Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18 - Easter Sunrise - March 27, 2016
Honoring Jesus
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
     Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

John 19:25-27 - Good Friday - March 25, 2016         
“Woman, Behold Your Son!”
In ancient times, it was a common belief among the Jews that the day a prophet died was also the day he was conceived.  They didn’t always keep track of birthdays the way we do.  But in this way they thought they could at least figure out a prophet’s birthday.  Since the day of his death would be the same day as his conception, all they had to do was count nine months later, and there you have it, the day he was born, more or less.  Whether or not this is an accurate way to figure out someone’s birthday is beside the point.  This is how the date of Christmas was established.  First they identified when Jesus died.  Then they concluded that this must have been the day he was conceived.  And so nine months later they would celebrate his birth.  He was born to die. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday

John13:1-15 - Maundy Thursday - March 24, 2016
Jesus Serves His Honored Guests
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son …” (Hebrews 1:1-2a)
The Lord had promised Abraham a son.  The Seed that was once promised to Adam and Eve – that is, the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head – God more specifically promised to Abraham, saying that this Seed would be one of his own descendants.  In him all families of the earth would be blessed.  Abraham believed God, and God counted his faith as righteousness in his sight (Romans 4:9).  What Abraham believed was substantially the same as what Adam and Eve believed.  And though we see it fulfilled and hear it all the more clearly preached today in the New Testament Church, yet it is also substantially the same faith that we believe and by which we also are saved.  We believe in one Church that spans all ages.  Christ is and has always been the object of saving faith.  He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  The one true faith has always been faith that trusted in God to be merciful for the sake of his own suffering and death – because by doing so he would remove all hostility between himself and sinful men (Ephesians 2:14, Hebrews 12:3).  The message of the gospel has always been at least this specific. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lent Midweek

Philippians 2:1-18 - Midweek Lenten Round Robin
 February 10, 17, 24, March 2, 9, 16, 2016   
Searching the Mind of Christ
As we ask these questions we learn the mind of Christ.  What punishment so strange is suffered yonder?  What law hast Thou broken?  Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession?  But especially this question: Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?  Here we see the mind of Christ.  And this question especially because while the other questions are easily answered — he has broken no law, he has committed no crime — it is this question that invites us to search out why and for what purpose such a strange punishment would be suffered.  He is the Lord God of unapproachable glory who in himself can neither suffer nor be debased.  So then, whence in the world come these sorrows and mortal anguish so seemingly unbecoming of God?  (Whence means where do they come from.)  They come from the eternal counsel of God.  That’s where.  They come from the Father’s heart as he extends himself [from his secret place] to you for your salvation.  He gives his only begotten Son to become a Man in order that he might suffer, at the hands of cruel and malicious men, the torments and punishment that your sins have merited from God.  And he does this in order that, having made satisfaction, he may gain you as his own possession and cover you forever with the innocent obedience of your Brother and God, your Redeemer Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lent 5

John 8:46-59 - Judica Sunday - March 13, 2016
(Upon the Baptism of a new baby and the sudden death of a dear member.)
From Death to Life
“Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (John 8:51).   Let us pray:
Thou hast died for my transgression,
All my sins on Thee were laid;
Thou hast won for me salvation,
On the cross my debt was paid.
From the grave I shall arise
And shall meet Thee in the skies.
Death itself is transitory;
I shall lift my head in glory. Amen. 
Dear Christians,
What have we just witnessed?  We have witnessed a transition — a transition from death to life.  We have.  Christ’s death and resurrection have made death transitory.  But this transition from death to life does not wait until we die.  It occurs in Baptism.  As St. Paul writes,
[W]e were buried with Him through Baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  (Romans 6:4)
This newness of life certainly embraces the new life of good works in which we walk as we follow Jesus – works that honor God and serve the neighbor as Jesus did – works that follow us into eternal life.  But because our good works are not the source of our new life (God’s grace is!), we do not find this new life in the things we do.  (Our works follow us; we don’t follow them!)  Rather, we find this new life in the things that God teaches us – in the things we receive.  This is what it means to keep his words.  It doesn’t mean merely to obey his words.  It doesn’t mean merely to hear them and give our nod of approval.  It means to treasure them.  That’s what the word means.  God teaches us how to treasure his word by teaching us first about ourselves (that is, how much we need his word!), and second by teaching us about himself (that is, how Christ has obeyed and fulfilled his word).  God’s word of grace teaches us to know him as our gracious Father who does not look at our sin, but to Christ his Son.  He is our High Priest who cleanses us with his own blood.  This is what God looks at when scrutinizing us sinful mortals.  He looks to Christ our Mediator who stands between us and God’s justice.  This is what a priest does.  But while a priest usually appealed to God’s mercy as signified by the many animal sacrifices on the altar, Christ our High Priest appeals to his own sacrifice on the cross whereby he made atonement for all our sin.  So, just as this is what God looks at, he also teaches us to look to what Christ has done — for by doing so, we see what God sees.  We see the holy life that God reckons to us by faith.  It is ours.  This is peace.  This is a good conscience.  This is beautiful.  
We are not born with this holy life.  Scripture teaches us quite plainly that we were born spiritually corrupt, with no powers of our own to choose God or obey him.  Indeed, we were born dead.  We need life.  We need life that is born from God.  And that is what God gives us.  As St. Paul writes so beautifully – and because it is so abundantly clear and simple and comforting, I’d like to quote it now at length from Ephesians 2 – with just a few of my own interjections: 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lent 4

John 6:1-15 - Laetare Sunday - March 6, 2016
Receiving Our Bread with Thanksgiving
They saw signs and miracles.  God was with them.  He did good things.  They followed Him.  He did fearful things.  They witnessed ten plagues on Egypt by which they were set free.  They themselves crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and saw Pharaoh’s army drown.  They had seen marvel after marvel, and so they followed Moses the prophet of God deep into the desert.  There God assured them that they would be safe from their enemies.  The Almighty God was clearly on their side.  Yet despite every possible encouragement to just take things as they came, they still they complained.  All they saw was that God had brought them into the wilderness where there was no food.  Despite their ingratitude, God kept them alive by means of manna.  He did this certainly out of kindness, but also in order to test them.  He bypassed all the usual means by which mankind is fed in order that they might recognize more clearly that God has always been the source of their daily bread.  God removed all the middlemen so-to-speak – no field, no farmer, no market, no bakery – and He fed them straight from heaven – literally.  How much clearer could God have made it that their daily bread always came from Him?  God tested them to see if they would thereby learn to receive it with thanksgiving.  
And how did they do?  Did they pass the test?  No.  They grumbled.  “What is it?” they whined.   Despite all they had seen … they utterly failed.  
 The reason we fall into the sin of idolatry and devote ourselves more to our stuff than to God who gives it is not because it is somehow less than obvious where our stuff comes from.  No, it is perfectly obvious for anyone who can follow a dotted line that everything we have is from God.  It is God who waters the earth, giving seed to the sower and bread to the one who eats.  He gives strength to the worker, cleverness to the inventor, endurance to the mother, health to the child.  The reason our hearts are nonetheless so drawn to our mammon is not because God has failed to make these things more obvious, but because we are sinners.  We do not trust God.  There is a deep corruption in our hearts – a corruption not simply of our intellect as though it’s too hard to figure this all out, but of our will.  We would rather hold onto the stuff that makes life comfortable than hold onto the almighty and gracious God who gives it to us — no matter how obvious he makes it that it all comes from Him.  We therefore do well to consider those words which we sang a couple Sundays ago from Psalm 100:
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.