Easter 6 – "Praying to the Father" – John 16:23-33 – 5/26/19


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“Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
We dare not forget that Easter has happened. We dare not forget that the victory has been won.
Easter is not a 50 day season and then it’s over. Easter is the beginning of a whole, new, permanent reality. For Christ has “reconciled all things to God, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:20)

As for you, He has “canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. Setting it aside by nailing it to the cross, in His own body.” (Col. 2:14)

As for this fallen world, He has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” (Col. 2:15)

As for Satan, He has “crushed the head of “Your adversary the devil, who prowls who around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:9)

We dare not forget that Easter has happened. “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

But we do forget, don’t we? I KNOW that we forget that Easter happened because we worry and we’re afraid and we’re such cowards and we are so easily intimidated and we say, “what is this world coming to” AS IF we didn’t know, AS IF Easter had never happened, AS IF the victory had not already been won.

But if we only remembered that Easter has happened and that “even the gates of hell cannot prevail against us,” we would be so fearless and so courageous and so brave and so bold that nothing could shake us or cause us to worry or to doubt or despair. Continue reading

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Easter 5 – "A Little While" – John 16:16-22 – 5/19/19


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The text we want to carefully consider today is our Gospel reading from St. John’s 16th chapter.

The setting is the Upper Room in Jerusalem where the Lord is gathered with His apostles for the annual Passover Meal. This is now the third time they have celebrated the Passover together since He called them saying, “come, follow Me.” This Seder will not go as the other two had gone however. The previous two would have progressed in the customary pattern that they had all grown up with in their good, Jewish homes.

But this Passover meal began with Jesus humbling himself and washing their feet and commanding them to be just as eager and willing to humble themselves and be the servant to each other.

At the meal itself, the Lord would replace the normal and expected explanation of the meaning of the foods that were eaten with the strange and mysterious explanation that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood.

And then after the meal was finished, the Lord led a rather lengthy discourse to prepare them for what was about to take place, before departing for the Garden of Gethsemane. All of this is recorded in chapters 13 through 17 of John’s Gospel, which is to say that almost 25% percent of John’s gospel is devoted to this Passover in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Which tells us just how important what took place there is.

Today, our attention is focused on a small portion of our Lord’s discourse which begins with His telling His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Continue reading

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Easter 4 – "The Other Side of the Curtain" – Rev. 7:9-17 – 5/12/19


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curtainThe text for our consideration is the Epistle reading from Revelation 7 which we hear every year on All Saints Sunday and also every third year on Good Shepherd Sunday in which we are given one of those peaks behind the curtain into heaven.

Just think about the fetus in his mother’s womb who thinks that this small world in which they live and have gotten quite comfortable is all that there is. And yet, as science shown us, there is a point when the fetus in the womb is able to hear voices coming from somewhere outside the womb. And soon they even begin to recognize those voices. There is something outside of this small world in which they are getting more and more cramped for space. But what is it and what’s it like? And what would it be like to actually leave this ‘small’ world and enter into ‘that’ world?

These are the thoughts that flow from Luther, who is quoted as saying, “we know no more about eternal life than children in the womb of their mother know about the world they are about to enter.” Continue reading

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Easter 3 – "Tying Up Loose Ends" – John 21:1-19 – 5/5/19


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Loose-Ends-2John's gospel is a bit like some of those movies based on actual history where, after the movie is over and the credits are rolling, the story continues. Actual photos of the people and the places that were portrayed in the movie come onto the screen and some biographical information about what they went on to do with their life appears.

John concluded his gospel at the end of chapter 20. Easter happened, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia.” There's a loose end that needs to be tied up with one of the Apostles. Thomas’ doubts will not allow him to believe and that needs to be dealt with.

When Jesus shows up again and gives Thomas the proof he demanded, and Thomas declares, “my Lord and my God,” it's 'end of the story.' “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

But it's never end of the story with Jesus. It’s important that you understand that the war has been won and the victory has been secured. But there’s still ‘loose ends’ that need to be tied up – those who have their doubts, and those who have their questions, and those who have their objections, and those who wonder 'now what.' Continue reading

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Easter 2 – Easter Perfected in You – John 20:19-29 – 4/28/19


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450px-Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasThe sanctuary that was full on Easter Sunday is not as full today. I wonder why? I know families who never go to church but who had family over last Sunday for Easter dinner. I wonder why?

Then again, there were lots of people in church on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, whose blood was mingled with the blood of Jesus. They didn’t go to church on Easter expecting to be martyred for their faith. But they were. And everything that we proclaim and sing on Easter was PERFECTED in them during their worship last Sunday.

And there are many, many Christians on this planet who REGULARLY bear witness to the power of God who raises the dead, by going to church, knowing that it could very well result in death.

But that’s what Easter is all about isn’t it? Easter is the declaration of FREEDOM FROM THE FEAR OF DEATH, because Jesus Christ has conquered death by dying and rising again. And He says, ‘I did this for you,’ and ‘you’re coming with Me.’ ‘So, don’t be afraid. What can this world do to you now that I have overcome the world?”

Easter and Good Friday are inseparable from each other. There is no Easter unless Christ has died. And if Christ has died and there is no Easter, then there’s no reason to be here because there’s nothing left to say. But Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

So I hope you realize that if you mean what you say when you say that, you mean that if someone were to come into this sanctuary today, right now, and blow it up, it would be Easter PERFECTED in you. And let’s hope it doesn’t happen that way. But it will happen in some way or another, even it’s to lie down and fall asleep and wake up in heaven. But however it happens, it’s Easter PERFECTED in you. Continue reading

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Easter – "By His Wounds We Are Healed" – Isaiah 53:4-5 – 4/21/19


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The text for our consideration on the Easter Sunday is from the prophet Isaiah, the 53rd chapter, verses 4-5, which reads, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.”

30064-ThornFlesh.1200w.tnThat may seem like a strange choice of words to declare to you on this Easter Sunday. “Stricken, smitten and afflicted” is for Good Friday. This is Easter and we’re ready to leave the dark and gloomy days of Holy Week and move on to the new and more glorious day of Easter, when the whole church on earth and in heaven celebrates the greatest victory the world has ever known.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Everyone loves to be a part of a good ‘celebration.’ And some know why they’re here and what the celebration is all about. And some are just crashing the party. And some are only here because they have to be but would rather be somewhere else.

And some are wounded. And you know there are lots of different ways people get wounded. And a lot of folks who have been wounded in more ways than one will tell you that the physical wounds are really the lightest and easiest to deal with. It’s the forsaken love, and the betrayed friendship, and the abused trust, and the stolen dignity, that all cuts a much deeper and more painful wound.

Lifelong promises of fidelity for better, for worse, for richer or poorer are broken every day. Drugs and alcohol turn happy families with bright futures into living nightmares. Reputations are hacked and slandered and dignity is shredded. Babies are conceived and miscarried and sorrow is all in all. Countless are the ways in which we are wounded and countless are the wounds we all bear.

And maybe the wounded are wondering what all of this Easter celebration and rejoicing has to do with me? Maybe the wounded are wondering if all these people so joyfully singing their “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia” have managed to escape the pain and loss that they have not?

Or are they all just crashing someone else’s party?

Or could it be that they are all just as wounded as I am but there is something in this Easter story that gives them reason to rejoice? Continue reading

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Maundy Thursday – "A Table In the Presence of Enemies" – Psalm 23:5-6


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Jesus_Christ_the_Good_Shepherd_Hand-Painted_Orthodox_Icon_1“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The care that this shepherd exercises for His dear sheep is unsurpassed. “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”

Whereas danger normally gives rise to fear, the sheep of his flock, those who listen to His voice and follow Him and not another, “fear not.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

And why is it that His sheep live in such a state of peace and security? Is it their self-confidence that in the face of danger they possess the cleverness or innovation or strength to overcome whatever 'evil' confronts them, even death? No.

Their confidence is not based on anything within the sheep themselves. It is based solely on the fact that when they look up, when they look out, they see their Shepherd. And the fact that He is “with them” assures them that they are safe and secure. “For you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

It is at this point in the 23rd Psalm, that David breaks from the pastoral picture of a shepherd and His sheep that he has painted, and that we have carefully looked into during this season of Lent. Truth is, we've known all along that David wasn't really talking about sheep and shepherds, but about the people whom the Lord has made His own, and how He provides for them and protects them. Continue reading

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Palm Sunday – 4/14/19 – "Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday" – Luke 19:28-30


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passionIt was a busy time for Jerusalem as the annual Passover feast was about to begin. Thousands of devout Jews from all over the world would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there. In fact, many had already arrived. And in a day long before 'twitter' and 'facebook,' they heard unbelievable reports about Jesus of Nazareth. They were saying that Jesus of Nazareth had raised a man who had been dead for four days to life. The man’s name was Lazarus. He lived in the village of Bethany. And many went to Bethany to see Lazarus.

And just as when people from Jerusalem went into the desert to see John the Baptist and he pointed his finger at Jesus and said, ‘don’t look at me. Look at Him,’ so Lazarus must have done for those who came to see him. 'Don't look at me. Look at Him.'

It was after the Sabbath Day was over, which would have been Sunday, that Jesus made the two mile journey from Bethany to Jerusalem. And “as he was drawing near, already on the way down the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.”

And in their enthusiasm, they take off their cloaks and laid them down in front of the donkey as though they were laying a 'red-carpet' for him. They waived their banners of palm branches overhead while shouting an extravagant welcome, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

THIS IS PALM SUNDAY. Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – Psalm 23:4b,c


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“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

There was an occasion that is recorded in Luke’s gospel where Jesus got involuntarily caught up in an argument over the division of an inheritance among the family. “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Lk. 12:13-15)

When we hear the Psalmist confess, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” and as we make this our confession, we are not talking about “want” in terms of “the abundance of possessions,” whether those ‘possessions’ be material possessions, or intellectual ‘possessions,’ or other ‘people’ whom we may also want to ‘possess.’

The Bible as well as the daily newspaper are full of examples of people who have no ‘want’ for any of these possessions and yet are ‘deeply wanting’ in that possession that the Psalmist is speaking of in this Psalm. He is a sheep of the Lord’s pasture, and the Lord is His shepherd, and with that, he has all that he 'wants.' Material, intellectual, personal possessions are all entirely secondary to the 'peace' and 'security' and 'well-being' that he has as a sheep of the Lord's flock.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

This is an easy confession to make when, as David confesses in a previous Psalm, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6)

But what about when the ‘lines’ fall in ‘unpleasant places,' as they so often do? What about when you are in the “valley of the shadow of death” and are surrounded by the “gloom” and “darkness” that we spoke of last week? Can we still confess, “I shall not want”?

Why is it that we love to sing Luther’s famous battle hymn with gusto, even while we confess, “were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse, though life be wretched away, “I shall not want,” “the kingdom’s ours forever.”?

I. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

“Fear” can be a terribly debilitating thing. “Fear” can drain the courage right out of an otherwise brave person. “Fear” is the opposite of ‘security.’ When I feel ‘secure’ I have a high level of confidence that I am safe. ‘Safe and secure’ go together. When I'm 'safe and secure,' I'm ready to tackle any problem and meet any opposition with confidence.

But when I am not confident that I am safe, fear sets in. And ‘fear’ drives me to seek ‘security’ in whatever it is that I believe will make we ‘safe and secure.’

One of the many devastating things about our fallen and sinful nature is that we seek ‘safety and security’ in those things that are neither safe nor secure. If my deepest sense of security is based on a wise government or an effective police force or a powerful military, and they stumble or even fail, my sense of ‘security’ stumbles and falls with it and 'fear’ takes over.

To be clear, not all “fear” is all bad. There is such a thing as a ‘good’ and ‘healthy’ fear. Parents teach their children to ‘fear’ that which can harm them. We are supposed to ‘fear’ and even ‘hate’ that which is ‘evil’ because ‘evil’ can ‘harm,’ even ‘kill’ us. Our ‘fear’ of evil drives us away from it. Rather that ‘trusting’ and ‘loving’ what is evil, which is the way we come into this world, we are to ‘fear and hate’ what is evil. And that requires a ‘conversion.’

But ‘fear and hate’ of what is evil is only half of what “conversion” is all about. If that’s as far as it goes, if we only what we are supposed 'fear' and 'hate', we're left with nothing to trust and no one to depend upon to defend us. As Luther teaches us, we must also ‘fear and love’ what is good. And there is only one who is good, and that is God.

When we ‘fear and hate’ evil with all our heart and soul and mind, and ‘fear and love’ God with all our heart and soul and mind, we are the people whom God created and converted us to be.

So when we hear David say, “I will fear no evil,” it is not that he has no concern or respect for the harm that evil is capable of doing. But his fear of evil is overcome by his fear and love of the Lord, his shepherd.

David has complete confidence in his Lord, that he is able to deliver him from whatever evil may be present in this valley of shadows and death. How little could David have known just how well placed his confidence in his Lord was?

For David’s Lord would confront the full force of ‘evil’ head on, and overcome it, proving beyond dispute that real safety and security is found only when “the Lord is my shepherd.” How could David have known this, except by faith? How much should we know this, except by faith that has been made more sure than David’s.

II. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

Israel’s security rested on the assurance of God’s presence with them. As they traveled through their own ‘valley of death’ in the desert, they went with the confidence that God was ‘with them’ in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.

No other nation had so much confidence in their god. If the pagans wanted to be in the presence of their god, they had to go to the temple where an handmade idol was fashioned to be the presence of their god. But when they left the temple, their god did not go with them.

Israel had their own temple or tabernacle where God was present with them. But unlike the pagans, their God went with them wherever they went. The Psalmist expresses his fearless confidence in the omnipresence of his Lord saying, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

The confidence of the Psalmist and Israel and David is our confidence as well. The angel Gabriel tells Joseph that his fiancee Mary is pregnant with a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the infallible promise of God through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23).

On Thursday next week, we’ll consider how this Immanuel “prepares a table before us…” that in eating and drinking the bread and wine, we have His presence with us, even in us, that we may “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” without fear, “for you are with me.”

III. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

It is as though David is anticipating the sacramental nature of His Lord's presence with us when he points to the objects of his comfort. The ‘rod’ and the ‘staff’ of the middle-eastern shepherd are two different things, each with its own purpose.

The shepherd’s ‘rod’ is his principle ‘offensive’ weapon for defending his sheep. The typical ‘rod’ was about 2 ½ feet long with a large end into which sharp pieces of iron or bone were embedded. It was used to fight off wild animals as well as thieves.

David defended his ability to go against the giant Goliath by telling Saul that, as a shepherd, when a lion, or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, he went after it and struck it and killed it and delivered the lamb out of his mouth. (1 Samuel 17:34-35). David was referring to his use of his ‘rod’ to defend his flock from external harm.

The other important instrument in the hand of a shepherd was his ‘staff.’ The traditional shepherd’s staff is at least 5 feet long and almost always has a crook at the end of it. The shepherd leans on his staff, climbs with it, and uses it to direct his sheep. When a lamb cannot scramble down from a ledge or falls into a crevice or down a bank into a stream, the shepherd is able to catch the lamb in the crook and gently lift it back onto the path.

These two instruments form a pair. The ‘rod’ is used to protect the flock from ‘external threats.’ The ‘staff’ serves to gently assist the flock in staying on the right path. The two of these together give “comfort” to the sheep.

For us, His ‘rod’ and ‘staff’ find their reality in His Word of ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel.’ The ‘rod’ is like the Law of God that is meant to break and hinder every evil that would hurt and devour us. “You shall have no other gods. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” and so forth as we spoke the 10 Commandments together.

The ‘staff’ is like the Gospel that is meant to assure us that we have a gracious God who does not desire the death of the sinner but that we should be caught up in His gentle crook and restored to the ‘right path’ and be saved.

To the sheep of the Good Shepherd who follow Him even as He leads His flock into the ‘valley of the shadow of death” and are prone to ‘fear evil,’ we hear voice say, “fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 43:5) “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matt. 14:27).

The assurance of His presence among us as we hear His voice speak to us, and receive His very body and blood, transforms our fears into courage and we walk even through the valley of the shadow of death in safety and security, and with hearts that are comforted.

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Lent 5 – "A Question of Ownership" – Luke 20:9-20 – 4/7/19


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ownershipOn Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and went straight to the
Temple to clean house. “MY HOUSE” is what He calls it. “MY HOUSE shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46).

As we might expect, this didn’t sit well with those who thought that the Temple was THEIR HOUSE. “What gives you the right?” Which doesn’t quite get how intensely furious they were with Jesus. Luke puts it like this, “The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him…”

It’s a question of ownership and authority. Ownership gives authority. As long as they considered themselves the ones to whom the Temple belonged, they considered that they had the authority to administer it as they saw fit.

What infuriated them about Jesus was that He barged into THEIR HOUSE and started rearranging the furniture AS IF it were HIS HOUSE.

Can you imagine someone walking right into YOUR HOUSE and rearranging the furniture and throwing some of your favorite things into the dumpster and accusing you of mismanaging HIS HOUSE? Whether you’re for gun control or not, you’re ready to exercise your 2nd Amendment rights.

“One day, as Jesus was teaching in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the leaders came up and said to him, ‘Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is who gave you this authority.”

It’s a question of ownership and the authority that comes with ownership. It’s a question that gets very personal to each and every one of us as soon as we begin to talk in terms of ‘who owns you.’ And how you answer that question will determine who has the ‘authority’ to say how you should live.

If we say, “I belong to Jesus,” you’re saying that He has the authority to make demands on how I am to live my life. When He says, ‘this must go,’ and ‘this must be added’ and ‘there are several things that must be rearranged,’ we welcome Him and His Word and surrender to His authority and give Him the green light to ‘clean house.’

But if we say, “I belong to no one. I am the captain of my ship and I have the final authority to live my life as I choose,” and Jesus Christ comes with His expectations and demands, we will be as outraged and furious with Him as the chief priests and scribes and principle men of the people were.

And in fact, it is this second scenario that describes each and every one of us so much more completely than the first. “Who does He think He is?” “What gives Him the right?” are the objections that we raise far more often than a humble submission to His perfect right to enter into my life and reform it entirely. Continue reading

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