Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)
April 27, 2008
Text: John 14:15-21

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Our Lord Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; ESV). But the first question that enters our minds and hearts is, “How am I going to keep Your commandments? How will this prophecy come true? Because I am a sinner. And I know that of myself I can do not good thing. I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I cannot even make a beginning of Your commandments, so how is it that I will keep them?” And of course, you’re right, if you say this within your heart. Of yourself, you cannot keep the commandments of God. And thanks be to God, your salvation does not depend on keeping the commandments. As a good Lutheran, you know that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Works play no part in your salvation. Ah, but works do result from your salvation. Works come after justification. And you are only free to love God and desire to keep His commandments after the Holy Spirit has regenerated you. And that is the key. Since you have been redeemed from sin, death, and the devil by the precious blood of Christ, and since the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts, the Word and the Sacraments, you are no longer God’s enemy. You love Him. You are no longer spiritually blind and dead. You are spiritually alive in God and have been given the gift of spiritual sight. And out of love for God, you desire to fulfill His commandments.

But again, how do you do that, since even though you are a redeemed and enlivened child of God, you are at the same time a sinner as long as you live in this earthly life? The Holy Spirit, again, working in the Word and Sacraments, keeps you in the faith of Jesus Christ, and gives you the power, out of love for God and your neighbor, to do the works of faith, keeping the commandments of God. Notice that this love for God does not come from within you. The power to keep His commandments does not come from within you. It comes from without. It comes from God Himself, who through His Son, pours out His Holy Spirit like living water into your hearts. That is the promise of Jesus. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (vv. 16-17). The Holy Spirit is called here a “Helper” in our translation. The Greek word is παράκλητον, or Paraclete, literally One you call to your side in the day of trouble, as a child calls his mother when he is hurt. The word is variously translated as Helper, Comforter, or Counselor, all of which hit upon some part of the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of His Christians. He is the Spirit of truth, sent by the Father at the request of the Son to guide us into all truth by His Word. And Jesus is the Truth to which He guides us. The Holy Spirit brings us Jesus. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18). It’s not just that Jesus will come at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. That is certainly true, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus continually comes to us. The Holy Spirit brings Him to us and us to Him in the means of grace, the Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. In this way He keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, kindles our love for God, and empowers us to do the works He commands. Love for God and obedience to His commandments, and even faith itself, do not come from our own resources. God Himself fills us with these through His Holy Spirit.

The world does not know the Spirit. The world cannot receive the Spirit “because it neither sees him nor knows him” (v. 17). This is demonstrated when St. Paul preaches in the Areopagus in Athens. The Greeks, being connoisseurs of philosophy and rhetoric, wanted to hear this “new teaching” that Paul was presenting (Acts 17:19). The Athenians spent “their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new,” so addicted were they to the latest in philosophy and learning. Naturally, then, they wanted to hear this strange teaching about Paul’s God. Paul even uses their own poets and their own altar “To the unknown god” (v. 23) to convince them. But as we learn if we read the verses immediately following our first lesson, many of the Athenians simply could not get past the idea of the resurrection from the dead. “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (v. 32). Those who mocked betrayed their allegiance to the world and their inability to see or know the Holy Spirit. Here the Spirit was speaking through the blessed apostle Paul, calling the Athenians by the Gospel, seeking to enlighten them with His gifts and gather them into His Church. But they would not. You see, the Holy Spirit never forces anyone to believe. There is no such thing as “irresistible grace.” The Holy Spirit never forces a person to leave the world and be joined to Jesus Christ. Before you are converted by the Holy Spirit, you do not have the freedom to choose God or make your decision for Jesus. But you do have the freedom to reject Him. The Athenians who mocked St. Paul rejected the Holy Spirit and the Gospel. They did not know Him. And so many in the world today reject Him. They do not know Him either.

But you know Him. For Jesus has not left you an orphan. He comes to each one of you in His Church, by means of the Word and Sacraments, by which the Holy Spirit calls you, gathers you into His Church, enlightens you, sanctifies you, and keeps you. You have been given a great gift, you who believe. Because you, too, were of the world, which neither sees nor knows the Holy Spirit. But by His grace, without any merit or worthiness on your part, the Holy Spirit has given you faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to you in Baptism, in His living and active Word, and in the Holy Supper, to deliver Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, and all the saving benefits your Lord Jesus Christ has won for you. All thanks and praise be to God!

So if you love Jesus, and you do, because the Holy Spirit has filled you with that love, you will obey His commandments. This is not the kind of conditional statement that says you have to prove your love by obeying the commandments. It is a prophecy, spoken by the surest Prophet there is, our Lord Jesus. If you have been brought to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit, then you will love Him and you will want to obey His commandments. That’s who you are now in Christ. So several things need to be said about this new status as those who love Jesus and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to keep His commandments. First, you will never keep the commandments perfectly in this life. You will fall and you will fail, because in this life you have to continue to struggle with the old sinful flesh, the attacks of the devil, and the temptations of the world. But don’t let that deter you. When you fail, repent, and know that in Christ Jesus you have the full and free forgiveness of all your sins. And when the holy angels usher you into heaven, then your sanctification will be perfect, and the image of God fully restored in you. Second, and closely related, don’t allow your sinful flesh to pull your new man down into spiritual laziness. It’s very easy for the Christian to say, “Since I am saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, it doesn’t matter if I continue in this or that particular sin. After all, works have nothing to do with my salvation.” It is true that works do not cause your salvation. But they do result from it. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1-4). Repent, therefore, and put away your sin. Claim the new life that is yours in Baptism. Third, you need to know that if you are to love God and show it outwardly by obeying His commandments, you will suffer for it. For not only does the world not see or know the Holy Spirit, it is also hostile to God and to Christianity. But take heart. It’s okay if you suffer for Christ. In fact, it is a privilege if you are called to suffer for His Name’s sake. Blessed are you. This is why St. Peter reminds us in our Epistle lesson, “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15). If you are called upon to suffer at the hands of the world, do not despair. The Holy Spirit is with you. Jesus will not leave you an orphan, but will come to you. You are loved by the Father. The world can only kill the body. It cannot kill the soul. So be prepared to suffer, and be prepared to give an account for the hope that is in you, the hope given you by the Spirit in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Love for God is a gift of the Holy Spirit. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This love comes from faith in Christ, which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. And from this faith and love come the works of faith, obedience to the commandments of God. Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Beloved in the Lord, you have been given faith by the Holy Spirit, filled with love for God by the Holy Spirit, and given the power and promise of keeping His commandments. The Father loves you. The Son loves you and manifests Himself to you. He has not left you an orphan to fend for yourself in this world. He comes to you with His forgiveness and gives you new life in His resurrection. Which is the same as to say, He gives you His Holy Spirit. “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (v. 17). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
April 20, 2008
Text: John 14:1-14

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Thomas and Philip ask some disappointing questions in our Gospel lesson this morning. How is it that they don’t know the answers? How is it that they don’t know when they’ve been with Jesus for three years now, following Him as His disciples, walking with Him, talking with Him, eating with Him, sitting at His feet as He teaches, witnessing the spectacular miracles? How is it that Thomas doesn’t know the way to the place Jesus has prepared? How is it that Philip doesn’t know He’s already seen the Father in the person of the Son, that Father and Son are of one divine essence, one eternal God-head with the Holy Spirit, that the Son is the perfect revelation of the Father and His loving will toward us? We’re embarrassed for Thomas and Philip whenever we read or hear this text. We’re embarrassed because they should know better!

When we consider the context of the questions posed by Thomas and Philip, we find ourselves in the upper room with the disciples and Jesus for their Passover meal on Maundy Thursday. This is the same upper room, the same meal, in which Jesus institutes the Holy Supper of His body and blood. But there is a certain sorrow in the air. Jesus has just finished telling the disciples that one of them would betray Him, and that one is identified as Judas Iscariot, who departs into the outer darkness (John 13:30). Furthermore, all the disciples would desert Jesus in His time of great need, including Peter, who would deny Him three times in spite of his boasting. Jesus has told His disciples many times that these things must take place, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, to the chief priests and teachers of the Law, and be crucified, and after three days rise again. So the disciples are sorrowful. That is why Jesus spends so much time speaking His Word of comfort to them in the upper room, and why He there institutes the meal that would strengthen Christians, including you and me, both in times of joy and sorrow, for centuries to come.

So here is the thing about Thomas’ and Philip’s questions… They probably do know the answers. But they are overcome by sorrow. Thus they forget what Jesus has taught them. Now, think about this for just a minute. Isn’t it true that we also tend to forget the Word of Jesus when we are sorrowful? Isn’t it true that when times get tough, we find ourselves easily forgetting the teachings of Jesus? Or else why would we despair? If we really know and believe what Jesus tells us in the Scriptures, how He loves us and has fulfilled the Law for us, how He died for us and rose again for our forgiveness and salvation, how He has made peace with God for us so that we have a loving Father, how we can ask Him anything in His Name, according to His will, for His glory, and He will do it… If we really know and believe this, how can we despair? How can we be discouraged? Because if these things are true (and of course, they are), what can harm us? What can take away our joy? The very worst that can happen to us is that our souls are separated from our bodies for a short time, a time our souls spend in heaven with Jesus while our bodies rest in the grave, only to be reunited again in the resurrection. There really is no such thing as a sad ending for the Christian. For those who are in Christ there is only a happy ending, the happiness of eternal life with God.

But as long as we have the old Adam wrapped around our necks, as long as we still have to struggle with the old sinful flesh, we sorrow and we worry and we doubt and we become forgetful when it comes to Jesus’ Word. While Thomas and Philip ask embarrassing questions in our text this morning, you and I have to admit that we’ve asked similar questions, and maybe even the same questions. There is some wisdom in the old joke that the answer to every Sunday School question is Jesus. Have you ever said to yourself, “I just need five minutes of peace”? It’s a sentiment likely born of frustration in a world that offers no real peace, and certainly no lasting peace. But what if I told you that you can have an eternity of peace, real peace, starting now, even in the midst of war and violence and broken relationships and diseased bodies and even death? You might say, probably with no small amount of sarcasm, “How can I get such peace?” The answer is Jesus! How do I find comfort in my sorrow? The answer is Jesus! How do I find a place to belong? The answer is Jesus! How do I know I have a loving Father who cares about me and only provides the best for me? The answer is Jesus!

To the disciples and to us Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1; ESV). “I will give you peace. I will give you comfort. I will assuage your doubt, your worry, your fear. I will give you a loving Father and a place to belong, namely, in His house.” “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (vv. 2-3). Jesus even tells the disciples, and us (!), “you know the way” (v. 4). And we do, even though we forget sometimes. Thomas knew the way. The way is Jesus. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. Jesus also says to His disciples and to us, “I’ve been with you long enough that surely you know that in me you see the Father. The Father has revealed His loving and gracious will for you in me, that He should give His only begotten Son into the flesh, even into death, that whoever believes in me should not perish but have eternal life. In fact,” says Jesus, “the words I speak are the very words of the Father.” “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (v. 10). “And all of you who are in me are also in the Father, so that you have direct access to the Father, can ask Him anything in my Name, and He will hear you and answer you.”

Let not your hearts be troubled. You know the way. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life (v. 6). Tragically, some do not know the way, and this is totally politically incorrect to say, a stumbling block for many people, but those who do not know the way, refuse the way, reject the truth, prefer their own life to the life offered by Jesus, will perish eternally in hell. Such were the Jews who stoned Stephen on account of his confession of Christ (Acts 7:54-60). St. Peter quotes Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8 when he writes, “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’” (1 Peter 2:7-8; cf. Ps. 118:22 and Is. 8:14). If any of you in the congregation this morning are one of these people who reject Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, be warned that the path you are on leads to eternal damnation. Because despite what Oprah preaches and what the devil, the world, and even your own sinful flesh would have you believe, there are not many ways to God. There is one way. “No one comes to the Father except through me,” says Jesus (v. 6). There is one truth. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), while the truth of God stood before him in the flesh. There is only one life that is eternal, and the only alternative is eternal death in hell. Jesus has come to save us from eternal death and bestow His life upon us. Last Sunday we heard Jesus tell us, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

In Jesus we do have life. In Jesus we have the truth, which not even the father of lies, Satan, can rob from us. In Jesus we have the perfect picture of our heavenly Father. Jesus is the way to the Father. He has prepared an eternal place for us in His Father’s house. So there is true comfort for us, even in great sorrow. Our Lord is patient with us. He doesn’t force Thomas and Philip to leave the upper room when they ask questions for which they should have known the answers. He knows that their flesh is weak. He knows they have forgotten because of sorrow. So He reminds them again. He reminds them of His Word and His works. So also He knows your flesh is weak. So He reminds you. And He bestows His life giving promises. From now on you do know the Father (John 14:7). From now on, you also do the work of the Father (v. 12). From now on, Jesus will do whatever you ask in His Name, for your good, according to His will, “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (v. 13). From now on you know the way, for Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
Good Shepherd Sunday
April 13, 2008
Text: John 10:1-10

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

So many voices… too many voices in our culture, in our world, vying for our attention, demanding our devotion, or perhaps taking the more subtle approach of enticing us with their allurements, wooing us with the whispers of sweet nothings (and I mean literally nothings that nonetheless take on the appearance of sweet somethings), each of these voices promising that if we just follow their lead, we will finally be happy, fulfilled, complete, self-actualized (whatever that means!). You know the voices I’m talking about. You’ve listened to them a time or two yourself. Perhaps you’ve followed them. Maybe you’re following one or two of these voices now: the voices, for example, that say, if you just had a little more money, you’d finally be set. You could finally relax a little. You could say to yourself, “Self, you have plenty stored up for the future. Take a load off. Eat, drink, be merry” (cf. Luke 12:13-21). So you should do whatever it takes to get that extra money, no matter how many toes you step on, how ethically questionable your actions, no matter how you have to neglect your family. They’ll understand. It is for the best. And of course, there are other voices that seek your attention. What you need is a different spouse, or someone other than your spouse, or to claim, use, and abuse God’s gift of sexuality outside of marriage. Then you’ll be fulfilled. What you need is revenge against that scoundrel who cheated you, lied to you, or ruined your reputation. Then you’ll be at peace. What you need is a new car, a bigger house, the newest entrée at your favorite fast food restaurant. Then your life will be complete.

But you know that all of these voices only offer you empty promises. They cannot make you happy. They cannot fill you to satisfaction. They do not complete you. Not even the best things in this life can do that. They may self-actualize you, because these voices are all about the self. And that’s the point. These voices appeal to your self-worship, your self-idolatry. You’re worth it! You deserve it! And yet, if you’re honest, you know that this is all a lie. And you know that these voices come from the father of lies, the devil, and his allies, the fallen world and your own sinful flesh. The devil and his allies stop at nothing to divert your attention from God, turn your gaze from Jesus, to anything and everything else that is not God, especially yourself. Because if the devil can turn you from God by his smooth talk and sultry voice, he can take you captive again to himself.

How different is the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, who calls to us in His Word! You know His voice. It isn’t always attractive to you, because you still have the old Adam wrapped around your neck. But you know that voice nonetheless. It is His voice that calls you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8). “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25; ESV). Jesus, our Good Shepherd says of Himself, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we are His sheep. It is really a confession of sin that we call ourselves sheep. Sheep really are not smart animals. They easily stray. They are always prone to attack. Sheep are too engrossed in their grazing to be able to defend themselves. And even the food they eat can be a danger to them. “Sheep being what they are, will bite on. We’ll snack on any tasty weed, no matter how poisonous it might be; we’ll drink from any puddle no matter how polluted.”[1] So we need a Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who, as we sing in the 23rd Psalm, makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters (Ps. 23:2). He leads us away from the poison and filth of our own choosing and feeds us with the choicest food, gives us to drink of the purest water. He protects us from thieves and wolves. He protects us from all who want to harm us.

So we come to the parable in our text this morning. Jesus is the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who enters the sheepfold by the narrow door. The Father is the Gatekeeper who opens the door immediately for the Shepherd. The thieves and robbers are the false teachers, the Pharisees and Sadducees and all the sectarians and false religionists of today and throughout history. Jesus protects us from these by becoming the door of the sheepfold. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). The Shepherd becomes the door of the sheepfold by laying Himself down in front of it. Jesus lays Himself in front of the door in death. He sacrifices Himself for the sake of the sheep. He gives Himself into the hands of the thieves and robbers, that the sheep may go free. He does this because He loves His sheep. He loves those who are His own, even unto the death of Him. And then He rises again for the sake of His sheep. The sheep find life and immortality in their crucified and risen Shepherd. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do not follow the voices of strangers. Follow the voice of the Good Shepherd alone. He alone will lead you to the green pastures and the pristine waters. He alone can provide for all your needs so that you have no wants. He alone can restore your soul, lead you on the paths of righteousness, and guide you with His rod and staff through the valley of the shadow of death so that you come out on the other side alive and in the perfection of your Shepherd. It is He alone who prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies so that your cup overflows, and goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life, and you are given to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Yes, follow the voice of your Good Shepherd. You know His voice. You hear it every time you encounter His living and abiding Word and the Word made tangible in the Sacraments. The over three thousand souls that were added to the number of believers on Pentecost in the reading from Acts heeded the voice of their Good Shepherd and followed Him. Having been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they followed the voice of their Shepherd by devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42). All of this is to say, these new disciples were concerned to hear the preaching of the apostles and meditate on the Word of God. They participated in the fellowship of the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church principally by the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper, wherein they received the true body and blood of their Good Shepherd Jesus, and were themselves molded into the Body of Christ. And they did all this in the context of “the prayers,” which is to say, the liturgy of the Church.

So how do you know you are hearing the voice of your true Shepherd, and not just someone who sounds like Him? Go where He’s promised to speak to you, in the Word and Sacraments. Devote yourself to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Come to church! Come to Bible class! Participate in the life of your congregation. Receive our Lord’s good gifts in His Supper often. He has prepared a table for you here in the presence of your enemies. Your cup overflows. Come to church and pray and sing with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and offer up your own sacrifice of thanksgiving in response to all God so graciously does here for you.

Follow your Shepherd. Hear His voice. Rest in His safety. He has conquered sin for you in His death. He has conquered the devil for you and driven Him from the sheepfold. He has conquered death for you by bursting its bonds in His resurrection. He has come that you might have life, and have it abundantly. You no longer need to listen to the other voices that contend for your attention. There is only one voice that matters, only one voice that saves. It is the voice of the Lord who is your Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who calls each one of you by name. Jesus fulfills you. Jesus completes you. Jesus gives you eternal happiness. In Jesus, your Good Shepherd, you will never be in want. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

[1] Rev. William Cwirla, Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere, http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/The%20Sermonator/SeriesC/4easter.html.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (A)
April 6, 2008
Text: Luke 24:13-35

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Dashed hopes! That’s the syndrome the Emmaus disciples were suffering from, and you know exactly what that’s like. “(W)e had hoped that [this Jesus of Nazareth] was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21; ESV). We had hoped that He would lead Israel to a new age of national autonomy and freedom from Roman tyranny, but now He’s been crucified as a rebel. Now He’s dead and buried. What’s more, our women have some crazy ideas! They’re seeing visions of angels who say He’s alive! What could these things mean? It’s all so confusing. But one thing is for certain: Jesus didn’t do what we had dared to hope He would.

If you’re honest, you’ve had dashed hopes just like the Emmaus disciples. There have been times when Jesus hasn’t done what you hoped He would. He hasn’t healed that cancer. He allowed the car wreck. He didn’t provide the new job you were counting on. Your marriage is a shambles. Your parents just don’t understand you. Your loved one has died. And what is Jesus doing about it? You had hoped He would have the magic cure. You had hoped He would rescue you with a miracle. But it seems that He is silent. It seems as though He doesn’t care. It seems as though He is still dead and buried, as if the Creed ends with those words.

And yet… Could it not be that sin and unbelief have kept your eyes from recognizing Jesus hidden precisely in your suffering and dashed hopes? Perhaps the problem is not Jesus, but you. Perhaps your eyes are closed in unbelief, blinded by sin, focused on the wrong thing. So it was with the Emmaus disciples. Their hopes were dashed because having eyes, they did not see. They were walking along, talking about the events of Jesus’ suffering and death, but for them, the Creed ended with His burial. “While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him” (vv. 15-16). It never dawned on the disciples that the One walking with them was the risen Lord. Because they had seen Him die. He was crucified, died, and was buried. End of story, in the minds of the Emmaus disciples. So even when Jesus began with Moses and all the Prophets and “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27), they still did not recognize Jesus.

How often is the same thing true of you and me?! Our eyes are wide shut! How slow of heart we are to believe what the prophets have spoken. How slow of heart we are to believe what the Holy Scriptures say. If Christ is risen, how is it that we walk around with dashed hopes? If Christ is risen, how is it that we miss His presence as the God-man for us even in the midst of our suffering, even when the cancer is not cured, even in the car wreck, even in the midst of hurting relationships, and even in the face of the death of a loved one, or our own death for that matter? What is Christ doing about it? He already did more than you could ever have hoped or dreamed! Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ will come again. And in the meantime, He has promised never to abandon you or forsake you. He gives you His good gifts and Spirit. He opens His Word to you so that your hearts burn within you. He abides with you in these gray and latter days as the world hastens toward the evening of its existence. And He takes the bread which is His body, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to you for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is in these gifts that you recognize Him. He reveals Himself to you beginning with Moses and all the prophets, the evangelists and all the apostles in the Holy Scripture, and in the breaking of the bread, which is the Supper of His body and blood. Do you suffer from dashed hope syndrome, as the Emmaus disciples did? You need the Word and the Sacrament. For there you will see that Jesus is not in the grave. He is risen, just as He said.

If you ever wonder where Jesus is when you need Him, you can always find Him right where He has promised to be: in the midst of His Church, His congregation, distributing His gifts in the means of grace. This Sunday is really “Means of Grace Sunday.” The lectionary, the appointed readings of day, tell us that Jesus is present for us in Baptism, the Word of God, and the Lord’s Supper. The First Reading from Acts (2:14a, 36-41) is a selection from St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon, and it drives home the point that Baptism saves us. After Peter had indicted the Pentecost crowd in Jerusalem for the crucifixion of Jesus, the people “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (v. 27). Peter does not direct them to their own works, but to the work of God in Baptism. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vv. 38-39). When you are baptized into the Name that Jesus bears, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, you receive the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. And this promise is for adults as well as children, thus we dare not withhold this life-giving gift from infants who are also sinners in need of forgiveness and the Spirit. Likewise the promise is for all people, including those who are far off, people of every race, Jew and Gentile, thus the great need to make Baptism along with teaching a central part of our evangelism and mission work as the Church of Christ. For those whose hopes are buried in tombs of death, Baptism’s regenerating power brings resurrection life in Christ Jesus.

The epistle lesson (1 Peter 1:17-25), also authored by St. Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares to us that we have been born again (another reference to what happens in Baptism) as imperishable seed “through the living and abiding word of God” (v. 23), and that “‘the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (v. 25), the good news that you have been bought at a price, ransomed “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (vv. 18-19). From this we learn that the death and resurrection of Christ are bestowed upon us not only in our Baptism, but through the Word. And this Word is versatile. It comes to us in a multitude of ways, in preaching, in the public Scripture readings and devotional reading with the family and in private, and in the Holy Absolution, that proclamation of the Word which declares all your sins forgiven on account of Christ. This is also the Word combined with the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Supper that makes these Sacraments efficacious. For those whose hopes are buried in tombs of death, the living and active Word of God enlivens those who have ears to hear and brings them to new birth into a living hope.

The Gospel lesson (Luke 24:13-35) also speaks of this Word. It speaks of the Word of the Lord in the Old Testament, Moses and the prophets, which is code language for the whole Old Testament, and how these Scriptures proclaim nothing but Christ, and how it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory” (v. 26). It speaks of the Word of Jesus explaining these Old Testament Scriptures, and of Jesus, the Word made flesh, fulfilling these Old Testament Scriptures. This causes the disciples’ hearts to burn within them. And it causes the hearts of disciples today, whose hopes have been dashed, to burn within them as well. For Jesus fulfills all hopes. Maybe not in the way we thought He would. Maybe not in the way we think He should. Maybe not in a way that is immediately apparent to us. But Jesus fulfills our hopes in a way we could not have dreamt or imagined. He dies for us. He dies on the cross for our forgiveness. In the death of Christ, you are forgiven of all sin, as am I. And now He hides Himself in our present sufferings to work good, even out of the bad things that happen. And even when that good is never apparent in this earthly life, Jesus is present with His resurrection power, ever making us new. We recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. We recognize Him placing hope on our tongues as He distributes His risen body and blood, given and shed for us for our forgiveness. This body and blood are the price of our ransom. Jesus has redeemed us lost and condemned creatures, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that you and I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

And since this is most certainly true, can we do anything other than gather together with Christ’s Church, as the Emmaus disciples were gathered together with the eleven and those with them, and proclaim to one another the good news?… He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! And there is no greater hope than that, for the hope of the resurrection is sure and certain in Christ our risen Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Update on the Issues, Etc. Wall Street Journal Article

President Kieschnick has responded to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway's Wall Street Journal article, "Radio Silence." For a great analysis, once again, see Pastor Petersen's blog, <http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/blog.php?msg=9204>. The title of his post says it all: "News Flash: The Synod is Deeply Divided." The post also has a link to the full text of President Kieschnick's response.

I don't bear our president any ill will. He is daily in my prayers. But I sincerely hope he is listening to what so many are saying about his poor handing of this situation. He is doing himself a disservice if he just dismisses it as bad-mouthing or breaking of the 8th Commandment. When the truth hurts, that doesn't mean the 8th Commandment has been broken. Maybe it just means it is time for repentance... which, by the way, would be extremely refreshing to see, and a great example to the flock.

God grant us all sincere repentance, and the joy of living as His forgiven Easter people.

Jesus Lives!

Pastor’s Window for April 2008

Jesus Lives!

Beloved in the Lord,

Easter Sunday has come and gone, but did you know that it is Easter all month long? April is filled with the Sundays of Easter. In fact, the season of Easter does not end until Pentecost Sunday on May 11th. The seven Sundays of the Easter Feast refresh us after our nearly seven weeks of Lenten fasting.

But in reality, Easter is not just confined to one particular season of the Church year. We worship on Sundays because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, and every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. The Church year gives rhythm and meaning to our meditation on our Lord’s saving work in His Church, but the reality is that Easter began when our Lord burst forth from the grave that first Easter morn, and we have been in the eternal Easter season ever since. In Jesus Christ, everyday is Easter. Even in the midst of Lent, we know that Christ is risen. Jesus lives! The victory’s won! In fact, because Christ is risen, and because the Holy Spirit has convinced us of the truth of His resurrection, we are able to give ourselves wholeheartedly and confidently into Lenten discipline. Lent is a time of repentance, but not a time of fear, because we know how the story ends. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Not only is our Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead, but we who have died with Him in Baptism have also been raised with Him. We have been raised with Him spiritually now and on the Last Day, when our risen Lord Jesus returns, He will raise us physically from the dead. Because Jesus lives, we have eternal life, body and soul.

This gives us a new perspective as we live our baptismal life in the world. St. Paul writes in the Epistle Lesson for Easter Sunday: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4; ESV). Paul is not suggesting that we shouldn’t attend to the day-to-day matters of our lives on earth. Rather, he is telling us we should live out our earthly vocations with the perspective of those who know the end of the story, that Christ is risen, and we, too, shall rise. We should live from the perspective of those who know our sins are forgiven, we have peace with God, God is our Father and Christ our Brother, eternal life and salvation are our lot, all because Christ is risen. Jesus lives!

Since all that is true, what can harm us? Even the worst sufferings of this life are not worthy of comparison with the glory that will be revealed in us. Now our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Now our lives are hidden under the cross. But when Christ appears, when He returns to judge the living and the dead, then we will appear in glory with Him. Then what is hidden will be made manifest. Then all that is wrong will be made right again.

Until then, the risen Lord Jesus sits at the right hand of God and rules His Church and intercedes for us before the Father. The right hand of God is not some specific locality, but is everywhere God is. And God is everywhere. So Jesus is everywhere, both as God and man. But more importantly, He has promised to be in a specific place for us, namely, wherever His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments are administered. We know exactly where to go when we need Christ’s resurrection life. We go to His means of grace. We go to the Word preached and read, our Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. There the risen Lord Jesus speaks us righteous, washes us clean, and feeds us His risen body and blood. This, too, gives us perspective. It gives us the perspective of Christ’s Easter people, those for whom Christ died, those for whom He lives even now, and those upon whom He generously dispenses His good gifts and Spirit.

Enjoy this Easter Season. And know that Easter is forever for you. Jesus lives! He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Pastor Krenz