eve did. Yet, Christ does not claim this kingship, though He would be within His rights to do so. He claims Kingship based solely upon the cross. He is our King because He became flesh and dwelt among us. He is King because He carried our sins. He is King because He died on the cross. He is King because He rose, triumphant from the dead. On this basis alone, Christ ascends into heaven and claims His crown and throne.

Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of grace. He has the power and authority. But He governs His people by His grace. Yes, the unbeliever will still be required to confess Christ in the judgement. But Christ would have us confess Him now. He would have us confess His grace and love. He would have us live with Him and feast with Him as a free gift. He would have us with Him in love and joy. This is the difference between our King and the despots of the world. The despots and dictators would bend people to the their will. Christ graciously invites us into His throne room and to His feast table, to receive His gifts.

The Divine Service, the liturgy, is the gathering of the King’s court. That is why we build beautiful church buildings and decorate them as gloriously as we are able. This is the throne room of Christ. This is where, in Word and Sacrament, Christ gives us His gifts. The Divine Service does not take place upon the earth, but in heaven. We are transported into the courts of heaven and joined together with saints and angels before our King. We ascend with Christ into the heavenly realm, anticipating that final ascension. This is why we celebrate the Ascension of Christ. We have a King of grace and glory. And we are with Him, in His courts, before His throne, receiving all His good and gracious gifts. He does live and reign to all eternity. He reigns in grace.

Monday, May 18, 2009


A Civil War veteran named Grigsby left something very timely on his tombstone. It's more fitting than ever.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sermon for May 16-17

The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 16-17, 2009
Text: Acts 10:34-48
Dear Friends in Christ,
Baptism is a major theme of the Easter Season. This is why it shows up so prominently in many of the appointed readings. This is also why we have been speaking so much about Baptism at this time. Further, if one looks at the traditional service for the Vigil of Easter - that is Easter Eve - is a service of Baptismal remembrance. In the ancient church it was customary to baptize adult converts on Easter. Baptism is also directly connected to the resurrection of Christ.

One of the problems with baptism is that it is a purely physical act. This was fine in the Middle Ages, but since the age of enlightenment, we don’t like physical things. They’re dirty, and messy. You could get wet. Particularly in the case of baptism. We came to a time when people were focused on ideas and concepts, rather than physical acts of piety. Sacramental theology in general and baptism very specifically took a big hit. It should be noted that for the first several decades of Portals of Prayer, there was not a single reference to Baptism or any of the Sacraments. It wasn’t until the 1980's that you started to see baptismal references in Portals of Prayer. Dr. “Wild Bill” Schmelder, down at the seminary in St. Louis owns a copy every single issue of Portals of Prayer ever published. He keeps them stacked in his office and invites students who doubt this to check for themselves. Not only is it wrong and un-Lutheran to not speak of Baptism prominently, it is actually gnostic.

About now you’re saying, Pastor, stop using those big words - those theological terms that only the pastors know. Well, “gnostic” and “Gnosticism” are terms you’re going to need to get a handle on. Why? Because we are living in a gnostic age, with Gnosticism all around. We need to know what is and learn to recognize it around us.

The word gnostic comes from the Greek word for knowledge. Gnosticism radically spiritualizes everything and treats the material world as trash. Any notion of God working through physical means is rejected. Or the material means are considered only incidental. It emphasizes the idea that we should have secret knowledge that God has revealed only to the true believers. So even the Word, that is Scripture, is too closely tied to the material world. The real good stuff, according to the gnostic, comes directly from God. So for example, a person comes and says, I feel that God is leading me to shack up with by boy friend of girl friend. Or I feel that God does not condemn homosexuals. This is Gnosticism and it is both wrong and deadly.

In our text, Peter is preaching to the household of Cornelius. Cornelius was Roman army officer stationed in Judea as a part of the “Italian Cohort”. Most of the Roman soldiers in Judea were Samaritans. Rome often raised auxiliary troops locally to handle garrison duties. Apparently however, there was one battalion or cohort of actual Roman soldiers. This was probably only about four hundred men. Cornelius was an officer in this unit. Cornelius was what was termed a “God Fearer”. God Fearers were gentiles who had come to believe in the Jewish God and worshiped Him, prayed to Him and such, but who had not formally converted to Judaism. They were not keeping the ceremonial law.

God had a purpose in mind for Cornelius. It was time to make a point, to get the Apostles to understand something that they had not yet grasped. The gospel to this point had been preached to Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans were half Jews, descended from the old kingdom of Israel which had been destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The deacon Philip had also preached among the descendants of the Philistines. But here too, at the times of turmoil there had been intermarriage. Also many Philistines, such as Uriah the Hittite, had served King David. But the Gospel had not yet been preached to people who were total gentiles, with no previous connection. God was about to change that. Cornelius had a vision that he was to send for Peter. At the same time, Peter had a vision that he was to no longer regard things as “unclean”. While Peter was puzzling over this, the men from Cornelius arrived. Peter now understood what he was to do. So he went and preached to Cornelius and his household.

What is this business of the “Spirit” falling on Cornelius and his household? It is a repeat of Pentecost. They began to speak in various other languages, declaring God’s praises. Very likely, it was these Romans speaking in Hebrew or Aramaic, which they did not know. Why do I say this? It was spoken for Peter’s benefit and he clearly knew what they were saying. What did this mean? It meant that they were already believers. That they were already accepted by God. God was saying to Peter, these too are My children, perform the act of adoption. What do we mean by that? Baptize them. Render the verdict of God over them. This was not some nebulous concept or head in the clouds idea. This was a concrete verdict. God was saying to Peter, these are mine, now go make it so. It must have a been an earth shattering moment of revelation for Peter.

Peter then baptized the entire household. We see this in the book of Acts. It would be common for many centuries thereafter. For example, Clovis, king of the Franks, ordered that all his soldiers be baptized. St. Paul tells us that there is no longer any male or female, slave or free, and so forth. This is referring to Baptism. In the Old Testament, the Jews practiced circumcision. It marked them as God’s holy people. But only males were circumcised. Baptism, God’s new circumcision of the heart, was for everyone. Notice that there is no command to baptize women. But they did. Likewise there is no command to baptize infants, but they did. They did so because they understood that baptism, like circumcision was not something a person does, but something done to a person. So Baptism was for everyone. It was for all who believed in Christ and also for their children. Because this now defined who a person was. They were a child of God. Why? Because in Baptism, this is the verdict that God had pronounced over them. This is what God did in circumcision. This He now did in Baptism. But unlike circumcision which was for some, Baptism was for everyone. Baptism is as universal as the Gospel itself. Just as it is God’s will that everyone come to faith and be saved, so also it is God’s will that everyone be baptized. For it is in this act, that we are born of water and the Spirit - that we are born as a child of God.

Modern man, even modern Christians, don’t like baptism. It’s too messy. It’s not intellectual enough. It’s not spiritual enough. Why, after all, modern man reasons, would God tie His actions to something as common and simple as water? Because this is not only the God of redemption, but also the God of creation. The God who looked upon creation and declared that it is good. This is the God who created water and then, by His Word made it holy for our use. Yeh, that’s messy. That means we get wet. But then being born in the first place is sort an earthy, messy thing. But then all of God’s work is messy isn’t, with the shedding of blood, eating of sacrifices, circumcision, and the like. Maybe the problem isn’t God, but man looking for his own way to God rather than seeking the way that God comes to us. We come to God as creatures of wrath. But Christ comes to us and washes our sins away, so that we are now creatures of grace. It might be messy. It might mean we get wet. But the results are glorious and last forever. Amen!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sermon for May 9-10

The Fifth Sunday After Easter
May 9-10, 2009
Text: Acts 8:26-40

Dear Friends in Christ,
The weeks after Pentecost were very eventful in Jerusalem. Those living through it were living inside of an explosion. It was a period of breathless and breathtaking activity. Within just weeks of Pentecost the church faced its first internal crisis - a dispute over how charity was being distributed. The Church made a couple of earth shattering decisions. First, as they consulted among themselves, they determined that the Church has the right to establish new offices as it has need. This is crucially important to understand. The apostolic office was established by Christ. From this office, in turn is derived the office of the ministry. The ministry was thus created by Christ and is an extension of the office of apostle, though it is not the office of apostle. The Church is not the Church without the office of the ministry. For the Christian congregation is always flock and shepherd. The great Lutheran father, Martin Chemnitz was very emphatic on this point. So the office of the ministry, which in that time was being exercised by the apostles themselves is not optional. The office of the ministry is the only office in the Church established by God. But the precedent that was set in the Book of Acts is that the Church also can establish additional offices as it sees need. This would include congregational offices like chairman, elder, and trustee. It would include the office of the Lutheran school teacher and the like. The ancient Church selected seven men whom they termed deacons. The charitable work of the Church was turned over to them.

The deacons, filled as they were with the Holy Spirit also began to preach and teach in irregular situations. By this we mean, not in the divine service. Rather they preached and taught in the market place to unbelievers. This is significant. They did not hold the office of the ministry. They could not preside at the public services of the Church. But they could preach and teach as the occasion arose. However, they were clearly working under the apostles. When congregations were formed among the Samaritans, the apostles had to come and certify the work.

It was one of the preaching occasions that led to major eruption. Stephen, one of the seven deacons took to preaching in the Jerusalem market place. He was arrested and stoned to death by a crowd of zealous jews egged on by young man named Saul of Tarsus. Saul then obtained warrants from the chief priest and began to arrest any Christians he could find. Many Christians fled Jerusalem. The story of Philip, another of the seven deacons, serves to tell the story of all. He went and preached to the Samaritans. Then Philip is told to go and wait along the Gaza road. We know this route. History and archeology have confirmed it’s location. These events are not just happening out there someplace.

Philip sees a man riding in a chariot reading. He probably had a servant handling the horses. Now in those days, people did not read silently. People always read out loud. The Holy Spirit revealed to Philip that he was to approach the chariot. The man was reading from the Prophet Isaiah. Philip, as a good Jew, probably knew this portion of Scripture from memory. They would have committed much of the Old Testament to memory. So he knows what the man is reading. He asks if the man understands it. He does not and invites Philip to explain it. Philip then uses these verses from Isaiah, that speak of Christ’s suffering and death, to tell the man about Jesus.

About the time Philip finished with his teaching they came to a village. As I said, we know this route. There is also some historical evidence that points us to this site. In this village there is a spring fed pool of water, about six inches deep. Here is where Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip was then carried away from there by the Holy Spirit and went and preached among the descendants of the Philistines.

This episode tells some very important things. Among them it teaches us about the relationship between Word and Sacrament. Word and Sacrament are inseparable in practice. The Word will always drive us to the Sacraments. The Word creates and empowers the Sacraments. Thus you cannot have the Word without the Sacraments. Neither can you have the Sacraments with out the Word.

So what then is the relationship of the Word to the Sacraments? Why must have these separate things? Is not the Word enough? In short, no it isn’t enough. For the Word testifies to the Sacraments and we desecrate the Word if ignore the Sacraments. Consider this: You are sitting in prison. A new piece of legislation is enacted that sets aside the charges that were brought against you. Yet, you still sit in your prison cell until you can go before a judge. The judge looks at this new legislation and declares that you are free to go. Until the judge renders his ruling you are still imprisoned. The Word is God’s legislation. He has legislated in His Word that we are free from sin and death. In the Sacraments, God renders His judgement on each person individually. It is in the Sacraments that the promises of the Word are applied to me personally. It is in the Sacraments that God’s legislation of grace becomes the verdict of grace. Thus Luther says that a troubled sinner is not to flee to the cross in some generic sense, but to the Supper.

When Philip had finished his teaching, the Ethiopian Eunuch asked, what is to prevent me from being baptized? The Word had driven him to the Sacrament of Baptism, where the verdict would be rendered. You, Ethiopian Eunuch, are a child of God with God’s own name placed upon you. And so for us. We are sinners, just like this man assuredly was. We are no different. We need to hear the message that Christ has died for our sins. This is indispensable, just as it was for Ethiopian Eunuch. But it is just as necessary that this promise be applied to us individually. It is just as necessary, that God’s promise of salvation as a free gift, become God’s verdict pronounced over me. Thanks be to God that He has established His Sacraments, and the Church to administer them. When Pastor Adolph Gallert baptized me in Bay City General Hospital, God declared that I was His child, that His name was upon me. He declared that I had died with Christ rose again to life. In the absolution spoken over me so many times by Pastor Gallert, Pastor Theiss, and many others, God declared my sins forgiven and removed from me as east is from the west. In the Supper, God has declared that this sacrifice of His Son is indeed credited to my account. It is my sacrifice for sin. This is my Passover Lamb, whose blood atones for my sins.

Word and Sacrament. We must see that these things go together. There can be no Word without the Sacraments and there can be no Sacraments without the Word. This has been understood from ancient times, as we see in our text. The Word gives to us the promises of God’s grace. It teaches us what God has done on our behalf in Christ Jesus. The Sacraments apply those promises to each one of us, individually. This, in part, is done so that we have no doubts. I don’t have to worry if God’s promise was really intended for me. The judgement of God has been pronounced over me in the Sacraments. I am free from sin and death. There is no question. God has promised it and God has rendered His verdict of grace. Thus we can look to the Sacraments and have all our doubts washed away. The verdict is pronounced over each one of us. We are indeed free before God.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sermon May 2-3

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
May 2-3, 2009
Text: John 10:11-18

Dear Friends in Christ,
Every year, shortly after Easter, we look at sheep. We have Good Shepherd Sunday. In an agrarian world it’s a good image. Farmers generally know a bit about sheep, even if they themselves don’t raise them. The image of sheep is a mixed image. Isaiah tells us: All we like sheep have gone astray. Sheep wander. On their own they do stupid things. Sheep are not able to take care of themselves. They need a shepherd. But today, the image of sheep and the Shepherd is not so natural. It has to be explained. For most people, a sheep is a soft, fluffy white stuffed animal that we sleep with. We see sheep and say, ah they’re so cute. Isn’t that nice that God calls us nice fluffy sheep. But of course, no it isn’t. God is insulting us. He’s calling us stupid. Sadly, for the most part, its true.

I’m gong to suggest that another animal image might be more appropriate. We are rats. Filthy, disease carrying rats. What does the image of the rat communicate to us? A rat is a person who betrays. That’s what we do. In our sin we betray God. God created us and has given immeasurable blessings. We owe God everything. We are obligated just by the fact of divine creation to serve God. We should give everything back to God because everything we have is from God. Yet, we are betraying rats, who rebel against God. We rebel against the very breath that was breathed into us.

But isn’t the image of sheep and shepherd intend to remind us that God is watching over us. Yes, and not just God generically, but rather Christ specifically. Christ is the Good Shepherd. Christ is the One who is with us until the end of the age. So we can speak of God being with us and that certainly is true. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray directly to God the Father. But we can also very specifically speak of Christ being the principle person of the Trinity who is with us. Through Word and Sacrament Christ is among us according to the flesh. But the comfort of the Shepherd does not change the fact that sheep love to wander. It doesn’t change the fact that the rat is perhaps the better image for today. We are sinners, we are betrayers. All we have to ask is simply, have I kept God first in my life. All sins really, at their root are violations of the First Commandment. All sins are a failure to fear, love and trust in God above all things. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that our lives have not been according to God’s will. When we compare our lives to the commandment we find that we are indeed wandering sheep - or dirty rats who betray our creator.

We must not underestimate the effects of sin upon our relationship with God. Sin is rebellion. It is the ultimate act of ingratitude toward the One who created us. It is indeed crucial that we understand ourselves as creature, that is the workmanship of a creator. We are carefully crafted. We are not the products of random chance. We are not chimps that learned to think. We are the creations of God, into whom God has breathed the Spirit of life. He has made us in the image of Himself. Because of this connectedness to God, we owe God everything. Sin shatters that relationship. It makes us enemies of God. It makes us incapable of serving God. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us that our most righteous acts are unclean before God. This breech is not just for a time. It is for eternity. There is no earthly power that could change this situation.

Yet, in Christ, God would reclaim us. He would place His name upon us. He does that in Holy Baptism. In baptism, the old man, the man of sin, is drowned and the new man in Christ rises to life. Baptism drowns the dirty rat. So when we are baptized we become drowned rats. The rat is drowned and killed. Christ, in baptism, then raises us to life. But the old rat is really good swimmer, as they say. He’s drowned in baptism but keeps coming back. For this reason, baptism is not a one time event, but a continuous washing of regeneration. Baptism’s work of drowning the rat never stops.

The Church struggled to describe this situation for the first few centuries. Then came St. Augustine. Augustine was a brilliant man, though not right in every point. That is to be expected among fallen human beings. It was Augustine who came up with the language to express this situation. We are at the same time saints and sinners. We are at war within ourselves. The saint and sinner are in continuous battle. But Christ has not left us alone. He comes and daily drowns the old rat.

Things brings us back to the image of Christ as our Shepherd. He’s the one that drowns the rat. It is the power of His death and resurrection applied to us that makes us alive. For in this battle between the old Adam and the new man, the conclusion is forgone. Christ has defeated sin and death. That means He has defeated the old man in us. He has drowned the rat. This doesn’t happen by our power, but by Christ’s power. So it is indeed necessary that Christ is among us. And indeed, Christ is everywhere where He has placed His name. Thanks be to God the Father, that Christ has placed His Holy name upon each of us in the water of baptism. So long as we carry that name Christ is present among us. He is with us to guide us and lead forward in grace and blessing. He even leads sheep that love to wonder, turning them instead into drowned rats. That is rats drowned in the waters of baptism.

Today, many Christians wax sentimental. They like cozy and nostalgic images. And what could be more idyllic than a shepherd watching over His sheep in a wonderful, green, spring pasture. The problem, as any shepherd knows, is that isn’t so idyllic. Sheep wander away and get eaten by wolves. They sometime run from their shepherd. Sometimes, they need the shepherd to yank them back with his shepherd’s hook. The more you learn about sheep, the more they remind us of our popular impression of rats. Rat who betray. Rats who wallow in the filth of our sins. But Christ is there for rats too. He drowns them and raises them to true life in Him. So, what’s really so bad about being a rat - that is a rat drowned in the waters of baptism? For indeed, we are drowned in love. We are drowned so that we can be raised to life in Christ. That makes being a drowned rat a good thing. For drowned rats life forever.

Sermon April 25-26

The Third Sunday in Easter
April 25-26, 2009
Text: Acts 3:11-21

Dear Friends in Christ,
It is interesting to note the things that cause a stir among us today. Well we had planes fly into buildings in New York. That caused a stir. We have a little war in Afghanistan and Iraq. That has caused some upset. We have riots because some people were offended by cartoons... Gee, all these things are caused by Muslims. Thankfully not all things that get people worked up, either for good or bad, are connected to Islam. But a great deal of the upset in world is caused by Muslims. It does make one wonder.
Shortly after Christ’s ascension there was a different kind of upset in the temple in Jerusalem. A man was healed. He was a crippled beggar who was known to sit at the entrance to the temple each day. Peter healed the man. Just as Christ rose from the dead, this man now rose and walked. There is a connection between the risings. For Christ rose victorious over sin and death. Being a cripple is one of the effects of sin in the world. It does not mean that this person was a greater sinner than others, but rather that he, like us, lived in a sinful and corrupt world. Just as Christ rose victorious over sin and death, so also the Apostle displayed this victory with healing miracles. So here outside the temple, this man asks Peter for money. Peter simply says, I have no money that is for you. But here I will give you what I have for you. Rise and walk. In this way Peter was showing through this man, that Christ had conquered sin and all its effects.
A crowd quickly gathered. You can well imagine. Think of someone you know personally that has been in a wheel chair for years. You know the person. You know their situation. What would happen if one day, at a public gathering they just got up and started walking? It would attract a great deal of attention, wouldn’t it. This is what happened here. So people wanted to know what this was all about.
Peter, like Christ, was never one to miss an opportunity to preach. And what does Peter point them to? The Old Testament Scriptures and recent events in Jerusalem - things that they already knew. The crowd would have known that there were rumors that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter is stating simply that this man’s healing is proof that it is real. Peter is quick to point out that he had not made the man walk. Jesus had made the man walk. Jesus who is Almighty God, raised from the dead by God the Father. This One made the man walk. So in this man they would see the resurrection.
One might ask, during this season of Easter, did Christ raise Himself from the dead or did God the Father raise Him from the dead? The answer to that question is yes. Scripture speaks in both ways. Here in our text it speaks of Christ being raised from the dead and glorified by God the Father. But Christ Himself says that He lays down His life and takes it up again. Here again is one of those things that ties theologians up into knots as they try to understand. But the problem is that this is dealing with the inner economy of Trinity. No mere man that has ever lived has understood the Trinity. There are many things we don’t understand about how the persons of the Trinity interact. But it appears that everything that God does involves all three persons of the Trinity. We don’t always see all three persons. But they are there. So when we speak of Christ’s resurrection in two ways, this ought not surprise us. This is really a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity itself.
Peter’s words are interesting in other ways. First he lays the guilt trip on them. He preaches the law. He tells them you sold out Christ to be crucified. You are to blame. And indeed we also must take blame as well. No, we were not there. We were not silent when Christ was condemned. Nor were we in the crowd that shouted crucify him. But we participate in the condemnation of Christ by our own sins. For the sins of each one of us was laid upon Christ. It is because of my sins and your sins that Christ died. And each day as we turn back to our sins, we crucify Christ anew. So we must not boast about how much better we’d have been if only we were there. Rather we must grieve for own sins, whether of hated, subtle theft, lying or any of the many other ways we can turn from God’s commands. Peter’s words must sting us as well. For we are sinners who, by our sins, placed Christ on the cross.
Then we must look at how Peter continues. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord...” Here now Peter lays out the Gospel. He speaks of the need to turn away from sin and death, and to Christ. Those who do so will have Christ’s sacrifice applied to them. Peter here is not denying that Christ died for all sins. Rather he is saying that Christ’s payment for the sins of the world will only be of value to those who turn to Christ in repentance. Then Peter continues that we will be refreshed or restored by the very presence of Christ. What a claim - you put Christ death, but this very same One that you put to death will now restore you.
Peter’s claim is not generic. Christ’s presence is never generic. The presence of Christ comes in the liturgy - that is God’s service to His people. Christ’s presence in grace is always attached to Baptism, the Word of Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. The mistake we so often make is to just leave these promises hanging out there, without applying them to us. There is certainty in Peter’s Words. The certainty comes from the fact that Christ is indeed with us through Word and Sacrament. We can take great comfort from this. Christ says at the end of Matthew that He is with us always. Through Word and Sacrament, He is indeed with us always. More than that He is, by His presence, applying the forgiveness He won on the cross to each of us. Sometimes people act as though God being present among us through specific means is a bad thing, as though this somehow limits God. Rather what it does is assure us that indeed Christ is among and we can be certain that we have received His gifts.
A few weeks after Pentecost, Peter healed a crippled man on the steps of the temple. Just as Christ rose from the dead, the man rose and walked. This signified that Christ had indeed defeated sin and death. The effects of sin could now be cast aside. So for us also as we know that with Christ we rise to life. We are assured of this by the fact that Christ is with us, through Word and Sacrament, dispensing His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. He applies these thing directly to each one of us. We need have no fear or doubt. We can say, yes, I am a sinner. Yes, I put Christ on the cross by my sins. But Christ loves me so much that He comes and places His name upon me and claims me as His own. He forgives my sins and feeds me with His own flesh and blood which He gave for my salvation.

Sermon April 18-19

The Second Sunday of Easter
April 18-19, 2009
Text: I John 1:1-2:2

Dear Friends in Christ,
Each of the four evangelists has a symbol. Mark is a winged bull. Matthew is a an angel. Luke is a winged lion. And John is an eagle. Why? Because an eagle soars above and looks down upon the events below. The eagle sees things from above. John, more than any other Biblical writer, writes from the perspective of heaven. While other writers start with some specific event or fact. John starts at the very beginning. And we have before us some of the most profound words in the entire Scriptures.

“That which was from the beginning...” Don’t miss this. There is a crucial point here. The beginning has a different meaning in Scripture than in our usual usage. For us the beginning is the moment something began. World War II began when German troops crossed the frontier into Poland. But this is not what we mean in the Bible. The beginning means before there was anything else. The beginning is before creation. Creation is breathed out by God from that beginning. John here is talking about Christ being there from the beginning. What that means is that Christ has existed from all eternity. “Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it...” Here John is doing more than authenticating his message. He is defining it. I am not telling you about spiritual things. I am speaking to you about the One who is from eternity, who also is a human being who lived among us in time and history. The message is authentic because it is based on real events. More than this it not vague, it can’t be made into whatever we want it to be. It is specific and defined. “[We] testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-” Here John is making it clear that Christ is eternal life. In Christ life was shown to us. Life and Christ are inseparable. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Here then the purpose is made clear. The intention is that we would abide in fellowship with Christ and with our fellow believers. The two are inseparable. Nor is this optional. One cannot be a Christian without fellowship with their fellow believers.

So then what is this fellowship? It is in light and truth. Both of these are important images for us. Light reveals. In the light nothing is hidden. The life in Christ is open in the light of day. It is a public confession. In contrast we could think of groups like the Masons who have secret oaths and secret knowledge. This is contrary to what John is saying here. For the Christian everything is revealed. There are no secrets. We are to live openly in Christ. Likewise there is nothing that is false about the Christian. This precludes any form of hypocrisy. We must never be that which we are not. John tells us: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth...”

What is the basis of this fellowship with Christ and with our fellow Christians? “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Walking in the light here is walking in Christ. It is not a legalistic thing. John makes this clear in the next verses. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And also: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Walking in the light is not about not sinning. John makes it clear that to be in the light we must present ourselves before God as poor miserable sinners. If we say that have no sin, we are accusing God of lying. We know that God does not lie. He is truth. If we are to be truth, then we must see ourselves as sinners. John continues: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Notice those words, if anyone does sin, in the context of this section. Of course everyone sins. Everyone is a sinner. John just got done saying that. So the if here is not conditional, as though we could sin or could not sin. Rather we need to read this more in the sense of when. When we sin, we have an advocate with the father. Jesus Christ will be our lawyer before God’s judgement. There is no other lawyer that can help us.

From Zechariah 3, I am convinced that Satan was created to be man’s advocate before God. He rebelled from that role and became our accuser. But God does not leave man without an advocate. In fact He gives us an even greater advocate. He gives us God the Son. And when God the Father asks why we should be spared, though we are terrible sinners, Christ hold’s up His hands - hands that have been marked with the nails of the cross. Here is why this one should be spared - My blood was shed for them. That is the case our lawyer presents to God the Father.

The mistake would be leave it here. But that we dare not do. We have a clue to this in the beginning of our text. Just as Christ came tangibly to John and the other apostles so Christ comes tangibly to us. We are not left to cling to some vague notion that God has promised this. God applies it to each of us with laser beam precision. In Baptism we are placed in the tomb with Christ and raised to life with Him. In the Absolution we live out Baptism by returning each day to the grace and forgiveness given to us in those holy waters. In the Supper we gather with all the saints on earth and in heaven and eat of the sacrificial Lamb of God, thus claiming Christ’s sacrifice as a sacrifice for me. This is why we say in the Proper Preface for Easter “Therefore with Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, with all the witnesses of the resurrection...” We are confessing that they are alive and we are gathered together with them. This is the fellowship that is created by the forgiveness of sins. They saw the risen Christ. So also do we see the risen Christ in the Body and Blood.

The implications of Christ’s resurrection are staggering. As the old slogan goes - this changes everything. Christ rises from the dead to declare not only His victory over sin and death, but also our victory over sin and death. That is accomplished by the forgiveness of our sins, which we receive in the sacraments. For Luther says, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. Life and salvation mean fellowship with Christ and with all who have been raised to life. Yes, that includes apostles and prophets, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, and the like. But it also includes our loved ones who died in the faith of their baptism. Being in this fellowship created by forgiveness of sins, and applied to us in Baptism, is what it means to walk in light and truth. Christ rose to be with us, and to make us one body in Him. He gives us the tools of Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Lord’s Supper to make each one of us part of that great body of witnesses. This is were we find God’s light and God’s truth, applied to us. This is where Christ’s resurrection becomes our resurrection and Christ’s sacrifice becomes our sacrifice.

Sermon for April 11-12

The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord
April 11-12, 2009
Text: Mark 16:1-8

Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the dangers of something being familiar is that we lose sight of its extraordinary nature. Yeh, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s nice. Now what were we doing? We sometimes we wonder at the women. Didn’t they know He was supposed to rise from the dead? Why were they so shook up? We’ve lived with the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection for so long that it no long phases us. But consider this. Very few people have been raised from the dead. And each of those case there was someone, a prophet, an apostle, or Christ Himself who raised them from the dead. There are passages that suggest that there were others who were raised from the dead, whose names are not recorded in Scripture. But even so we have seven recorded people raised from the dead, one each by Elijah, Elisha, Peter, Paul, and three by Christ. Even if that were tripled, we are still talking about twenty or so. That’s like an average of one every three centuries. It’s doesn’t happen very often. And no one has ever raised themselves from the dead. Dead people just don’t get up and walk away. This is not Dark Shadows or Frankenstein here. This is the real world. Dead people are dead and they stay dead.

The women came to the tomb on Easter morning. They knew this of course. They knew that dead people stay dead. They still trusted that Jesus had come from God. They knew He was, at the very least, a great prophet. Now remember that no one has ever raised themselves from the dead. No one has ever laid down their life and taken it up again. They were concerned about the matters at hand. Could they get into the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus? Could they find someone to roll back the stone for them. The stone was very large, Mark tells us. If it followed the pattern of the time that we see in the archeological evidence, this stone would be set in a track or channel that ran downhill to the closed position. It was no easy matter to open it. You had to roll the stone up hill. Then they come to the tomb and find it already open. They must have been puzzled indeed. Going into the tomb they were met by something even more extraordinary. The body was gone and there was an angel. The angel said to them: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” These women are confronted with an angel and told them that something has just happened that has never happened before in the whole history of world. And I would add has not happened since, either. This was a totally unique event. There was no precedent. They had no filter through which they could understand this. This would have been harder for the women to comprehend than if one day we saw little green men from Mars walking through down town Rice Lake or Frederic. They didn’t know what to think, what to believe. They were terrified.

How long would it take them to fit the pieces together? One week. Ironically, it was Thomas who put it all together, when he falls at Jesus’ feet and declares, my Yaweh, my Elohiem. You see here too we have a hard time grasping these events. Of course Jesus is God! Yes, we know that because it was drilled into us by our parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers and the like. But these people were confronting this reality for the first time. This was not a prophet. This was not teacher. This was God the Son standing before them. They had the puzzle in front of them and they had to put the pieces together. They were being confront with the impossible, but it was real. It is no wonder that they were terrified.

Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian year. It was the first great festival ever celebrated by the Church. At some times and places, Easter is marked by a service that literally lasts all night, ending with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper right after Easter dawn. In some churches, gold paraments are used on Easter to mark it as the highest day of the year. But this does not just mark a great miracle. It does not even mark that Jesus is finally and undisputedly revealed to be God. For there is more to this than Jesus just taking up His life again. He rises as the victorious Lord of life. He rises as the One who has conquered death. It is significant that Christ appears to His disciples with wounds. Wounds that are still open. Wounds that they can put their fingers into. Wounds that paid the price of our sins. Christ’s resurrection, in Holy Baptism, becomes our resurrection to life. We are not just celebrating that Christ is alive. We are celebrating that we rise with Christ to new life. This is why we must never let ourselves think of Easter as common place or familiar. We must never let Easter become just another day for us. It is a unique event - a unique day. It is the day we went from sinner to saint. It is the day that Satan’s power was broken. It is the day we rose to life eternal. And we must never forget it.

Sermon for April 10

Good Friday
April 10, 2009
Text: Mark 15:21-32

Dear Friends in Christ,
Come down! It sound so easy. Come down. Why suffer? If I was being crucified and had to power to come down, I certainly would. I think most people certainly would as well. Crucifixion is one of the most painful processes of death ever devised. It is also one of the most humiliating. Unlike our depictions, crucifixion victims were stripped completely naked.

Come down! This is what the passers by taunted. Christ’s enemies gloated over Him as He hung there. They were gleeful at His apparent fall. The very fact that He was on the cross, was proof, they argued, that all the stories were made up. He wasn’t this great miracle worker. For indeed if He possessed such power, then He wouldn’t be on a cross, would He?

Could Christ have come down? Certainly. He’s God the Son. He could come down and end His agony. Why didn’t He? Because this was the Father’s will. As Christ told Pilate, in John’s account, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it was given to you from above.” It was the Father’s will that Christ not come down from the cross. It was the Father’s will that Christ die on the cross.

Here we have the mystery of the ages. Why would God the Father want God the Son to die? Was God the Father angry with God the Son? No. God was angry with us. Huh? God the Father is angry with us, so He kills God the Son? What an incredibly bizarre concept! Yet, this is exactly what was happening on Good Friday. Even more than this, Christ was willing to die. He was an accomplice to this plan.

This all begs the question: Why was God angry at mankind? Because we are sinners. We are God’s creation, His labor of love and we rebelled against Him. We were His workmanship and we made ourselves His enemies. God was rightly angry at mankind. Sin grieves God. Sin also placed us into the hands of Satan. We became the tools of Satan to be used for Satan’s ends. Mankind bought the lie that sin would free us. Rather it enslaved us. Sin became chains which bound us. We could not break those chains. We could not undo the sin that was done. So Christ took that debt upon Himself and died in our place. He paid the price of sin. He doesn’t come down from the cross, because He is there in our place. He is there pay our debt. He is dying so that we will live.

American Christianity is desperate to rid itself of the cross of Jesus Christ. Many so called church growth gurus will tell you that you should not have a cross in your church building, and certainly not a gory, bloody crucifix. We’re really good people anyway, right. So why do we have dwell on sin and death? It’s so depressing. The reason we must dwell on it, is because its real. We really are sinners. Our problem is not a lack of self esteem. Our problem is that we are dead in trespasses and sins. Our problem is not that we lack motivation. That problem is that reek with death. Our problem is not that we don’t trust God to make us wealthy. Our problem is that we are poor miserable sinners. A crossless Christianity cannot solve our real problems. A crossless Christianity, it no Christianity at all. There is a reason why the very symbol of the Christian faith is the cross. It is a curious symbol. A cross is an execution device. Again think of how bizarre this is as a symbol of our faith. We use a cross to represent who we are. Could you imagine a group that used a headsman’s ax or an electric chair as their symbol? Yet, this execution device is our symbol. It is our symbol because that is where God confronts mankind’s real problems - sin and death. It is our symbol of comfort because we know that there God took our place and died our death so that we would have life.

Come down! It sounds so easy. On one level we wish He would have. But then we would still be in hell. Christ’s cross confronts us with the reality of our sin. Here’s how serious sin is. As the hymnist writes: “Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great Here may view its nature rightly...” (LSB 451) The cross is painful. It is painful because that cross accuses us - it reminds us that we are poor, miserable sinners. It reminds us that our best is still unclean. Such a confrontation is painful, but necessary. We must be made aware of reality. Only then does that accusing sign also become a sign of hope and peace. For in that cross which accuses us, we also see God’s solution. His anger against us burned out against God the Son. That cross forever quenches the flames of hell for all who put their trust in it. The price is paid. We are right with God. Not by our doing but by the gift of Jesus Christ.

Come down! It is what so many would have Christ do. But that was not God’s plan. Christ was there because God the Father willed it. And on Sunday morning, Christ was not in the tomb because it was also His Father’s will that He rise from the dead and declare His victory to the world. We must not join the crowd. We must accept the will of the Father. For that will is good and gracious toward us. It is God’s will that we be saved from sin and death. In the cross, that will of God was fulfilled.

Sermon for April 9

Maundy Thursday
April 9, 2009
Text: Mark 14:12-24

Dear Friends in Christ,
With all the focus on Good Friday and Easter, we miss what may be the most important moment of all. It is the moment that explains and gives meaning to the events that would follow.
The Jewish religion was established at Mount Sinai with the construction of the tabernacle and beginning of the cultus. However, Passover set the stage for the practice of the Jewish religion. It began a pattern that would be followed throughout the period of the tabernacle and both temples. The people killed the lamb and painted the blood on the doors of their houses. The houses that had blood were passed over by God and the life of the first born was spared. But we often miss what happened next. They were to roast the lamb and eat it. Anything that they could not eat, they were to burn in the fire. Later, at Mount Sinai, the people were dedicated to God as a nation of priests by being sprinkled with the blood of bulls that were sacrificed to God. This was called the blood of the Testament. It marks the people of Israel as a people bought with blood. Then comes something significant. Seventy elders of the people ate with God. What did they eat? Meat from the bulls that were sacrificed. Those marked with the blood were set aside for God. Those who ate with God claimed this for themselves.

Christ is the true Passover Lamb - the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Christ explains this to His disciples in the upper room. He was about to die. He was about to do all that God had promised. He was about to fulfill all that had been promised in the sacrificial system of the temple. But some things do not change. To belong to God, we must be marked with blood. To claim this as our own, we must eat of the sacrifice. Since we cannot go back in time and eat of from the corpse, Christ has a new way for us to partake of this. He gives us His very flesh in, with, and under the bread. The bread of the Supper does not represent Christ. It is Christ. It is the means by which we participate in the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. For this to be true Christ must be present in that bread according to the flesh. For this sacrifice to be credited to our account, we must literally eat of the sacrificial lamb. Then, we are sprinkled with the blood of the Testament. But here there is a change. The Israelites were sprinkled outwardly. The blood touched their clothes and their skin. We take the most Holy Blood into our selves. We are sprinkled inwardly - that is our hearts, minds, and consciences. By this we are marked as one set aside by God. We are set aside as that nation of priests.

By explaining this ahead of time, Christ was creating the framework for His actions. He was dying, yes. He chose to give up His life. But in the Last Supper, we see why He did so. He is establishing Himself as the sum of all the sacrifices. He is the living temple. He is the victim and the priest offering up the sacrifice. He is the entire Old Testament cultus embodied in one single person. This is what modern American Christianity doesn’t understand. Most American Christians are totally clueless - like proverbial blonde in all the jokes. It is commonly held that Christ abolished the Old Testament with His death and resurrection. This is false and a poor reading of what Christ, Himself says. What did He say? "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) The Law, that is the Old Testament, is not abolished to this day. How do we know. Heaven and earth are still here. But it is all fulfilled in Christ. This is no more need for a temple. Christ is the temple. There is no more need of sacrifices. Christ is the one perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world. Christ blood takes away sins. The blood of lambs and bulls cannot do this, any more than wine could do this. It is only in that these things become the incarnation of Christ’s blood among us that they have the power to forgive sins. But all this has to be conveyed to us. We must be attached to it. Christ’s sacrifice must become the sacrifice I bring to the temple of God. We do that when we eat of what was sacrificed and are sprinkled inwardly with the blood of the sacrifice.

Maundy Thursday. It is the day that explains the meaning of all the events that are to follow. It explains it by showing how Christ is now fulfilling the entire Old Testament - that He has become the entire Old Testament. In the institution of the Lord Supper, Christ is showing us how these things, His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection to life, are indeed ours as well. We no longer bring lambs and bulls to be offered up to God. God has provided the perfect sacrifice on His holy mountain. In the Supper, He carries us to that place and makes us participants with Him. In the Supper, we make the one perfect sacrifice our sacrifice, by eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood.

Sermon for April 4-5

Palm Sunday
April 4-5, 2009
Text: Mark 11:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the ancient world, there was an old king. He knew that didn’t have long. He was bed ridden. His circulation was failing. In one of the cruelest consequences of polygamous marriage, his wives could not care for him. They were jealous of one another. So each of the wives was working hard to make certain that none of the other wives would gain influence with the king by being his care giver. They had to bring in a young virgin to serve as his nurse.

As the king lay in his bed, clearly in his last days, one of his many sons attempted to lay claim to the throne. But there was a secret oath. One of the king’s wives came to him and reminded him of the secret oath. She also reported what the king’s son was doing. Though the king was old and frail, his mind was still sharp. He knew what needed to be done. He ordered the son of this wife to go the Mount of Olives. He ordered Nathan the prophet and Zadok the priest to accompany him. They were also to take the palace guard. This palace guard was largely made up of foreign mercenaries who loyal only to the old king. Once on the Mount of Olives, Zadok the Priest and Nathan the prophet anointed the boy king. They placed him on the king’s own donkey and led him into the city of Jerusalem. The soldiers cried out - Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh. Thus Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba was proclaimed king of Isarael.

What is interesting is how we read the Old Testament in a way that is different that the way the Jewish people read the Old Testament. We might know the story of Joseph. We might know some things about David - that he was anointed king at a young age, that he had been shepherd, and the he killed Goliath. But this portion of the Old Testament is not well known to us. Yet, every Jew would have been intimately familiar with this - Solomon’s entrance. Why? Because it was one of the high points of the Israelite kingdom. More important than this however, was that there would be a Son of David who was greater than Solomon. And He would make His kingly entrance into Jerusalem in the same manner. He had to come from the Mount of Olives. He had to be riding on a donkey. He had to enter with great shouts of acclimation. As a whole, the Jewish people were not looking for the virgin birth. They were not looking for someone who would lampoon their sins. They would not be looking for a suffering Messiah. They would be looking for that kingly entrance. It is significant that several false messiahs entered Jerusalem in just this same way.

We sometimes call this Christ’s coronation entrance, but that is not precisely correct. It was much the same as Solomon’s entrance. Solomon was not immediately crowned king. His father, David was still alive. It would be a short time before he was actually crowned king. So also, it would be a short time before Christ was crowned king. That would happen on Friday. Instead of a crown of gold, it was a crown of thorns. Christ was a different kind of king than Solomon. He did not come to sit in splendor and acquire vast wealth. He came to be a King who fought in the stead of His people. He would, in a sense, fight a battle with another Goliath like character - Satan. He would defeat Satan, not with a stone, but by His own suffering and death.

In a very real sense, Christ was coming to Jerusalem to provoke His enemies. He knew what would happen. He knew that He was coming to Jerusalem to die. That was His purpose. He stated this clearly on many occasions. Unlike earthly kings who might indeed be greeted with “hosanna”, Christ would literally fulfill that word. For hosanna means “Lord, save us.” Certainly man earthly kings saved their lands from foreign invaders and the like. Christ would save us from Satan, sin and death. That is a far greater enemy than any earthly king would face.

In order to understand why this is important, we must see our own need. This is where the Ten Commandments are so important. We need those commandments, to show us our sins. When we rightly understand the commandments, and compare our lives to them, we understand how we are liars, thieves, murders, despisers of parents, despisers of the Word, and abusers of God’s Holy Name. We see that all these sins flow out of the fact that we do not fear, love, and trust in Christ as we should. This is why we have our young people memorize the commandments. This why we read them in church periodically. This is also why in this past Advent and Lent, we dedicated our mid-weeks to the commandments. When we see our lives in the mirror of the commandments, we understand that we our Lord to save us. We need what “hosanna” says. If Christ had come and established an earthly kingdom, we’d still be screwed before God’s judgement. That’s the point. We need just the kind of King Jesus is. We need a King who dies for our sins. We need to be saved.

Interestingly, Christ entered Jerusalem directly into the temple. Christ would overthrown that temple. In the other Gospel accounts Christ, cleanses the temple. He throws out the money changers. Why? Because the temple was to be a beacon to the world of God’s gracious presence in the world. But Christ would not be done. He had earlier told the Samaritan woman that in the future the temple would not be the place to worship God. On Good Friday, Christ departed the temple. Now this is one of these mysteries about the nature of God. We say Christ was a man. On Good Friday He was on the cross. But He was also in the temple, in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain. At least until the moment of His death. At that moment, we know that the curtain was torn and the Holy of Holies was thrown open. This was Christ leaving the temple. The temple was no longer His throne room. People were to no longer look to the temple. They were to look Christ’s death and resurrection. They were to look for Christ in the break of the bread. It should be noted that in just a few years the temple was destroyed and has never been rebuilt. I don’t believe that God will ever permit it to be rebuilt. Our King lives among us in Word and Sacrament - that is in the liturgy.

On Palm Sunday Christ entered Jerusalem to claim His throne. He came to die. He came to be the perfect Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. But He enters as King so that there is no mistake. He is the true of Son of David. He is the One who truly saves His people as they asked in the word “Hosanna.” He is not like Solomon who built the first temple, but was not faithful. He was not David who was not permitted to build the temple because he had blood on his hands. He is God the Son, the perfect obedient Son of God, the true King of the Universe, in whom God the Father has placed all authority. If we are looking for a savior from sin, in Christ we clearly see it. We see it in a king placed on a cross and crowned with thorns. He would be mocked and abused. But we see the true glory in the gift He gives to us through His death and resurrection.

Sermon for March 31-April 1

The Sixth Midweek in Lent
March 31-April 1, 2009
Text: Exodus 20:16

Dear Friends in Christ,
There is an irony to the occasion of this sermon. A judge heard a suit by an atheist that argued that since atheists had no recognized holidays, Christians shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate any holidays either. The judge dismissed the suit saying that the atheists had their own holiday - April fools day. April fools day is really a liars holiday. My Uncle Arnie once, on April 1st, quietly and somberly told each of the children in turn as they came down for breakfast, that the chicken coop had burned down. They knew it was April 1st but their dad was so somber and serious that they each had to go check.

The Eighth Commandment is actually one of the hardest of all the commandments to get our brains around. It doesn’t forbid joviality and teasing. But it does require a great deal of us. The way we can see this best is to reverse commandment. Let’s forget about, for a moment, what it forbids. Rather, lets look at what it commands us to do. We are commanded to bear true witness. This command does not even allow us the option of silence. We are to bear witness to that which is true. Any attempt to silence the truth is also a violation of this command.

None of God’s commands were ever intended as a weapon to be used against others. Any attempt to use a command as a weapon is in fact a gross misuse of God’s law. In the Missouri Synod today, this is in fact the most frequent violation of the Eighth Commandment. I have rarely heard people utter outright falsehoods. But I have been warned on many occasions, when I knew I was speaking the truth, that I was in danger of violating the Eighth Commandment. What is happening in these cases? Someone doesn’t want the truth spoken. So they use the command as a weapon. In so doing they themselves violate the very command that they are claiming to uphold.

Another frequent abuse of the Eighth Commandment is the implicit slander. I remember a member of the synod’s board of directors telling me, to my face, that I didn’t know all the facts about the attempted firing of Robert Preus as president of the seminary. That if I knew everything I would understand why it was necessary and even good that Preus be removed. But none of this could be told, to protect the reputation of Dr. Preus. What he was in essence saying was that Dr. Preus was guilty of some terrible wrong doing. So while claiming that he was protecting Dr. Preus, he was in fact destroying his reputation, by leaving this unspecified charge hanging out there. Of course, in time, the facts did all come out and there was nothing to this man’s claim. It was just an out and out slander. It was a clear false witness. Yet, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a church official do just this very thing, I would be a wealthy man. You see, we are called upon to make judgements about many things. We must judge truly and honestly based upon what is known. If someone has information that would change that judgement, they must lay it out. If they are unwilling to do so, they must be silent. For their very claim of “secret” information is in itself a slander. If my judgement in the end is wrong, I have still judged rightly, since I have made my judgement based on what was known. My only obligation would be to diligently seek out all the known information. If I have done this, I have not sinned. The Church is not to trade in secrets. It is to deal openly in the light of day. When it does this, everyone can see that true witness has been born. When it is clear that true witness has been born, everyone’s reputation, including the Church’s, is protected.

The key to understanding the Eighth Commandment is to realize that we are to bear true witness to whatever situation is before us. If it is a private matter, then we can deal with it privately. But if it is a public matter, silence is not an option. If we know facts pertaining to it we must bring them forward. This is even ensconced in our criminal law. If I know something concerning a criminal matter, I must bring this forward to the court. I cannot hide it away. If I do, I can be thrown in jail. This is the most frequent way in which the Eighth Commandment is violated. Certainly there are times when someone tells an out and out lie. But most often the violation is failing to come forward and bear witness to the truth.

As we have looked at the commandments Christ spoke from Mount Sinai, we have noted that they are to serve as a mirror. We are to use the law to examine our own lives. And we see that we have not kept the Eighth Commandment. We have not born true witness as we should. In the same way we see that we have not kept any of the commandments. We are to use the law against ourselves. We are not to used it as a weapon to brow beat others. In recognizing our failure, we need to see a couple other things. We cannot do better by our own power. Second, doing better in the future doesn’t undo the sins that we have already committed. So the law, as the mirror, is to show us the utter futility of our own works. The law just sinks us ever deeper. And so the law is given to make it clear that we must turn outside ourselves for help. We must turn to Christ. For only in His death and resurrection can we find a cure for the law’s demands. It is important to know the law, so that we can rightly examine our lives. But it is also important to understand the extreme demands of the laws. We must understand the law is beyond us. It kills us. But the cross of Christ, raises us to life.

Sermon for March 28-29

The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 28-29, 2009
Text: Mark 10:32-45

Dear Friends in Christ,
Did you hear that their going to make a new Three Stooges movie? They’re still working on the casting of Moe, but Jim Cary is going to put on forty pounds and shave his head to play Curly and Sean Penn is going to play Larry. I always thought Sean Penn was a stooge. We’ll see if this one ever sees the light of day. Hollywood is like that. There were several attempts to put Lord of the Rings onto film. Two saw the light of day. An animated version flopped, but the recent one scored big. Dark Shadows was the most popular daytime show ever. Only one attempt to bring it back ever saw the light of day - and it lasted a half season on Friday nights. But the Three Stooges, well, that’s another one of those iconic acts that it would seem natural to recreate. But one wonders if it takes more brains to be that dumb than Hollywood has these days.

Long before Larry, Moe and Curly were on the silver screen, there was Peter, James and John. Even though we have three names, we know that in reality, in the Bible there were twelve stooges. That’s okay, because there were really six stooges on the silver screen - Larry, Moe, Curly, Shemp, Joe, and Curly Joe. And the actor who played Curly Joe was so much younger than the others he had actually grown up watching them.
Peter, James and John were really the originals. They to have patented the idea of putting their foot in their mouth.

Christ says: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” What did Jesus just say? He said He’s going to die. He’s going to die horribly - painfully. This is not going to be fun. Then two of the stooges come up - James and John, - brothers, kind of like Moe and Curly. They ask: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” About now I’d be asking them to go to the doctor and have the wax cleaned of their ears. You want to scream: “Haven’t you been listening? He’s going to Jerusalem to die.” They’re still thinking of an earthly Davidic kingdom. They’re still thinking in terms of earthly glory.

They say patience is divine. Certainly Christ showed more patience than I would have. Christ poses to them a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He’s asking them if they understand what is to come. They insist that they are, but they are still pretty clueless. Christ then tells that they will indeed drink of the same cup. By this Christ is saying that they would indeed suffer and be abused in the same manner as He Himself. James would be the first. He would be beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I. Peter would be imprisoned. His life would be saved when an angel would lead him out of prison. There is a rather humorous account of this that we read in the book Acts. “He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision...they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me..." When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, "You are out of your mind." But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, "It is his angel!" But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.” (Acts 12) Peter would later be crucified in the city of Rome by Nero. John would live to a ripe old age and some even claim that he was bodily assumed into heaven. But in his old age he would be imprisoned on the Island of Patmos by the Emperor Domition. Each of these men would indeed suffer on account of Christ.

This goes to very nature of Christ’s mission and the nature of the Christian life. Christ came to serve. He came to die in service to mankind. He came to be the ransom price for our release from Satan’s power. We see this in laid out so clearly in Chronicles of Narnia. The devil makes the bargain. He thinks that with Christ dead, He will be able to destroy man, even if he temporarily surrenders his hold over us. But the devil does not understand the resurrection. He doesn’t fully understand the power of God in Christ. And so when Christ rises from the dead, Satan is undone. He cannot hold man, since the law has been satisfied.

The Christian life flows out of this reality. Without the foundation of Christ’s death and resurrection, our lives are worthless. This is why these WWJD bracelets were wrong headed. They were focused upon what Jesus would do in a superficial way. They didn’t take into account that much of what Jesus did, we cannot do. Nor was it clear what Jesus had done. That is where we must start. Christ served us. He made us His children. He gave us life that we did not have. Then from this foundation, we seek to serve our neighbor. This does not earn Christ’s favor. But it is a reflection of the fact that we know that we have Christ’s favor. Serving our neighbor flows out of understanding how Christ has served us. If we try to motivate Christians in any other way, we will create self righteous hypocrites who are on their way to hell. The Christian life must flow from the cross of Christ. What He has done for us, must be the starting point. Any thing we do is must be in response to that reality.

Christ came to earth to die. He states that clearly. In this He is serving mankind. He is paying the price of our sins. He is breaking Satan’s power over us. Christ is not a king with earthly glory. He comes in lowly pomp to die. When we seek earthly glory, it is a false glory. Earthly glory is never about Christ. Christ is about eternal glory. Our lives also need to reflect this. Christ has served us. We serve others as a reflection of what Christ has done for us. Christ’s true glory is service. So as Christ has served us so we serve our neighbor. That is what it is to be truly great in the kingdom of God.

Sermon for March 24-25

The Fifth Midweek in Lent
March 24-25, 2009
Text: Exodus 20:15

Dear Friends in Christ,
You shall not steal. This is the new slogan for the plastics industry, right? You know get rid of all the metal products and replace them with plastic ones. No, you don’t think that’s right? I know, it’s the campaign slogan for those who oppose Republican party national chairman Michael Steele. Oh, you don’t think that’s right either. Oh, I know it’s an environmental slogan opposing foundries. I see you’re still shaking your head. That must not be it either.

You shall not steal. What is this all about. It’s about property. Yes, the Bible affirms the idea of private property. The Bible considers property and wealth a blessing from God. But it also condemns those who take it from others. We need to take this apart to understand what God is saying to us.

What is the Biblical understanding of property? It has two meanings. The first is the fruit of ones own labor. Throughout the Old Testament, blessing is described and planting and harvesting. Curse is described as planting and someone else harvesting, such as a foreign invader. So it is mine because I have earned it. I have put the time and sweat in so it belongs to me, to do with as I please. The second meaning of property is that which is freely given as a gift. Interestingly, here there is greater responsibility. A gift is also a trust. Whereas what you have earned it yours to do as please. You can use it wisely or foolishly. It is your call. But what is given to you is a trust. It must be used for the purpose it was given. The recipient is responsible to the giver for the use they make of it. One of the most common forms of gift in the Scriptures is an inheritance. We might say well, what responsibility is there with that. The giver is dead. But the Fourth Commandment requires us to bring honor to their name. So we must use the gift in a way that brings honor to their name. So property is what we have earned and what we have been given. What we have been given is always the more precious of the two.

Stealing or theft is the taking of that which we have not earned and have not been given. So what are some common forms of theft today among the supposedly “good” people. Disputing a will. Unless one can show that there was some manipulation of the deceased, this is theft. So lets say a hired care giver is dishonest and convinces an elderly person to rewrite their will to favor the care giver. It would be right for the family to dispute this and have that will set aside in favor of an earlier will. But they would not be free to claim anything they pleased. In a story, an elderly lady felt so pressed upon by greedy relatives and other gold diggers that at the last moment before her death, she left everything to her lawyer. Knowing that the will would be challenged, the lawyer simply distributed the estate fairly, so that everyone got a share, but at the same time were thwarted as well. He kept only his fees. That lawyer displayed the proper honesty that is expected of all of us.

What about law suits. Even the laws of Moses provided for what we today call civil suits. The Lutheran Confessions teach us that if we have a dispute of a legal nature, the court has been put into place by God to resolve such things. But there’s a catch. We are to go to the courts to demand justice. Lets say our property has been damaged by the actions of another person. We can demand that they pay to put it right. Perhaps we can demand a little extra for our time and hassle, and of course of legal fees. But if we ask for money far beyond what was done, that is stealing. When I was in Indiana, one of my predecessor’s wife fell on a wet floor in a public building. They sued and got a big settlement so that they could retire in grand style. But the lady was not seriously injured. So there, this pastor, was guilty of theft in demanding compensation far beyond the injury that was done.

Can the government be a thief? Certainly. Government’s role is defined by God. It is there restrain evil. It does that by having a police force, military, courts and the like. It is not put in place by God to be our nanny. The government is not charged with taking care of us. It’s charged with protecting us. So when the government seizes property for purposes other than public use, they are a thief. In one case, a church wished to relocate. They spent years buying up small parcels of land until they had about forty acres. They were just about ready to start building when the city came in and seized the land so that they could sell it to a shopping center developer. Even though they offered compensation, this was theft by the government. Sadly our courts have permitted this sort of the thing to happen. Likewise all the attempts at redistributing wealth result in the government being guilty of theft. I would indeed charge the wealthy to be generous in helping their fellow man. That is good, right and salutary. But when the government takes that same money by force, to give out to those it chooses, it is theft, plain and simple. We must see it as such. For such things are grave injustices before God.

You shall not steal. We might think this is one we don’t have to worry about. But stealing is all around us. Many of the “good” people are in fact thieves. Often we ourselves are thieves. We’ve become so calloused by our society and our bad laws that we often don’t even see our thievery. And so we must repent of this also. But we do not repent without hope. For we know that in Christ our sins are forgiven. We can turn to Christ with certain that hope that He will indeed turn a gracious eye to us, as He once did to another thief. We know that we also will hear those words of assurance from the lips of Christ - “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Sermon for Mach 21-22

The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 21-22, 2009
Text: Numbers 21:4-9

Dear Friends in Christ,
Are we there yet? Parents dread hearing those words when they’re traveling in the car. Sometimes children ask it so much that the parents just want to wack the kids up the side the of head. Children haven’t yet learned to enjoy the journey. I love seeing the countryside, especially as it goes through the seasonal changes. Often times people today are impatient to get to the end of a movie. Many people don’t like long movies. They say that they can’t sit that long. So something like Lord of the Rings which is ten hours long, they don’t bother to see. Their impatience costs them what is perhaps the greatest cinematic epic of all time. Most scientific advances come from great patience. Thomas Edison and his team of scientists tried hundreds of materials before trying carbon fiber as filament. One of his workers threw up his hands in frustration and exclaimed that they’d tried a hundred different materials and they’d learned nothing. They were no closer to making light bulb. To which Edison replied, no we now know a hundred ways not to make a light bulb. And of course every wine maker knows that best wine take years to produce. Impatience will only result in producing the cheap stuff.

The Israelites were finally getting close to the time when they would enter the promised land. They had been wandering for many years. The nation of Edom would not let them cross through their territory. So they had to go further out into the desert and travel around Edom. In reality this only increased their journey by a few days, but the people grew impatient. Thus we read: And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food." We have to read that closely. They had food. They had manna which God provided. But they were tired of manna. It’s like the lady who called 911 because her local McDonalds was out of Chicken McNuggets. I mean after all, how many ways can you prepare manna? Manna bread, manna bagels, manna pitas, manna waffles... you get the idea. I suppose after forty years of the same thing for dinner, we’d get a little cranky too.

By the way, what is manna? It is a fungus, related to the mushroom, which grows up at night in the desert. It can be dried and pounded into flour. But it does not keep for any length of time. So it must be prepared and eaten very quickly. It does still appear occasionally in small patches today and it is highly prized by desert people. The miracle was God’s multiplying a rare thing to feed a couple million of people.

The people complained against God and against Moses. First of all what had Moses done? He wasn’t in charge. He was just following God’s orders. Second, God is providing free food, preserving their clothing and shoes so that they miraculously did not wear out. He had set them free from slavery in Egypt and shown them many great signs - like the parting the Red Sea. God had given enemies into their hands. They still didn’t get it. They still didn’t really believe.

We might marvel at this but we should not. Miracles do not produce faith. St. Paul tells us in Romans that faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Here is the greater marvel. They had that Word. They had been at Mount Sinai. They had the teaching of Moses laid before them. It would seem to us that with that Word, reinforced as it were by the great signs, they would have indeed believed. And indeed we know that some, like Joshua and Caleb did. But many did not. Why? We don’t know. In Lutheranism, we call this the cross of theology - or crux theologum. In Lutheranism we absolutely refuse even to attempt to explain why one person is saved another is not. This is hidden from us. Only God Himself knows and understands this - perhaps even only God the Father. We might ask why, for example, God sends missionaries to one tribe and but another tribe in the same region is never evangelized? We simply don’t know this and cannot answer it. In fact, attempting to answer this question leads to heresy. The Calvinists, in attempting to answer this turn to double predestination - that is God, in His wisdom chooses whom He will save and whom He won’t save. He predestines each man either to heaven or to hell. But the Scriptures are clear that God does not predestine anyone to hell. He desires that all men would be saved. The Armenians and Wesleyans insist that it is all determined by our decision to give our lives to Jesus. But this then would be work righteousness and make us the cause of our own salvation. So Lutheranism has simply said, no, we cannot offer an answer. For human logic would always in the end violate the Scriptures. So we must just leave this hanging out there unanswered.

Back to the Israelites. They grumbled against God and Moses. So God did something to get their attention. He sent a plague of snakes. Many died, painfully, from the poison of the snakes. And it worked, for we read: And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us." But God didn’t take the snakes away. He would test them further. He would ask them, “Do you really trust in Me and My words of promise?” He is using this to separate the believers from the unbelievers. God instructs Moses to make an image of the snakes that were plaguing them and put it on display. So Moses fashioned snake from bronze and placed it on a pole in their camp. Anyone who was bitten and looked to it was saved. Those who did not looked to the bronze serpent, died.

What did this bronze serpent do? Nothing. It’s a statue, an image. It has no power. Much the same as water, bread and wine have no power. The power here was the promise of God. If you trust God’s words, you will cast your eyes where He has instructed you to look. So for the Israelites it was the bronze serpent. For us, we are to look to Word and Sacrament. Word and Sacrament is our bronze serpent - the thing that we are to look to for our salvation. Why? Because these things have great power in themselves? No. Because God has attached His Word of Promise to these things. He tells us that in Baptism we die and rise with Christ. He tells us that in the Supper we participate in His sacrificial death. This is not our fancy. This is the promise of God. And in a very real sense, even today, God is dividing the believers from the unbelievers. The believers seek God where He has promised to be - in Word and Sacrament. To demand God’s presence in some other way, such as in our experiences, is really unbelief. It is a rejection of the promises God has given us.

The bronze serpent teaches us that we must look to God’s promises for our salvation. Only where God has promises it, will we be saved. Christ makes this connection very clearly in pointing to the bronze serpent. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so too will the Son of Man be lifted up. He would be lifted up upon the cross, so that all who look to Him, as God would have us look to Him, will indeed be saved. Amen!

Sermon for March 17-18

The Fourth Midweek in Lent
March 17-18,2009
Text: Exodus 20:14

Dear Friends in Christ,
Ah, yes, the Sixth Commandment. Everyone’s favorite commandment. It has been the butt of more jokes than almost any other of the commandments. Society has wavered between libertine disregard for the commandment on one hand and pietistic hyper strictness on the other.

Part of the problem has to do with our lack of a clear understanding of creation. We act as though sex and sexuality are part of the fall - almost as though Adam and Eve didn’t have private parts until they ate the fruit. So let’s be clear about this. Adam and Eve would have had sexual relations even if they had not fallen into sin. They may even have had sexual relations before the fall. We don’t know that one way or the other.

One of the games Satan plays is to divide the world into material and spiritual. The spiritual is the higher order and the material is the lesser thing. But this is not what we learn from Scripture. All that is comes from God’s creative hand and Word. Whether something is spirit or flesh and bone is of no matter. Both are equally important parts of creation.

This division of spirit and material is called dualism. In its most extreme forms it is even claimed that the material world was created by the devil. There are two reactions to dualism with regard to sexuality. One reaction is to be completely libertine. After all its only the spiritual world that’s important. What we do in the material world doesn’t matter. The other reaction is to demand total celibacy, even to the point mutilating the body to prevent it. The ancient church struggled with dualism and sexuality. This led to both Augustine and Jerome teaching that sexuality was only for reproduction and was to be otherwise totally avoided. Since of course these are two of the most influential of the church fathers, their error was compounded over the centuries. It wasn’t until the time of Luther, more than a thousand years later, that there was a corrective.

Another term for sexual relations is marital relations. This is in fact a good term. For that is what God intends. In the context of marriage, man and woman become one flesh. They join together. In this way they build a strong relationship. Sexual relations were created also for this purpose. And in a proper Christian marriage relationship, sexual relations, like all aspects of married life, are focused on the other. So one does not demand this or that from the other because they would get some cheap thrill out of it. But each person is looking to serve the other and will seek to make certain that the other person’s needs are met. There must never be humiliation or control, but a free giving of self to the one flesh relationship.

About now you’re saying, pastor, I needed this sermon forty years ago. I think I’m a little past this. First, there is no age limit, though age sometimes limits us. As age and infirmity place limits upon this, we should share what intimacy we are still able to do. Even something as simple as holding hands, can be a continuation of that one flesh relationship. Because this is a one flesh relationship, however, each must sacrifice for the other. Perhaps at a certain point, one is more capable than the other. This might be especially true if a person is disabled at a young age. This does not dissolve the bond. Here is where we must make the greatest of sacrifices. Our own needs must always be placed below the needs of the other. So a person whose spouse is no longer capable of certain forms of intimacy is not free to seek it elsewhere. They must sacrifice for the other. Ah, but pastor, I’m even beyond that. I’m widowed. Yes, but now how do you speak to your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of these things? Do you encourage them to respect the one flesh bond of marriage, or do you approve of false ways? Remember that there is something that makes it easier for children to speak to grandma and grandpa about these things than it is to speak to mom and dad. So you who are widowed still must have an understanding of these things.

Nor does age release us from the command of God. My friend Diane has been moaning about her father’s flagrant fornication with his girl friend. His excuse is that he is widowed and they’re too old to have - oops - a baby. So what’s the big deal? Well, because God has said that these things are reserved for marriage. We are to bond together and be truly one flesh. We are not to play at it or dabble at it.

Sexual sins are like all sins. No one obeys this command perfectly, even for a day. At some level, in thought, word, or deed, we break the Sixth Commandment each day. This we must place at the cross, even as we seek to do better. It does not matter if it seems a minor violation or a flagrant shattering of the command, Christ has paid for all this. So for us we cling the cross. And for others, who we see around us, we must be like Christ. We must speak truthfully. To violate the Sixth Commandment is a sin. Go and sin no more. But at the same time, we must forgive the repentant, as Christ has also forgiven them.