Proclaiming the Good News of Ephesians 2:8–9
Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2020
John 14; 1-12
Confirmation – finally. This was supposed to happen on April 5th, Palm Sunday. We are a fair distance past that date. Can all of you remember the day of your confirmation? Do you recall the day, the place, who the pastor was, and who was confirmed with you? There were three in my class. Out of the three of us, two drifted away from the church. One of them has physically died. I’ll be honest with you; I struggle with confirmation. The vow that these five young people are about to make is monumental. It’s much like the vow of marriage. I struggle with weddings also. I started out keeping track of all the young people that I confirmed and all the couples at whose wedding I officiated. I don’t do that anymore and one of the main reasons is that it got to be pretty depressing and discouraging. I’ve had young people get confirmed and that was the last time I saw them in church. They never even communed once. It has happened here in this congregation. Some people have accused me, and rightly so, I must confess, of being a scrooge when it comes to confirmation and weddings.
Now that I have dumped water on this joyous occasion, let’s see if we can light a fire again. These beautiful verses from the Word of God are an excellent place to start. Jesus invites us, “Do not be troubled, believe in God and believe in Me.” Jesus spoke these words on Maundy Thursday. Our Lord had just announced that someone in the room was going to betray Him that very night. Judas exited stage left. Peter made the bold vow that he would never abandon his Lord. It almost sounds like the confirmation vow. Jesus warned him that this very night, before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny Jesus three times. Peter takes a bow and leaves. This was unsettling for the rest of the disciples. It was very confusing and disheartening for the disciples. They didn’t know what to make of it.
It was then that Jesus spoke the words, “Do not be troubled, believe in God and believe in Me.” Have you ever noticed that when God in His Word encourages us to trust in Him, He always gives us a reason? “In My Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you, because I am going to prepare a place for you.” A house, a home, a room. I can recall with fondness when my family would drive out to southern California. There was always one thing I could count on: my mother-in-law would have a room prepared for us. There might be a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter. And there was also a vase with freshly cut flowers on the dresser in our bedroom. Usually there was also a note expressing her joy in our arrival. It was such a good feeling to know that someone was expecting your arrival and had gone out of the way to express their joy that you would be there with them.
Jesus went out of His way to make sure there is a room prepared just for you. He is anticipating your arrival. In fact, He will come again and take you home with Him so that you will be where He is. Now in our human minds, when “us older folks” see you young ones, we’d like to think that maybe a longer route home would be better for you than a short cut. One of you has a sibling that a year ago almost took the short route home. We are thankful God preserved her life. We don’t know what is in store for any of us, as far as this life goes, but we do know there is a room ready for us in our new home.
But there is something even better. Listen to God’s Word, “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’” Did you catch what is being said here? As you follow our Lord, loving Him, He makes His home with you. At this very moment, right now, God is at home with you! He lives in you; it is called faith. It is a faith that was given to you when you were baptized as He put His mark on you.
In a few minutes from now, the five of you confirmation students will be asked if you believe in God and want to follow Him. You will take an oath that you will remain faithful in your commitment to God. You know the Way, the Truth and the Life. He lives in you; He is at home in you. The road to His home will most likely be long, hard, and difficult at times. You will struggle; there will be heartaches and failures along the way.
There will also be times of joy and happiness. Perhaps you will be blessed by God to have a loving and faithful spouse who you will love and cherish till death parts you. You may be blessed with a family of your own. We don’t know what is down the road, except for this one thing – in the end, when your road ends here on earth, you have a heavenly home already prepared for you! And you know the Way. Do not feel troubled, do not be afraid, believe in God and believe in Jesus. Amen.
Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 3, 2020
John 10: 1-10
“The Good Shepherd”
“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3: 13-14 Century after century, generation after generation, mankind has searched for God. Human beings and God are connected by an invisible bond, which is bigger much bigger than DNA or some genetic lineage. It is called Creator and creation. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground.” As the lifeless body of Adam lay on the ground, the Creator looked upon His work and, it is written, “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Bonded together as only a creator/creation can be, the man and His Creator were in perfect harmony. They were comfortable with each other’s company as they walked and talked in the garden in the cool of the day. This is the way it was always meant to be. Then the man rebelled against His Creator. No longer did they walk together, but the man ran away and tried to hide from God. But God found him. This is the way it has always been since sin entered into the world. God finds man yet it is man who thinks he finds God.
God enters into mankind’s life in many and various ways and often there is fear. He speaks to Moses from a burning bush that is aflame but never burns up. He divides the Red Sea and the whole company of the Israelites walks across this great expanse of water on dry ground. Pharaoh and his men are drowned when God brings the waters together again.
The Israelites see God descending on Mt. Sinai in fire and smoke, with the earth shaking like a bowl of Jell-O, as the sound of the trumpet grows louder and louder. God finds them but they really don’t want any part of Him.
Throughout the entire Old Testament, God is always seeking out and finding His lost creation. Finally, at just the right time, on a quiet night in a little town not far from Jerusalem, a baby is born in a stable, the child of a Virgin. Creator and creation come together as One; they are in perfect harmony and at peace with each other.
This morning, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, where that baby, now a grown man, describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. He is the one who tends to His flock, who calls His sheep by name, and who guides them to green pastures and quiet waters. The wall of hostility that was between Creator and creation has been torn down. It has been destroyed by the Creator as the Son dies for the sins of the whole world. The creature no longer is in fear of the Creator. Instead, the sheep follow the Good Shepherd; they know His voice and they trust Him.
If only this were the fairy tale ending of the story. But we know it isn’t. The sheep go astray; they wander in paths not meant for them to follow. They move so far away from the Good Shepherd that they can no longer hear His voice. They no longer hear His Words of grace and forgiveness. The sweet promise of eternal life in His presence is a dusty memory of yesterday. The bright lights of the glitter of worldly riches and fame entice them to move even farther away from the voice of the Shepherd. And then they get attacked by those who are hirelings, who care nothing about their well-being. They are wrongly told that God is ruthless, that He demands they must do something for their salvation. Tragically they are encouraged to seek out some inner peace, to find themselves and feel fulfilled. Bruised and beaten up by the world, they lie down exhausted in a patch of thistles to die.
But the Good Shepherd never quits on them. He searches for those who have fallen into the gutters of drugs and alcohol and a permissive life-style that has become their way of life. And He calls you by your name. He tenderly invites you to come to Him when you labor and are heavy-laden. He promises you rest. He lifts you up on His shoulders and carries you back to the flock. He feeds you His Word. Again and again He reassures all who doubt His promises that He cares for them. And for those who worry and fret about what lies ahead, who are lonely and depressed, He comforts you time and time again with His body and blood, given for you for the remission of your sins. As many continue to carry a heavy weight of guilt, He invites you to lay it down at the foot of His cross in confession and absolution where you will receive pardon and the hope of a renewed heart and mind.
He is the Good Shepherd. His sheep know His voice. You know His voice; you have heard it many times. Listen to it! He gives to you everlasting life. You will never be lost, and no one will tear you out of His hand. He came so that you may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus is the Good Shepherd! Amen.
Third Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2020
Luke 24: 13-35
Hymns: 463, 476, 879
“The Slow Burning Heart”
Do you own a Bible? I mean, your very own Bible? Do you know where it is located? Perhaps it is on a bookshelf in your house or in your bedroom maybe? Do you read it? Have you read it this past week? Do you read it every day, maybe even more than once a day? Have you read it this morning? Are you getting tired of me asking you all these questions? Do you think that all of these questions about you reading your Bible are really none of my business, that it is a private matter?
This morning we find two disciples walking back home after visiting Jerusalem for the Passover festival. It was Sunday afternoon and they had a seven mile walk ahead of them. That’s a fair distance. Have you hiked seven miles here recently? As they walked, they talked. They were trying to piece together and make sense of all that had happened in the past few days. Another man joined them in their walk but they did not recognize Him. He asked the two what they were discussing. They couldn’t believe their ears! This man who had joined them had no clue about the recent events in Jerusalem. He must have been living under a rock. The truth is that He was inside the rock; it is called a tomb.
Have you ever thought about how frustrating it must have been for Jesus to try to convince His disciples and followers that He was alive? He had told them numerous times that He would be killed and on the third day rise again. They didn’t have a problem believing that He was crucified, but the resurrection was beyond their comprehension. He appeared to the women at the tomb. They reported this to His disciples who were behind closed doors, but the women were not believed.
And now these two disciples were confused. Instead of immediately opening their eyes, Jesus took them back to where we can find Him also – to the Holy Scriptures. We read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Our dear Lord knew that there would be many followers of Christ in the years to come who would not be able to see the risen Lord Jesus with their own eyes. That includes you and me. How do you know that Jesus really rose from the dead? This great truth is given to us in His Word, the Bible. His promise is that when we read and study the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will create the faith in our hearts to believe the words of God. It is written, “Now we did not receive the spirit of the world but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we know the things which God has freely given to us. And we speak about them in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, explaining the things of the Spirit to those who have the Spirit.” Just as God opened the eyes of those two disciples, so He opens your eyes and mind to the truth.
I have often wondered why people cut themselves off from the power of God working through His Word? It would be like having electricity in your house, but never turning on the lights. On the surface, I hear comments like: I don’t know enough to read the Bible or attend Bible study class; or, I am afraid I will ask a “dumb question.” I am convinced these are only superficial excuses. The real reasons run deeper. The major reason is very simple: priorities. Getting involved in a Bible study or reading one’s Bible on a daily basis would mean rearranging what is important in your life. And quite frankly, we are busy people in today’s world. There are many things that tug on our lives and demand our time and energy. But perhaps an even deeper reason for not being in the Word is the fear of change. So many Christians look at being a child of God as another thing that demands their attention and time. They see becoming a disciple of Christ as meaning that now they have to attend worship services, they must pray and read their Bible, and then they must give up some of their money, which is already in short supply. This, my dear friends in Christ, is only a cheap imitation of what real discipleship truly is.
Recall the two disciples from Emmaus, as they sat at the table with their new-found friend. We are told, “He (Jesus) took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’” Their eyes were opened and their hearts burned within them. They heard the Word of God and it impacted their lives forever. This is the part of being a disciple of Christ that is so difficult to fully explain. Yes, it changes your life, but it is a good thing. You want your life to change! Knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior brings joy, contentment, and peace to your life, even when life throws you a curve ball, causing you to endure trials and hardships. At the supper table that night, Jesus vanished before their eyes, but instead of feeling sad and disappointed; their hearts were on fire with joy and happiness. And they felt compelled to travel back to Jerusalem that very night to share their joy with their fellow believers.
In the beginning of this sermon, I asked you a lot of questions, so many questions that you may have been getting irritated with me. Scripture is a treasure book of love letters that God has written to you. He yearns; He aches, to be close to you. He wants to be your God. He wants to take care of you and shower His blessings on you, to fill you with joy and peace and contentment. May your heart burn within you as you feast on His Holy Word! Amen.
Second Sunday of Easter - April 19, 2020
John 20: 19-31
“The Scars Remain”
Hands! Look at your hands; take a long look at your hands. Turn them over and look at both sides. Your hands tell the story of your life. Oh, they don’t reveal all of the details of every event in your life, but they are a reminder of some of the unique times that you personally experienced. How often it is that your hands are the first part of your body to touch an object that will cause you harm: a hot surface on a stove, harsh chemicals, or a piece of steel that is so cold that your skin sticks to it.
Yet it is our hands that are used as instruments with which we produce all kinds of creative and necessary artifacts that can make life easier. Our hands, trained by experience and repetition, can build great buildings and, with the same hands, may be used to create delicate and beautiful patterns with a needle and thread. Our hands may be used to paint pictures or knead bread or play ball.
But there is a “dark side” to our hands also. With our hands we can strike out and inflict all kinds of bodily harm to another fellow human being. Yes, we can even use our hands to take another life. We can write words that hurt and scar relationships. Some hands are used to steal and cheat our neighbor. And as we have heard so much of these past months, our hands can play host to germs and viruses that we pass on to one other.
How interesting it is, that on the first evening of the resurrection of our dear Lord, He comes to His disciples and greets them as they find shelter behind closed doors, saying “Peace be with you.” They were frightened and didn’t know what to say or do. So what does Jesus do? He shows them His hands and His side. And what did His hands look like? They had scars, scars made from the nails that were driven into them as they prepared to hang Him on the cross three days before. Those scars identified Him as the One who was crucified.
Sin has a way of producing scars. All of you here this morning, without exception, have scars from your past. There are marriages that are so covered with scar tissue that one can hardly recognize the marriage. Others have been so wounded in their youth that the burden of carrying around the guilt of those past days overwhelms them. For some of you, these scars define you. You act as you do because of some past event in your life. You use various coping mechanisms that you have learned from the scars of your past life. Some of the ways you deal with issues that are happening in your life right now are healthy, while others are very unhealthy. Some are even destructive in your life today.
Other people are determined that the scars worn today may indeed reveal your past but you refuse to allow them to define who you are now. Jesus showed His disciples His hands and the scars were quite visible. He will always have those scars. Those scars were the result of sin, not His, but yours. They point to the final battle that God fought with evil. He took a hit. He went down, but He didn’t stay down. Those scars are indeed part of His past but they don’t define who He is now. He is the risen Lord; He crushed the head of the serpent. Satan has been and will always be defeated. Evil did not win on that hill outside of Jerusalem. Jesus took a terrible hit but He rose again, victorious, with all power, glory and honor, never to die again. And He gives you and me the victory over sin, death and the devil. His victory is your victory! When you appear before the judgement seat on that final day of glory, look at His hands, and see the scars. For the child of God, those are scars revealing His great love for us. Listen to His promises in Romans 8, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will sorrow, hardship or persecution, hunger or nakedness, danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For you are being killed all the day long. We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all this, He who loved us helps us win an overwhelming victory. Yes, I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither anything in the present nor in the future, no powers, nothing above or below, nor any other creature can ever separate us from the love God has for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The scars of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ not only reveal your past, they define who you are now! You are a precious child of God! “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.” Amen.
Easter Sunday - April 12, 2020
Text: Matthew 28: 1-10
“The Eyes of Angels”
This entire Lenten season we have been looking at eyes. We began with “misjudging eyes,” as those who witnessed a woman pouring expensive perfume over the head of Jesus misjudged the significance of this act of gratitude. We then looked for “betraying eyes.” We experienced some “sleepy eyes” as we watched the disciples sleep instead of praying. Then it was “denying eyes” that found Peter cursing and swearing that he never knew Jesus. “Worldly eyes” found us confessing that the world so often comes between our relationship with our Lord. “Murderous eyes” saw us looking at the events of Holy Week through the eyes of the chief priests who wanted Jesus dead.
This morning we look at the events that unfolded on that first Easter Sunday through the eyes of the angels. Our focus is on one set of eyes, that of the angel who sat inside Jesus’ empty tomb. The empty tomb really wasn’t that empty, was it? In Mark’s account there were two women named Mary who had come to finish the hasty burial from the previous Friday. Salome was there and, to everyone’s surprise, there also was an angel in the “empty tomb.” Despite what you see in figurines and artistic depictions, God’s angels usually appear as majestic creatures who strike fear into the hearts of onlookers. That’s why the first words out of the mouths of angels are often, “Don’t be afraid!” Easter morning was no exception. The angel said to the terrified women, “Do not be alarmed” (Mark 16:6). They didn’t need to fear this angel, since he had come in peace to be the bearer of Good News. The angel continued, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you” (vv. 6–7). The one “who was crucified” can be translated as “the Crucified” one. This is significant because the angel, who had seen the resurrected Jesus, still called Him the “Crucified One.” Later, Jesus identified Himself to the disciples by showing them the scars of the nails in his hands and feet and He invited Thomas to put his hand in his side where the soldier’s spear had pierced. Still later, St. Paul would encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and then write to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul characterized his preaching to the Galatians this way: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1b).
It might be tempting to think that since this is Easter, we should talk about life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. But the point is: there can’t be a resurrection without first having a death. You have to die before you can become alive again. The cross has always been the center of the theology of the Bible, the focal point of life. The cross is our life! St. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20); and “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” ( Galatians 6:14).
Of course, the resurrection is the great “Amen” to the life and work of Christ Jesus, who died for our sins. We need both Good Friday and Easter, as they are opposite sides of the same coin. The angel sitting in the tomb on that first Easter saw the entire picture. This Crucified One is not here; He has risen! This is the message that needs to be proclaimed throughout the world.
There was a fictitious story I once read about Jesus returning to heaven after His resurrection. There was a big party and the angels really celebrated as only angels can celebrate. During the party, the angels Michael and Gabriel took Jesus aside and asked Him if they could get a jump on things and go down to earth to begin spreading the good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and what that means for mankind. They were anxious to get started. What was His plan? Jesus smiled and said that the plan was to have His followers spread the good news. The angels could not believe their ears. “You mean,” they stammered, “the plan is to have human beings tell the world about what You have done for all people?” “Yes,” replied Jesus, nodding His head, “That’s the plan!” The angels protested, “But Jesus, how many times have humans failed You? How often have they messed up the message? They say they love their neighbors but then gossip and tear them down. They say that you are their God but the world leads them astray. At every turn, they are messing things up. What happens when they fail in this monumental mission of sharing the Gospel? What’s Plan B?” Jesus looked at the two angels and simply said, “There is no Plan B.”
Oh, if only we could see the resurrection through the eyes of the angels! The word “angel” in the Greek literally means “messenger.” In this simple sense, you and I are like angels. To have the “eyes of an angel” is to see the entire life and death of Jesus as a personal journey of living our life for Him. Not because you have to in order to gain salvation, but because through His life and death, you have eternal life. This is a gift from your heavenly Father, and you can’t help but share your joy.
On that first Easter, the angel told the women where they could find Jesus; likewise, today you and I have the same message: Jesus has promised that you may find Him in His Word and Sacraments. May your eyes always stay fixed on Jesus Christ, crucified for your sins and raised for your salvation. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Good Friday - April 10, 2020
Text: Mark 15:21–39
Our first six midweek Lenten sermons focused on what is seen through the eyes of various characters in the Passion—the perspectives of Judas, Peter, the chief priests and scribes, Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, and the Jewish crowd. Last night, we meditated on how there is much more than meets the eye going on at the Last Supper. On Sunday we’ll look at the empty tomb through the eyes of the Easter angel.
But tonight, we’ll view Jesus’ crucifixion through God’s eyes. We are not going to break it down to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but rather keep the focus on Elohim, the eyes of Yahweh, God. Because the Trinity is beyond our simple minds, we may – no, we will - struggle this evening to find the right words, the right way of looking at it. But the struggle will not just be because of the fact that we cannot fully comprehend the Triune God. We also because we cannot understand the depth and height of our sins and the sacrifice that it took to make us clean again. Because God has done it all, we have invested nothing towards our salvation. No blood of ours was shed, no tears cried, no yelps of pain as the cords of the whip ripped across our back and no nails pounded into our hands and feet. This does not sit well with our proud and sinful flesh that loves to think we are better than we truly are. It is the proud and haughty flesh that begs to differ with the notion that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. This flesh of ours must be crucified, put to death. This is painful for us. So the lights are dimmed and the evening’s mood is sober as we contemplate our unworthiness before God.
This is why we must see the cross of Christ through the eyes of God. If we just look at the cross through our own eyes, we will either become despondent and depressed or we’ll have a false sense of piety. Just what did God see on that fateful Good Friday? He saw His holy and righteous anger. God has a right to be angry at sin. He provided the crown of His creation- mankind - with everything they needed. They lacked nothing. He even endowed them with His image and put them in charge of His creation that they might “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven, and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” We are told, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” What a charmed life mankind was to experience: no pain, no suffering, no evil in all the world. They were the top of the chain of command; they bowed to no one, no one except God.
But all of this wasn’t good enough for mankind; he wanted more. We all know the rest of the story. This brings us to part one of the dramatic climax of the history of the earth; Good Friday. On that afternoon God saw sin, all of mankind’s sins, including yours and mine. And His holy wrath burned in all of its intensity. His Son had taken on, yes, become sin.
Hidden in all of this anger, shrouded in the darkness that kept the sinful eyes of mankind from seing, is the amazing love of the Father. St. Paul wrote that the Father “did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” and that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait around for us to clean up our act first. While we were ungodly and enemies of God, He slaughtered His Son in our place, under His righteous anger against the sin of the world. This is the glory of God. This is what Jesus prayed for, just hours before His crucifixion: Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do’” (John 17:1–4). The Father and the Son both glory in having mercy on sinners. That mercy is what they accomplished during Christ’s perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection. The Father sees all of your sin taken upon Jesus on the cross, even the sin of crucifying His Son. Moreover, He sees His wrath against sin being poured out upon the Son and the gates of hell prevailing over Him. Yes, hell is being under God’s wrath, and that is what the Father sees Jesus taking, in your place, to save you.
On Good Friday, God’s eyes see everything necessary to save you from sin, death, and hell. Although your own eyes look upon your guilt, unworthiness, and impurity, the Father looks upon your sin forgiven for Christ’s sake, the Son credits His own righteousness to your account, and the Holy Spirit makes you a participant in the holiness of Jesus. You are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Keep this truth on your mind, in your heart, and before your eyes at all times: When God looks at you, He sees the apple of His eye, His beloved child united with Christ in His death and raised up to new, eternal life with Him. Amen.
Palm Sunday - April 5, 2020
Philippians 2: 5-11
“The Proper Attitude”
Attitude – it has a major effect on a person’s well-being, both physically and spiritually. Even if you have been living under a rock, everyone is aware of the coronavirus. It has literally turned the entire world upside down, if one can turn a round ball upside down. It seems like everyone has an opinion about the spread of the virus. Whether you think things have been over-blown by the media or people have turned a deaf ear and have been careless in dealing with it, one thing is certain – it is for real. Real people are getting sick; some of those real people are dying. Real jobs are being lost, the stock market has taken a major hit and real people are worshipping here this morning because of the ramifications of the disease. We were really supposed to be celebrating the rite of confirmation this morning, but it isn’t happening. But it will, down the road a piece, God- willing.
As we celebrate and recall the events of long ago which we now called Palm Sunday, it is good for us to pause, to rethink and to look again at the earth-changing events that took place that Holy Week. There was the joy of Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem as a king returns from a victorious campaign against his enemies. The world becomes dark as the sun is hidden from high noon to three on that Friday afternoon. The most earth-shattering event of all times was unfolding. And then to try and wrap one’s mind around the battle between God and evil! The Son of Man hung suspended between heaven and earth, nailed to a cursed cross. There all the fury of God’s holy wrath is released and all of His amazing grace and love revealed. All of this was done in the one place on earth called Golgotha which means, the place of the skull. Who can comprehend it; who can fully realize its significance?
Unfortunately, many don’t think much about the Son of Man dying on a cross. It would be interesting to read in fifty years from now what the history books will remember about the coronavirus pandemic that happened in early 2020. I was not alive when the Great Depression happened in the late 1920’s and on into the 1930’s, but I saw the effects it had on those who did live through those dark days. In 1985 when my grandpa died, his two children found hidden in the basement, where only spiders lived, over 10 Folger coffee cans filled to the brim with silver dollars. Behind pictures on the wall, between the picture and the backing, were twenty dollar bills. You see, Grandpa and Grandma lived through the time when banks which had held their money, bellied up and the money was gone, never to be retrieved. It wasn’t going to happen to them again. They never again fully trusted the banks.
I have heard from various sources and discussion groups on why this dreaded coronavirus has invaded, literally, the whole world. Some put the blame on China; after all, it supposedly started in that country. Others blame the governments for not doing enough, fast enough. And I have even heard some speak against God, that it’s entirely His fault. One hears things like, “If He were a loving and good God, He would never have let this happen.” Point your finger at whoever you want to, but I would like to move on to the next step; now what? Tragedies will happen in this world. They are sure to come. Some are the direct result of our sins, while other bad things that happen to us are simply a matter of living in this world. But perhaps what is even more important is not the tragedy but how we handle these evil situations that enter our lives. To whom do you look, to whom do you find comfort, and by whom are you strengthened to be able to deal with your suffering?
Awhile back I read an editorial cartoon where one person was complaining to God about all the tragic loss of life of young children in our schools today with all the various mass shooting. The person was complaining to God that God wasn’t doing anything about it. God’s reply: “I’ve been kicked out of schools.” That’s pretty much the way it is, isn’t it. And we might add, God’s been kicked out of our nation also. As a society, we rise up against Him when our world seeks to normalize same-sex unions, and we tragically protect a woman’s right to kill an unborn child as long as it is in the womb. And when tragedy strikes such as the coronavirus, we turn to “America Strong.” Instead of falling on our knees and confessing our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness, we turn to our own means, our own ways to help us get through the disease.
The power of God is not that He protects us from every evil in the world. His power lies in His making something good come from the evil that oppresses us. The cross of Jesus Christ was not a power symbol in the world that Jesus was living in; it was a curse. Yet God used this horrible instrument of torture and death to save the world. For the one who hung on that cross was the very Son of God, Son of Man. And He took our sins upon Himself, paying the cost of our debt of sins so that we might have life in His Name. That’s power.
But you know, many people do not want this free gift of God, the forgiveness of sins. Instead they insist on pulling themselves up by their boot straps and trying to make it on their own. That’s “America Strong.” And it will fail. Instead, trust in God; He has not failed nor will He ever fail. His track record is perfect. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Yes, on this Palm Sunday we remember the great sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and with His promises we boldly more forward into the future. Yes, we can even face a future with coronavirus in it and so many other evils that abound, knowing that in Jesus, we have a great future. As it is written, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” Our God is strong; nothing will separate us from His love for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. I leave you with His promise, “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. Fear not, for I am with you.’” Amen.
Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 29, 2020
John 11: 1-45
Hymns: 486, (tune 846) 752, 548
Conflicting messages – do we ever get that in our world today with the corona virus spreading like wildfire. The internet is filled with bogus sites that claim to have the right information. And how is one to know what the truth is for sure? I suppose you find someone whom you can trust and has the skill set to know the truth from falsehood. This chimes right in with the Gospel reading this morning. It is at the same time most comforting and confusing. There is so much confusion with Jesus’ disciples and the two sisters of Lazarus. The only two that were not confused were Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus was not confused because He knew all things and Lazarus was not confused because he died.
It all begins with the news of Lazarus’ sickness. Jesus is asked to come quickly; Lazarus is about to expire, he is near death. Jesus’ response is, “This sickness is not meant to cause death.” The disciples were really relieved with this good news, that Lazarus will not die. So Jesus hangs out in Galilee for a few more days. Then He announces that He is heading back to Judea. Ah, but there is a small problem here. Jesus is a wanted man in Judea; the religious leaders have a price on His head. But Jesus needs to go back and wake up Lazarus for he has fallen asleep. The disciples, still convinced that Jesus does not need to go back into Judea, try to convince Jesus that Lazarus will be fine; his sleeping is a sure sign of recovery. Jesus makes it plain and clear, “Lazarus has died.” But wait a minute, didn’t Jesus say that this sickness is not meant to cause death and now He tells His disciples that Lazarus has died? The disciples are so confused. They inform Jesus that they will return with Him to die also. Wow, talk about confusing. Everyone was on a different wave length.
And then the plot thickens. Jesus arrives and is met by Martha. She almost, sort-of, scolds Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But now I know God will give You anything You ask Him.” Does she not understand that Jesus is God? We know she later confesses very clearly, “I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” That is about the first clear, non-confusing statement in this whole chapter. Jesus’ words to Martha can be confusing also, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. The person who believes in Me will live even if he dies. Yes, everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Explain that one to me! If you believe in Jesus you will live even if you die. Was there a question that some of us will not die? If you live and believe in Jesus, you will never die. How can this be? We will all someday die but if we live and believe in Jesus, we will never die. Is this saying that if you die, it means you did not live and believe in Jesus? Is anyone confused? Have you ever wondered how these words of Jesus recorded here in John are understood by unbelievers who are in attendance at a funeral? Perhaps we should be wondering how these verses are understood by believers.
So how does one sort this all out? First of all, one has to realize that Jesus was always moving from the physical world into the spiritual realm. He was always teaching about eternal matters, things beyond the here and now. We saw this in His conversation with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan woman at the well, just to mention two of many. Now with Martha and Mary, two devoted followers of Jesus, believers, He uses the opportunity of Lazarus’ death to teach them, His disciples, and you and me about death. We need to remember that there are three kinds of death: spiritual death, temporal death and eternal death. We are born spiritually dead; we do not know God nor do we want to know Him. This is the plight of every human being at conception. Temporal death is when the body and soul separate for a time. The body returns to the dust from which it was made; the soul goes to heaven or hell to wait for the final day of glory. Eternal death is the result of unbelief. Those who do not believe in Jesus will experience eternal death in hell.
As we read in Scripture, the wages of sin is death. Because our first parents disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, death entered into the world. Temporal and spiritual death was passed down from them to their children all the way to you and me. On the day that has been appointed for us, all of us will temporally, physically die. The only exception is if the Final Day of glory comes before we die. Jesus announces, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He is not “a resurrection of a life” but He is THE Resurrection and THE Life. Jesus then moves in His conversation with Martha from the physical, temporal death to spiritual, eternal life. If you believe in Jesus, you will spiritually live even if you temporarily, physically die. In fact, Jesus continues, if you physically live and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will never spiritually die. Your spiritual life will continue even in temporal death. Are you confused yet?
Jesus wanted to give an example of what He was talking about in order that those around Him would believe that the Father had sent the Son. Jesus was led to the tomb of Lazarus and then He gave us a peek, a sneak preview, into the glory of the final day when He returns to raise up all the dead. “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” The dead man came out, his feet and hands wrapped in burial clothes. So it will be when the Lord of Lords returns on that final day of glory. All the graves will be opened and the temporarily dead will live again. Those who never spiritually died, that is those who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be reunited with their bodies and together, body and soul will enter into eternity where any kind of death will be no more. Amen!
Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 22, 2020
Hymns: 545, 849, 841
Who is at fault? This question is paramount when you and someone else have an automobile accident. There is such a thing as a “no fault” accident, a “no fault” divorce and the list goes on and on. Hardly anyone wants to step up and take the blame; it is always the other guy’s fault. In our long gospel reading this morning, we find the disciples looking at a man born blind and asking the question, “Rabbi, why was he born blind? Did he sin or his parents?” They assumed that someone had sinned for the man was blind. Even today this question can easily occupy our thoughts. The corona virus started in China. It is obvious that they must be a more sinful nation than the United States, right? And then there is Washington state, they must be the most sinful state in the union, I mean, after all, they were the first to have a death due to the virus. Of course one would expect California to fall victim to the disease, I mean, look at all the radical folks who live there.
Is there a time when it is good for us to take a look at what is happening in our life and do a serious evaluation? Of course, sometimes even on a daily basis, but one must be very careful here. If one looks at his or her life and finds that things are going pretty well, it may be tempting to see this as a sign from God that they are pretty good Christians. It may be tempting to think, “My career is blossoming, I have plenty of money and my health is great. I must be doing something right.”
On the other end of the spectrum is that person who looks at their life of frustration, loneliness, a string of broken relationships and that person comes to the conclusion that God must be punishing him, that he is not a good Christian. Perhaps it is even true that God doesn’t love him anymore. To muddy the water even more, it may be true that God is disciplining you and discipline at the time, is always painful. But God is always working to turn your eyes away from yourself that you might see Him.
This is why it is of great interest to read the answer Jesus gives His disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Rather, he is blind so that God can show what He can do in this man’s case.” God works through what mankind regards as defects, weaknesses, and failures. Man looks for beauty, riches, power and what one can see on the outside. The man’s blindness was there so that the works of God would be revealed and God would be glorified. Jesus could have just spoken the word and the man would have received his sight. He did that on other occasions. He could have laid His hands on the man’s eyes, looked up to heaven and they would have been opened. He had done that before. But for whatever reason, the Son of Man chose to spit on the ground, mix up a bit of dirt, making it into a mud-like paste which was applied to the man’s eyes. Then Jesus gave the command to go and wash it all off in a particular pool of water. And the man born blind could see for the very first time in his life. It was as if Jesus completed some unfinished business of creation.
Can you imagine what that must have been like for the blind man who could now see? The blue sky, the sun, the faces of those he knew but had never seen, how exciting it must have been for him to now see! Then someone brought the man to the Pharisees. Jesus had made one very critical mistake when He healed the blind man. He forgot to check the calendar; it was the holy day, the day when a pious Jew would not work. As you have just heard in the Gospel reading, the man and Pharisees went round and round until they finally kicked the man out of the church. He was ousted from the church because he had received his sight on the Sabbath day.
Jesus heard about it and then went and found the man who had been given his sight, there was still some unfinished business to take care of. The man had received his physical sight and now his faith was going to be strengthened. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man born blind responded, “And who is He, sir that I may believe in Him?” Remember the last time the man was with Jesus he had mud plastered on his eyes and was told to go and wash, but he never saw Jesus, he had no idea what Jesus looked like. Jesus responded, “You have seen him, and it is He who is speaking to you.” The man’s immediate response reveals his faith. He first confesses, “I believe.” And then he worships Him.
There will be a day when you stand face to face with Jesus. It will be on the Final Day of glory, when our Lord returns and with a shout, raises all the dead. Until that day it is as Peter writes in his first epistle, “You never saw Him, but you love Him. You do not see Him now, but you believe in Him. And a joy, unspeakable and wonderful, fills you with delight because you receive by faith what you are looking for, namely, the salvation of your souls!” Amen!