Proclaiming the Good News of Ephesians 2:8–9
2nd Sunday after Pentecost - June 14, 2020
Matthew 9: 35-10:8
Hymns: 856, 559, 839
“Sheep without a Shepherd”
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” 38 There are three words in this verse that are very interesting. They are “compassion, harassed, and helpless.” The first word, “compassion,” has three different words in the original Greek language that are all translated “compassion” in the English. The word used in this text for compassion is the most intense of the three. It is a very difficult word to fully grasp and understand. It literally means “to feel the pain someone else is experiencing, as if it were one’s own pain.” Notice well in verse 38, it said that when Jesus looked out over the crowd of people that were coming to Him, “He had compassion FOR them.” We may say that someone has “compassion on his friend” meaning that a person feels sorry for him or her and doesn’t give to them what they deserved. Jesus had compassion FOR them; he was feeling their pain as if it were His own. He was not an outsider looking in, He was one of them.
Your God is not a God who is some distant deity that looks down upon earth every once in a while to see if we’ve managed to kill ourselves. Your God isn’t someone who throws a few scraps of food to a pack of hungry dogs and watches to see which one gets the biggest share. Your God has compassion for you so He became one of you. The Creator becomes His own creature. He understands your problems, your pain and your joy and happiness. He understands, yes, He has compassion for you, because He is with you and because He is one of you.
I don’t know about you, but I do know that I have trouble trying to squeeze the magnitude of what I just told you between my two ears. There was a story about a little boy who had gotten to be best buddies with an older couple that lived next door to them. To him they were Grandpa and Grandma. One day the little boy came home and his mother called him to her side. She explained that the neighbor had died; Grandma was gone. The little boy asked if he could go over and visit Grandpa. The mother was very reluctant but she finally said “yes, but don’t stay long.” Well, time got away from the mom and then she noticed it was over one and a half hours since her son had gone over to visit the neighbor. Finally the lad returned. Mom was not pleased and expressed her dismay to her son. She questioned why he was gone so long; what was he doing? The little boy looked into the face of his mother and said he was sorry. He was sitting on Grandpa’s lap, helping him cry. Compassion. That’s your God; He feels your pain.
I mentioned there were three key words in verse 38. The first word was compassion; the second word is “harassed.” The sheep were harassed. Again, the word in the original language is often translated as “harassed or troubled” but it literally means, “to skin.” The sheep were literally being skinned. It is one thing to have the shirt taken off your back, but to be skinned, that’s a whole lot more personal than having your clothes ripped off your body. Just what did our Lord Jesus mean? He was making a whirlwind tour of His home territory of Galilee. He healed a paralyzed man, He raised a young girl from the dead, He gave sight to two blind men and cast out a demon from another. As it is written, “Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness.” And all the while, the Pharisees were on Him like stink on a skunk, hounding Him and finding fault with everything He did. But the people kept coming to Jesus; they feasted on every word that came out of His mouth. They were hungry for the truth. And so when our Lord looked at the streams of people as they made their way toward Him, He had compassion for them for they were being skinned by their religious leaders.
As I was writing this sermon a few weeks ago, the news on the T.V. looked grim. People were going crazy in various cities in our nation: looting, burning and destroying lives and livelihoods. Why? What pent up anger lives in the hearts of so many people. Why? When as a nation we have removed God from our lives, this is what is left – chaos and unbridled expressions of hatred and despair. Jesus felt the full force of that anger when the crowds kept yelling, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”
Again, our three words are: compassion, harassed or skinned, and finally “helpless.” For the third time, the Greek word helps us understand what Jesus is saying. The word “helpless” literally means “to be cast down.” It is a word that is often used in reference to pregnant ewes that are about to lamb out. It happens especially to ewes as they lie down in a small ditch and soon they roll over and all four feet are in the air. They can’t get up. It is called cast down. Gases build up that eventually shut down the circulation to the feet and if left in this position, the sheep will die. On a hot day, it only takes a few hours for this to happen.
So as Jesus looks over the great crowd of people He has compassion for them because He sees a people who are being skinned and are cast down. They are like sheep without a shepherd. And His answer is: “There is much gain to be harvested, but there are only a few workers. Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers to bring in His grain.” It is interesting to note that He changes metaphors as He goes from shepherds to workers in the harvest. You and I are those workers. We go out, not with our own power, but in the Name of the Good Shepherd. The harvest is ripe; we see this all around us: hatred, unrest, pointing fingers, accusing and making excuses for evil behavior. God’s love, His compassion, and His understanding are what we have to offer to a broken world that is right now grappling with how to find peace and rest. Show forgiveness, mercy, love, and kindness. You are the workers. Go out into the field ripe for harvest and know that God goes with you; yes, He is in you as His love fills your heart. Amen.
Trinity Sunday - June 7, 2020
Matthew 28: 16-20
Hymns: 507, 835, 876
There is no greater compliment to a woman who has just prepared a delicious dish for her guests and they love it. The supreme compliment is when they ask her for the recipe. They like it so much that they want to make it in their own kitchen. Not only do they desire to know the ingredients but the amount of each one and if there is some special way in which the dish was prepared. This morning we are going to get the recipe of what all is involved when Jesus gives to His disciples the command to “make disciples.” How in the world does a person make disciples? Here’s the recipe.
Right on the top of the first page of the recipe is the bold statement of fact, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” In the original language, “heaven and earth” denote the kind of authority, not the place. Very simply, our Lord has the absolute authority over all things. And it is with this authority that He writes the recipe. His way is the only way that you are to mix up a batch of disciples.
The first batch of “disciples” were gathered on a hill in Galilee where Jesus had told them to meet Him. We are told, “When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.” In order to make disciples, you have to be one. On that wind-swept hill, the motley crew of eleven bowed a knee to worship their leader. And then Matthew writes, “but some doubted Him.” This is only recorded here in Matthew. Concerning this event, we read in Acts that the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are You now going to re-establish the kingdom of Israel?” They were still looking for some earthly kingship that would rule the world. What was the doubt that Matthew wrote about? Was he recording the doubt in his own heart? We don’t know exactly what doubt lingered, nor whose heart. However, it does give us hope in order to be a disciple of Christ and to go about making disciples, you don’t have to be perfect.
I can recall early in my ministry, I would sweat bullets in Bible class hoping the participants would not ask me a real tough question that I couldn’t answer. I thought being a pastor meant you had to have all the answers. But it was soon evident that I did not know everything and it was okay. Now I have learned ways to “work through” some of those difficult questions.
Let’s get back to our recipe for making disciples, knowing that in order to make disciples, one must be a disciple, but you don’t have to be perfect.
The first ingredient needed in making disciples is “all nations.” No one is to be left out. Skin color, gender, their native language they use, their age, none of this matters. This means you don’t have to ask if God wants this or that person to be His disciple. Rich or poor, famous or a common man - - all are invited to be part of His disciples. So as far as the recipe for making disciples is concerned, the main ingredient is anyone that comes into your life. Maybe it is a friend who went through a troubling time in his life and now continues to experience doubts and feelings of worthlessness. You can share the mercy and love of God with that person. You can walk with him to the cross and see God’s unconditional love.
Jesus gives us some tools to use in making disciples. Listen, “…baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that the tool mentioned is not about you and me. Baptism is an act of God; it is what God does, not what we do. It is easy to get this mixed up. And when it is wrong, the recipe turns sour and leads to all kinds of problems like doubting God’s love for us and how He is going to take care of us. When baptism becomes an act that depends on us, seeds of doubt are often planted in our minds and hearts as to if we are really disciples of Jesus. It ruins the recipe.
But there’s more. We read, “…and teaching them to observe and do everything I have commanded you.” You teach in order to make disciples. What do you teach? You teach the Bible; that is where you learn all of God’s commands for you. Of course, in order to teach, you must have a grasp of the subject matter that is to be taught. If you don’t know it, how can you teach it? So the recipe of making disciples is one continuous learning experience. Isn’t that what life is, one continuous lesson?
And the final ingredient is like icing on a cake. “And remember—I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The recipe for making disciples is God’s recipe; it always turns out great in the end! This is because He is with us to the end. Amen.
Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 24, 2020
John 17: 1-11
Hymns: 478, 700, 488
“Hidden, Faith, and Suffering”
“God bless you!” Sometimes we say this when someone sneezes. Why? If you Google it, there are varying accounts as to the origin of this response. One belief is that it originated in Rome when the bubonic plague was raging through Europe. One of the symptoms of the plague was coughing and sneezing, and it is believed that Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) suggested saying “God bless you” after a person sneezed in hopes that this prayer would protect them from an otherwise certain death. There are other various thoughts, but no one knows for sure. What I do know is that one of the oldest recorded blessings in the Bible is written in the book of Ruth. Boaz, who was a very wealthy man, would each morning greet his workers with the salutation, “The Lord be with you.” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” What do you suppose these words mean? What comes to your mind? Are you thinking about someone’s physical well-being and so are asking God to keep them from incurring any bodily harm? This certainly can be one’s intent and it is a good one.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, from John, chapter 17, we read Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Theologically, it is a very deep and profound chapter in the Bible, as it probes into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. It is here that we also find Jesus praying for His disciples. But He is not only praying for those who are sitting around Him. He also includes those disciples that will come long after the initial twelve have died. That would be you and me. His prayer is much more than a “God bless you.” Jesus does not pray that no earthly or bodily harm may happen to us. Listen, as Jesus makes His requests known to His Father as to what will happen to us: “Make them holy in the truth; Your word is truth.” Jesus continues, “I am not asking You to take them out of the world but to keep them from the Evil One. Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, the Name which You gave Me, so that they will be one, as We are one.” What Jesus is asking for has been dubbed “the theology of the cross.” There are three key words involved with the theology of the cross: hidden, faith and suffering. These three are interwoven and intimately connected with each other.
We begin with the hiddenness of God. We have a physically hidden God. He is a mystery; His ways are far beyond the scope of our thoughts. As human beings, it is our nature to want to understand why things happen to us, to those around us, and to those in the world. Not only do we want to understand, but we want to control what happens to us. We are currently surrounded by this viral pandemic that is controlling our lives. It is an invisible virus that we can’t see, nor can we fully comprehend how it works. It has figuratively turned the entire world upside down. We need to get control of it, to conquer it and rein it in so that it doesn’t hurt us anymore. This is our human response and there is certainly nothing wrong with seeking a solution to the pandemic.
Some may wonder where God is in all of this chaos. He is where He has always been: Hidden! This brings us to our second word: faith. Listen to the word of God written in first Peter, “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.” The life of a child of God is a life hidden in God, in a life of faith. We believe, that is, we have faith that our God will protect us from the evils of the world. How He chooses to do this is His business. We have faith that He knows what is best for us. Does this mean that we will never be infected with Covid 19? No! There may be some among us who will get sick and perhaps even die because of this virus. Does this mean God didn’t take care of us? No! What greater care is there than to be safely in heaven with our Lord? His promise is He will protect us from the Evil One.
This takes us to the final word, completing the circle that describes the theology of the cross: suffering. This hidden God who loves us enough to give us the faith to believe will keep us safe, even in the face of suffering. He is always with us, even if, or maybe we should say, as we suffer various trials and temptations. His promise is that we will suffer in this world. Some of that suffering is the direct result of our sin. Some of our suffering is just because we live in a sinful world; sometimes we suffer because we are children of God. It is written, “Do not think lightly of the Lord’s discipline or give up when He corrects you. For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He lays suffering on everyone whom He accepts as His son.” Hebrews 12:5-6
This theology of the cross is total nonsense to the unbeliever. It seems stupid to them and they want nothing to do with it. The unrighteous person wants nothing to do with a God who could but won’t fix all his or her problems by making them go away. But for the child of God, this theology of the cross is pure joy and comfort. Your God loves you so much that He will do whatever it takes to keep you safe from the Evil One. If it means that you suffer for a little while, so be it, if that means you will be with Him in paradise forever. The hidden God is revealed in faith through suffering. It produces peace in the heart of the believer. It does not require full understanding, but simply a faith in a great God who knows and controls all things. It gives hope, knowing that death is not an end but the beginning. It is as Jesus says, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one.” So be it. Amen!
Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 17, 2020
John 14: 15-21
Once upon a time, I thought that an infant had more needs than a full-grown, healthy, robust, mature adult. I was very wrong. I confused needs with dependence. The infant child is more dependent on others but when you think about it, they have few needs in comparison with a healthy adult. Which adult among us would like to have a life that consisted of a diet of only milk, a dry diaper for clothes and a warm place to sleep? Getting older myself, those needs don’t sound so bad. Think about it! How many cars or motorized vehicles do you own? How many rooms do you have in your home? How many different kinds of food do you have in your refrigerator, freezer or pantry? How many sets of clothing do you have, and remember to include both winter and summer. And shoes, how many pairs of shoes do you own? Someone was showing me their newly remodeled home and they opened up a walk-in closet. Oh my goodness, there was one entire wall of shoes. They had more shoes than in a Payless store. Let’s face it: we adults need a lot of things. And when you get older, every morning you need to find your glasses, your hearing aids, your teeth and perhaps even your cane or walker. A baby doesn’t need any of that.
Thus far we have been talking about one’s physical needs. And what is true about our physical needs, rings true concerning our spiritual needs. A spiritually mature person spends time in prayer on behalf of others. They reach out and help others, putting the needs of others before their own wants and desires. They carry the burdens of those who are hurting and discouraged. Mature Christians are filled with mercy and compassion. With spiritual eyes they see and are aware of their own sins and come to God with sighs of repentance and humility. Those who have been around the block more than once or twice know the danger of the temptations of the world and their own flesh. This is why the words of our Lord are of great comfort to us, “I will do anything you ask in My Name in order that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me for anything in My Name, I will do it.” Is this a blank check? All you do is just write in the amount and it is yours? Not so fast my dear friend. Note well, you are asking in the “Name of Jesus.” And what you ask for in Jesus’ name will glorify the Father. Jesus glorified the Father by obeying Him, by doing His will. And the will of the Father was that Jesus should suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. It may be that you are called upon to suffer physically in order that your spiritual health is strengthened and your faith is made all the more certain.
This brings us to the fifteenth verse, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” The big question in this verse is: is this law or gospel? In other words, is this a demand or a promise? Your answer will take you down two very different paths; in fact, the roads lead in opposite directions. Many people see this statement: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” as a demand from God. In other words, they see the Law. If you truly love me, then you will obey me. A number of years back there was a big movement called Promise Keepers. The group encouraged men to stand up and take responsibility to become good husbands and fathers. It was a great idea; certainly a Christian man would want to be a better husband and father. But it failed. Why? Men would go home all pumped up and ready to be the father or the husband that God wants us to be, only to fail. The Law never changes the heart. It may, for a time, change the outward actions of an individual, but never the inner person.
Think of your own life. Whether you are male or female, how would you answer the question: “Do you love God?” If you answer “Yes”, then why don’t you keep His commandments? The Bible says if you love Him, then you will obey Him. This is the nagging thought that comes into the mind of the believer and screams out for an answer. It demands a confession: “I don’t love you, Lord, as I ought to love You, for I don’t keep Your commandments perfectly or even half-way.” None of us love God. If you did, you would obey Him in every way. All of this, of course, is according to the Law.
However, if verse fifteen is, in fact, not a demand but a promise of God, then you are on the only road to salvation. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” The child of God says, “But Father, I have not done what I ought to have done.” [This is the Law.] Jesus says, “I know you haven’t, but I have! I have loved the Father and I have kept His commandments. And now I give my perfect record to you as I mark you as one redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” This means you are no longer under the Law, but grace. What God demands of us, He has done in Jesus. In Christ Jesus, the Law has been fulfilled and we have been set free from the bondage of the Law. You are free to love Him, serve Him, and obey Him, not because you have to, but because it flows from the love of God in your heart. Listen to the words from the epistle of John, “My little children, I am writing this to you to keep you from sinning. If anyone sins, we have One to plead for us face to face with the Father—Jesus Christ, who is righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the world.” Jesus has not left you as orphans; you belong to Him. Amen.
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!