Easter 2 – "Jesus is Here" – John 20:19-29 – 4/23/17


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ThomasOn the day that we call “Maundy Thursday,” Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples in the Upper Room and transformed the Passover meal into the Lord’s Supper. After the meal was finished, Jesus led the 12 disciples minus Judas to the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s about two miles from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives to the Garden. It would have taken them about an hour to walk that distance.

As they walked, Jesus had a lot to say to them, a good deal of which has to do with the fact that He is about to be taken away from them, but that He will return. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while you will see me. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

He compares what they are about to experience to a woman in labor. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-23).

He knows what they are going to go through when He is handed over and taken away from them. And He’s more concerned for them than for Himself. He knows exactly how this is all going to end.

But they do not. They’ll be confused and full of doubts and afraid. As often as He’s told them how this is going to go, they haven’t really listened. They didn’t really believe it. They still didn’t believe it.

But then it happened. The shepherd was taken away from them and they were scattered like frightened, little lambs.

Their distress however was only short lived. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

He had told them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while you will see me.” And sure enough, just as He said, three days later, there He is. Present with them – alive as ever. His promises never fail.

Evidently, they still can’t believe what they’re seeing and hearing. It was “for fear of the Jews” that they were huddled together behind locked doors. We’ve all seen the WWII movies of the Nazi’s going door to door looking for Jews to arrest and sent to the camps. This was their fear. Whoever this man was, he had found their hiding place and gotten through the locked doors. It had to be terrifying. His word of “peace be with you” fell on deaf ears.

But “when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. THEN the disciples were GLAD when they saw the Lord.” It was the marks of His crucifixion that broke through their stunned disbelief – and turned their fear to “gladness.”

This is Jesus, the crucified Jesus, the “and he breathed His last” Jesus. The Good Shepherd has returned for His sheep – just as He said He would. “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

The world has still a dangerous place and there are still tears and disappointment, BUT JESUS IS HERE. MY JESUS IS HERE. IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.

A second time Jesus speaks His Word of peace. “Jesus said to them AGAIN, ‘Peace be with you.”

With His first word of “peace” He TRANSFORMS their fear into ‘gladness.’ Now, with the second word of “peace” He SENDS THEM out into this world gone mad.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is His ‘little Pentecost,’ 50 days before the ‘big Pentecost.’

Here, in this ‘little Pentecost,’ Jesus gives them the authority to speak on His behalf. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” He is sending His apostles out into this crazy world with His Word and His authority to speak it.

They’re to walk right into a world of lost and frightened people who lock themselves behind all kinds of doors in an attempt to hide from whatever it is they’re afraid of – others, themselves, their God.

They’re to announce His peace to them. “The peace of the Lord be with you.”

And then they’re to say, “as a called and ordained servant of the word and by His authority, I forgive you all of your sins…” And when they hear them speak this absolution into their lost and frightened lives, it will be hearing the crucified and risen Jesus Himself. And it will transform their fear into gladness because JESUS IS HERE, MY JESUS IS HERE. IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.

The first one that the apostles go to is their fellow apostle, Thomas, who wasn’t with the others on that first Easter night; which just goes to show you what you miss when you miss church.

“The disciples told him, ‘we have seen the Lord.’” That’s the first recorded sermon that the disciples preach after their ordination. It’s short and sweet. After the ‘big Pentecost’ sermons get much longer. But here, it’s simply a matter of the eyewitnesses saying what their eye has witnessed. ‘We have seen the Lord.’ It’s an incredible sermon really. It’s what every sermon should be really – the telling and retelling of what the eyewitness saw when the saw the Lord.

“But Thomas said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Thomas has a problem. Thomas doesn’t believe what his fellow APOSTLES are telling him. He doesn’t believe the APOSTOLIC WORD.

In the Nicene Creed, we say that we believe in “the one, holy Christian and APOSTOLIC church.” That means that we believe the word of the Apostles – which is what the New Testament is.

But Thomas wasn’t ready to confess the Nicene Creed just yet. The APOSTOLIC WORD is not enough for Thomas. Thomas is a charismatic. The preached Word based on SOMEONE ELSE’S EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY is not enough for him. He’s got to feel it, touch it, see it for himself before he will BELIEVE.

We call him, ‘doubting Thomas’ but that’s a bit too charitable. Even Jesus doesn’t even call him a ‘doubter’ but a ‘disbeliever.’

Which kind of makes you wonder why this account is even in the bible let alone the reading for the 2nd Sunday after Easter every year – even in the 3 year cycle. You’d think that Thomas might be discreetly kept out of sight. Every family’s got a crazy aunt Gertrude who’s behavior is an embarrassment to the family whom you hate to bring out in public.

What is it that we are supposed to see here? Why did the church read John’s account of Thomas’ disbelief every year on the Sunday after Easter? How is Thomas’ supposed to strengthen our faith?

One of the early church Fathers, Gregory the Great, answers our question like this.
“The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.” “In a marvelous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief.”

In other words, Thomas is someone in whom we can all find ourselves. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s nothing to be proud of, that’s for sure. How often have we issued our demands and spelled out the terms which our Lord must meet before we will believe in His Word of promise that never fails, and put our trust in Him, and let Him transform our fear into joy?

But John, who was one of those Apostles who was there, directs our attention, not to so much to Thomas’s disbelief, as to how Jesus responds to His dear, little lamb.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

A full week has gone by and the troubles and trials of life in a world gone mad have eaten away at that joyful confidence that they had just last Sunday. Once again they’ve LOCKED THE DOORS.

Don’t kid yourself! You’re not as strong as you think you are. You need to be RENEWED every week by His word of “peace be with you” and “absolution.”

And then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

The crucified and risen Lord of Lords and King of Kings humbles Himself and meets Thomas’ demands. He literally takes Thomas’ hand and puts it into His body. Just as He humbles Himself with you here today – as He literally thanks His body and puts it into your hands so that you will “not disbelieve but believe.”

“Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God.’

This is an AMAZING confession of faith that we dare not miss. What springs from Thomas’ mouth goes beyond what his eye has seen or his hands have touched. The early church Father Augustine says, “he saw and touched a man and confessed God whom he did not see or touch.”

Jesus is not nearly as impressed with Thomas’ confession of faith as He is with yours. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Earlier, we heard the apostle Peter, who was also in the congregation that day, say to the Christian Church in every age, “Though you have NOT SEEN HIM, you love him. Though YOU DO NOT NOW SEE HIM, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1Peter 1:8-9).

This is how our Lord send us out into this crazy world, where all hope and confidence is based solely on what can be felt and touched. To base your hope and confidence on feelings and what is tangible and is so fragile. Sooner or later feelings change and the tangible collapses and leaves you lost and uncertain and afraid.

But when we live by faith in MY LORD AND MY GOD, we base our hope and confidence on what is MOST REAL AND TRUE AND UNCHANGEABLE. The tears, the pain, the disappointments, even the suffering, are still there. But rather than cause for doubt or disbelief, they are now reminders that our Lord has sent us into this world as the Father sent Him. And we know where it’s headed and how it’s all going to turn out.

Even though He is unseen, we hear His voice – “Peace be with you.” Even though He is unseen, He puts His body into our hands – “Take and eat.” And we know that JESUS IS HERE. MY JESUS IS HERE. And it is well with my soul.

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Easter – "The New Creation" – Psalm 98:1 – 4/16/17


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bc07b-new_creationThe text for our consideration this Easter Sunday is Psalm 98, the first verse. “Oh sing to the LORD a NEW SONG, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (Ps.98:1)

We have come here this morning to hear the story about Jesus Christ – who claimed to be the Son of God, who was crucified, died and buried, rose again from the dead on the 3rd day. It’s a strange story to say the least. And yet it’s a story that those who believe that this Jesus Christ really is who He says He is – the very Son of God – hold to be the greatest story ever told – and just as importantly, the greatest story ever heard.

For as strange a story as it is, we believe it to be absolutely true – not just ‘hypothetically true’ or ‘true in some symbolic or spiritual sort of way’ – but literally and concretely true.
• He really is who He says He is.
• He really was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
• He really did die on the cross.
• He really did rise from the dead in both body and soul on the 3rd day just as the Scriptures describe it.
• He really was seen by the men and women whom He visited during the 40 days before He really did ascend into heaven.

This is the story that we believe to be absolutely true – as strange a story that it is. And we love to hear this story over and over again, not simply because it’s so remarkably true, but because we believe that in some profound and mysterious way, the dying and the rising of this God/man, is the single event to which world history was moving from the beginning of time, and the single event that determines where this world is headed at the end of time. Continue reading

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Good Friday – "The Man in the Garden" – John 18-19 – 4/14/17


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I. The Man in the Garden

The curtain on St. John’s account of the Passion of our Lord opens on a garden. John arranges the characters on the stage in such a way that all eyes are focused on one Man in the garden. He is a perfect man – a man in the image of God – a man whom the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” (Heb.1:3)

THIS MAN has come to THIS garden many times before. In fact, His coming here has become very predictable. For Him, this place has always been a peaceful and safe place for prayer and meditation and rest. On this night, He comes to pray.

Other gospel writers are interested in THIS MAN’S friends who come with him and how they behave while he prays. But John is not interested in any of that and barely even mentions them. Nor is John interested in the content of His prayer OR the tears and the drops of blood that mingle with His prayer as others are. John’s only concern is with that serpent that is making its way up the hillside towards the garden – its long tail of fiery torches slithering towards its target. Continue reading

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Maundy Thursday – "Last Will and Testament" – Hebrews 9:13-15 – 4/13/17


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“For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:13-15)

The “new covenant” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks here is the same “new covenant” of which the prophet Jeremiah announced some 600 years before its time. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” (Jer.31:31).

 It is not that this “new covenant” gives anything different or more than the “old covenant” gave. The “Old Covenant” gave ‘forgiveness of sins’ and the ‘promised eternal inheritance’ just like the new covenant does.
 And it’s not that what is being introduced here a “new and improved” version of the old and outdated version of the Covenant. It’s impossible to IMPROVE on God’s promises no matter how long ago He made them and no matter how much this world has changed because God doesn’t change.
 And it’s not that what God had promised all along was finally going to happen as if to say, “Now, this time, I really, really mean it.”

No, when it says that Jesus is the “mediator of a NEW COVENANT,” it means that unlike the OLD COVENANT that was sealed and ratified by the sacrifice and blood of lambs and goats, the “NEW COVENANT” is sealed and ratified by the sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God. “This is the cup of the new covenant in MY blood,” He says.
Continue reading

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Palm Sunday – "The Justice of the Cross" – Isaiah 50:4-9 – 4/9/17


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“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.”

I. Word that Sustains the Weary

vindication-coverThat’s the Servant of the Lord who is speaking. We should mark, learn and inwardly digest His Words well, because they are INSPIRED WORDS. He speaks with a TAUGHT TONGUE.
He knows what to say and what not to say and whatever He says is always TRUE.

One word from His mouth and
• the WEARY and the worn out – “ARE SUSTAINED.”
• The oppressed and the taken advantage of – “ARE SUSTAINED.”
• The falsely accused who have no one to them, hear His Word and they – “ARE SUSTAINED.”

They are not PACIFIED or PUT OFF – told to ‘hang in there.’ ‘Things are sure to get better.’ Those are empty words that have no power to SUSTAIN THE WEARY because they no power to DO WHAT THEY SAY.

The ‘weary’ are “SUSTAINED” with TRUE WORDS that ALWAYS DO WHAT THEY SAY and ALWAYS GIVE WHAT THEY PROMISE.

The Sustaining Word that the weary ones are given is a word of VINDICATION.
“He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.”

The WEARY are the lowly, the poor, the oppressed, those who have been robbed and cheated out of the life the way God created life to be. They will be VINDICATED. “He who vindicates me is near.” Justice will be done FOR THEM. And that’s what SUSTAINS THEM.

II. He Humbled Himself

The Servant of the Lord is in an UTTERLY UNIQUE POSITION to speak these SUSTAINING words to the WEARY. HE HIMSELF HAS BECOME ONE OF THEM.

He’s no ‘DO-GOODER’ who may mean well but doesn’t have a clue – because he’s never actually been that poor, or that neglected, or that abused – or wet and cold and hungry – or DESPISED AND REJECTED BY MAN.

The SERVANT OF THE LORD is one of them. So, it’s not just the Word He speaks – but WHERE He speaks it from. “He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil.2:5)

Or as He himself puts it, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”

He has become LIKE THEM to the point that He is ONE WITH THEM. HE IS THEM.

So, what word does the Servant of the Lord speak to the weary that sustains them AND that even He Himself longs to hear that He too may be sustained in the work He has come to do? What “WORD” will SUSTAIN His poor, pitiful, wronged and mistreated, brothers and sisters?

I’ll tell you the Word that will do nothing to sustain them – “I FORGIVE YOU ALL OF YOUR SINS.” AT LEAST, NOT YET – BECAUSE FORGIVENESS WITHOUT VINDICATION IS CHEAP GRACE.

What WORD could be more UNSUSTAINING to hear pronounced upon your persecutor and the one who walked right by you while you were lying half dead in the middle of the road – than to hear the judge say to “YOU’RE FORGIVEN – GO IN PEACE”?

And what could be more INFURIATING than to hear the Judge say to YOU WHO HAVE HAD SOMETHING SO PRECIOUS TAKEN FROM YOU SO UNJUSTLY – your child by a drunk driver, your legs by a roadside bomb, your dignity by a picture on the internet, your reputation by a malicious rumor – “YOU NEED TO FORGIVE AND FORGET.”

That’s CHEAP GRACE and CHEAP GRACE does not SUSTAIN THE WEARY.

The only WORD that will SUSTAIN THE WEARY AND THE WEAK AND THE POOR AND THE LOWLY – is VINDICATION. “He who VINDICATES me is near.”

III. Vindication

In the Hebrew, “VINDICATION” is really the same word as ‘JUSTIFICATION.” It’s a JUSTICE word. “He who gets me JUSTICE is near.”

With His WORD, He tears off all the COVERS-UPS with which they thought they had COVERED UP their guilt – with their power or position or money or even with their PIOUS WORSHIP.

They thought they could cover up everything they did from Monday to Saturday if they just went to church and sung the hymns and prayed and received the Sacrament and GOD WOULD NEVER SEE their injustice to their neighbor. But His Word UNCOVERED IT.

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let JUSTICE ROLL DOWN LIKE WATERS,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” says the prophet Amos. (Amos 5:21-24)

When the WEARU hear THAT WORD THAT JUSTICE will be done – THAT WORD SUSTAINS them. Because they know that no one is able to hide. No one gets away with it. Everything is uncovered. Everything is exposed. HE WHO VINICATES ME IS NEAR.

IV. Justice

But now wait a minute. What if you are the guilty one who been participating in multiple COVER UPS like I do:
• “I know how much my words and actions hurt her, but I’m just going to act like everything is okay – because I’m the boss – what’s she going to do?”
• “I know what I did was totally selfish and I hurt him – but I’m only human – and that’s just how it goes.”
• “I know I should have spoken up and stood up for him – but it would have cost me big time – and I’ve got my own career / marriage / life / reputation to think about.

How many ‘cover ups’ are we involved in and how much injustice to our poor, defenseless, pathetic neighbor are we responsible for? Enough to make most politicians look like saints.

So, JUSTICE is the last thing I want. All I really want is to come to church and hear, “I forgive you all of your sins.”

Could it be that THE SAME WORD that SUSTAINS the WEARY – ALSO CONDEMNS THE GUILTY and THREATENS the daylights out of us because we know that we are the accomplices of the injustice that God hates?

Maybe this helps us to understand why Jesus got such a mixed reaction when He arrived on the scene declaring “the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk.1:15) The rich and socially secure and religiously connected got very nervous.

But the poor and disenfranchised were glad – “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)

They both knew their Old Testament and understood that when the Servant of the Lord comes, “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established JUSTICE IN THE EARTH.” (Is.42:4)

Maybe this also helps us better understand what the SERVANT OF THE LORD is doing when
• He suffers the gross INJUSTICE of a rigged trial,
• Under corrupt judges who were only interested in preserving their own power,
• Even while the poor, powerless and INNOCENT One suffers utter shame and humiliation of being stripped naked and crucified because He is too poor and weak to defend Himself and all of His friends desert Him.

God’s outrage with ALL of our INJUSTICE is carried out by the cross on THE SERVANT OF THE LORD. All of the cover ups and the false pretenses and the hypocrisy and our stupid self-justifications – WERE NEVER HID FROM HIS SIGHT LIKE WE FOOLISHLY TRIED TO CONVINCE OURSELVES THEY WERE. He saw them ALL. And punished them all on the cross.

Because He is the GOD OF JUSTICE. The guilty must be exposed and punished so that the innocent may be VINDICATED.

V. Grace

But who could have ever imagined that He would not only HUMBLE HIMSELF AND BECOME THE WEARY ONE on behalf of all the WEARY ONES – but that He would ALSO HUMBLE HIMSELF and become the GUILTY ONE on behalf of all the GUILTY ONES?

Who could have ever imagined that God would place HIMSELF under HIS OWN WORD and CONDEMN HIMSELF under His own righteous judgement and execute perfect JUSTICE – so that in the ONE MAN, JESUS CHRIST,
• THE VICTIMIZER is PUNISHED,
• AND THE VICTIM is VINDICATED?

Because the hard truth of the matter is – these are not two separate people. We are VICTIM AND VICTIMIZER. The line between good and evil, just and unjust, oppressed and oppressor- doesn’t run between us and them – BUT RIGHT THROUGH EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US. We are all simultaneously victim and victimizer.

Which means that the cross of Christ and Him crucified is FOR YOU. In the cross, we see that NONE of the injustice which HAS BEEN DONE TO US has escaped His notice. AND WE SEE that none of the injustice that WE HAVE DONE TO OTHERS has escaped His notice.
• He has seen it all and PUNISHED it all in His Son.
• He has seen it all and VINDICATED it all in His Son.

Where you are the WEARY ONE who suffers because wrong and injustice has been done against you, by others, but ultimately by your adversary the Devil, know that justice has been done on the cross and no one has escaped – THE GUILTY HAVE BEEN PUNISHED IN THE INNOCENT ONE. You have been VINDICATED in Christ.

You can let go of the anger and the resentment – against your OPPRESSOR – and against your God. Justice has been done. Now, you can forgive and forget. “Forgive those who trespass against you, because God, in Christ, has forgiven you.”

Where you have been THE OPPRESSOR and have done injustice to others – no matter the measure, know that the JUST PUNISHMENT that you deserve has already been carried out on THE SERVANT OF THE LORD. THE GUILTY HAVE BEEN PUNISHED IN THE INNOCENT ONE.

You too can let go of the burden of guilt and REPENT and take up His burden which is easy and light and do what is just and right before the Lord.

The one who believes this, and ONLY THE ONE WHO BELIEVES this, can move on with their life in the JUSTICE and the PEACE that the Servant of the Lord has accomplished FOR YOU. For the believer, the Kingdom of God has come – and the word of the Lord SUSTAINS THE WEARY.

Both VICTIM and VICTIMIZER may say TOGETHER WITH ONE VOICE, “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?”

Both the OPPRESSED and OPPRESSOR may hear His Word of such costly grace that SUSTAINS THE WEARY – I forgive you all of your sins.

And now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Mid-Week Lent 5 – Psalm 130 – 4/5/17


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The 130th Psalm has sometimes been called the “funeral psalm” because of its poignant expression of deep sorrow. When Luther was asked his opinion on which were the best Psalms, he replied, Psalms 32, 51 and 130 – three of the seven penitential psalms. He called these three the “Pauline psalms” because, like Paul’s epistles, they lay out the realities of the depths of human sin, the abundance of God’s grace, and Christ’s complete redemption.

Luther lectured on Psalm 130 in 1617 and again in 1541 at the end of his teaching career. We’ll try to capture his thoughts from his 1517 and 1541 commentaries.

Verses 1-2
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

Luther writes, “These are noble, passionate and very profound words of a truly penitent heart that is most deeply moved in its distress. (LW 14) He wants to say “I am most vigorously attacked and anxious because I see my sins. I discover the frightening wrath of God. The fear of eternal death has come upon me. Whether I look inside myself or outside, I find no help or counsel.”

What Luther goes on to describe comes closest to what we would call ‘depression’ – a feeling of utter inability and helplessness to lift oneself up – sometimes even to get up out of bed. We talk of ‘being down in the dumps’ and by this, we mean that we are suffocating emotionally and spiritually. In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘depths,’ has the meaning of drowning in water.

Luther sees the psalmist as one who is drowning, not in water but in the guilt of his sins. He writes, “This is the great fear and need in which the psalmist found himself trapped. It is the weight and a burden that pressured him. He did not know how he could possibly be relieved of it.”

“For other tribulations and heartaches that afflict believers can be overcome by patience, as when our honor, money and goods are in danger. You can also fairly easily overcome the obvious sins of the flesh into which youth are constantly falling. In this, you can find comfort.” Continue reading

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Lent 5 – "Waiting For His Call" – John 11 – 4/2/17


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“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha…”

The_Rising_of_LazarusThe village of Bethany was “about two miles” outside the city of Jerusalem, according to John. Somewhere along the line, Jesus met two sisters who lived there and every time He was in Jerusalem, He always knew He had a place to stay with them.

They had a brother named Lazarus. Whether he actually lived in the same house with the sisters or not is unclear. But what is clear is that over time, a very close bond of friendship developed between Jesus and this family.

I. The Sister’s Appeal to Jesus

So when brother Lazarus becomes ill, the sisters called for Jesus who was away at the time. “So the sisters sent to Him saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Lazarus must have been SERIOUSLY ILL. They’re not going to bother Jesus over a common cold or flu. They hope that He will come – quickly.

Their message reads, “Lord, he whom YOU LOVE is ill.” I get stuck on that every time I hear it – because what I expected them to say is, “Lord, he who LOVES YOU is ill.”

Because isn’t THAT the way we appeal for help to God? “Lord, help me. I love you.” “Lord, help my brother or sister, or friend – they’re good Christians, they love you.” How many funeral services have we all been to where the sole focus is on how much the deceased loved God?

But their message read, “Lord, he whom YOU LOVE is ill.” They’re appealing to Christ, not on the basis of their brother’s love for Jesus but on Jesus’ love for Lazarus.

John got stuck on this too. It’s not that “the WORLD SO LOVED GOD that He sent His only Son” but “GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD…” “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son…” (Jn.3:16; 1Jn. 4:10).

I know that the Law of God tells us that we are to “LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and LOVE our neighbor as ourselves.” But it also says that the best LOVE we do is like filthy rags – soaked with selfishness and a willingness to go only so far and what’s in it for me.

But God’s love for me is so different than my love for God. “My song is love unknown. My SAVIOR’S LOVE FOR ME. Love for the LOVELESS SHOWN that they might lovely be.” The familiar children’s hymn gets it exactly right – “Jesus loves me this I know… Little ones to Him belong – they are weak but He is strong.”

“They sent to Him saying, ‘Lord, he WHOM YOU LOVE is ill.” Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent 4 – Psalm 102 – 3/29/17


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Psalm 102 is the fifth of the seven Penitential Psalms. In this Psalm, we see a dimension to ‘repentance’ that we have not yet seen. Rather than an individual focus on ‘my sin’ and the desire to amend my sinful life and walk with the Lord, here we see a desire for ‘repentance’ that grows out of the weariness and struggle of trying to live by faith in a fallen and sinful world. The Psalmist prays to that the Lord will rescue the nation and the church from its sinful and fallen ways.

Verses 1-2

Vss. 1-2
1 Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! Continue reading

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Lent 4 – "The Works Of God On Display" – John 9 – 3/26/17


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Today’s gospel is all about ‘blindness’ and ‘seeing.’ It starts out with a man who is born blind but who ends up seeing more than what the human eye can see. Along the way we meet several people with 20/20 vision but who are really blind.

There is a familiar proverb which says, ‘seeing is believing.’ But this morning, the proverb is proved to be false. For as we will ‘SEE,’ there are many who SEE and yet will not BELIEVE. Seeing, they do not see. They have ‘seeing eyes,’ and yet they are blind.

As the account opens, the only one who SEES is Jesus. “As Jesus passed by, he SAW a man blind from birth.”

One of the symbols for God is a big eye. He is the ‘all-seeing’ God. It’s pretty significant that in the creation account in Genesis 1, we’re told that along each step of the way “God saw” what He made and declared it to be “good.” And then when He said, “IT IS FINISHED,” “He saw ALL that He made and it was very good.”

The man was born blind. For some reason, his eyes could never process the light that entered them. John opened his gospel with the grand announcement that “the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” “He passed by and SAW a man born blind.” (Jn.1:9)

The disciples with Jesus would have walked right by this man and never saw him. But now that Jesus has SEEN Him, so do they. But they don’t SEE him in the same way that Jesus ‘SAW’ him. All they saw was a theological conundrum to be discussed and debated. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

I’m not sure what difference it would have made if Jesus had answered their question. What does it matter really? Unless they are wondering if they should pity this man for getting bad parents or withhold pity for him because he only getting what he deserves. Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – Psalm 38 – 3/22/17


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Needless to say, the 38th Psalm is not the cheeriest psalm in the psalmody. It is the psalm of a man who is experiencing great suffering – physically, emotionally and spiritually. And yet as dark it is, this is a psalm that is laced with courageous hope, centered in the Lord. And so it stands as a powerful witness for all believers in Christ of what faith in Christ looks like particularly in times of pain and suffering.

Verse 1-4:
1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
5 like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness…”

If the words of verse 1 sound familiar, they should. They’re actually the exact same words that we heard two weeks ago in Psalm 6. “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger nor discipline me in your wrath.”

Listen to Luther again. “God chastens us in two ways. At times He does so in grace as a kind Father; and at times He does so in wrath as a stern Judge. Now when God seizes a person, the person is by nature weak and disheartened, because he doesn’t know whether God is taking him in hand OUT OF ANGER OR IN GRACE. In fear of God’s ANGER he begins to cry out: “O Lord, rebuke me not in your ANGER, nor discipline me in your WRATH.” “Let it be in GRACE; be a Father, not a Judge.” It’s not that he is asking to go unpunished altogether, for this would not be a good thing, but that he be punished as a dear child by his loving father.” Continue reading

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