Thursday, May 29, 2014

Feast Day of The Ascension of Our Lord

"And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” 
(Acts 1).

Jesus rose from the dead not to return to the earth but to enter into heaven itself and to appear in the presence of God for us. Jesus is a priest. That’s what the Bible says. And priests provide access to God. That is why he provided the perfect sacrifice for your sins on Calvary. For this heavenly priest was the sacrifice itself. He provides the better blood than Abel. He lays down on the altar that Isaac escapes from. He provides the Red Sea of forgiving blood that cleanses you from all sin – which drowns away the demons and pharoah’s hellish hoards – and allows you to follow him on dry ground to where He is going – to the Promised Land – communion with Father – Son – and Holy Ghost.

You have been saved not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood he entered the Most Holy Place, once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. This is why on Good Friday the temple curtain was ripped in two that we might approach His throne of grace. He unites Himself to us on earth as it is in heaven.

But before his glorious ascent to heaven he descended to hell to preach to the spirits in prison – to proclaim liberty to the captives so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth.”

As we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord tonight we must remember that sin and wickedness did not really begin with Adam and Eve. Disruption and alienation from God did not begin on earth but rather in heaven where Satan and his demons rebelled against the God of love. They were cast down and encouraged men to rebel against God. And ever since wicked men have desired communion with demons rather than communion with God.

But tonight everything is different because heaven and earth, once defiled by demons and men, are now purified and restored to majestic glory. By Christ’s ascension, our Lord of power and might has cleansed the heavenly tabernacle that was once infected with demonic rebellion. The accuser has been cast out. And heaven has been restored and purified by the blood of the Lamb. Heaven has been hallowed and He reigns upon His throne - victorious.

And the temples of your bodies too are raised and ascended to new life. No longer will you commune with demons but you commune with the God of love – with Father and Son. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. An indwelling of God’s presence and heavenly things. You see Jesus left His throne in heaven to become a son of man that we sons of men might become sons of God.

Holy Scripture does not say that the risen and ascended Christ is confined up in heaven. Instead, Christ fills everything. Christ was not received by the heavens but rather He received heaven, having
ascended far above the heavens where He sits “at the right hand of God.” All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. 

He has not removed himself from his church. Instead, He is God and Man, extending his grace, help, and protection in all places – especially Wittenberg, Wisconsin. As Aaron wrote on his breastplate the name of the tribes of Israel when he entered the Holy of Holies, so now Christ, appearing as the true High Priest before God in heaven, wears the names of all believers on His heart. Therefore hell cannot overpower you, death cannot have you. Your name is written in the book of Life. And the gates of heaven are flung wide open. Death’s cruel jaws have been shut.

Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two that God has “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.” For Jesus did not rise form the dead for himself. He rose for you. His resurrection is your resurrection. His Ascension to the Father’s right hand is your ascension.

By Jesus ascension into heaven, Christ makes heavenly blessings available for us on earth. This is to say that Christ’s ascension provides an entrance for us. We too, have access to the throne. Even tonight, in and through his blood, there is a better hope, by which we draw near to God.” And we sing, with angels, and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Singing, Holy holy holy Lord God of Sabaoth. heaven and Earth are full of your glory.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate and Holy Baptism of +Lazarus John+)

"Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23-30).

Tonight Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And because you are his disciples you pray in the morning the Lord’s Prayer, you pray the Psalms. You take your congregation at prayer bulletin insert that your pastor prepares for you and you pray that, at home, too. You pray at breakfast lunch and dinner and thank him for the food which he has given you. You pray regularly and daily for your family, for your children, for your spouse. You pray for your neighbors. You pray for your coworkers. You pray that those who don’t yet know Jesus would come to him. You pray for your enemies. Most importantly you pray for yourself.

Rather than brooding, and fuming, and becoming anxious you open up your heart and pour out every complaint you have to God. You ask him for whatever is on your heart because you know that he cares for you. You know he listens to you, and you know that he will give you everything that you ask in his name. You are a person of prayer.

If you are delusional enough to say, that this describes you, think again. You have failed in this. I have failed in this. And I know why. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned against the God of love – we have all hid from his presence. It is an awful game of hide and seek. We are afraid of God. We are deeply troubled by past and present sins and we are afraid that God is disappointed in us. Perhaps angry with us – or written us off altogether. We think that he is coming after us to give us our fair share. To deal with us according to what we have done. And if we think we are dealing with an angry God, the last thing we could bear is to open our mouths to pray to him. We are spiritual phonies. Why should we bother him?

We think that before we pray, we should at least get our lives put together a little more. We think that that sort of status with God to speak to him face to face is for more professional Christians than ourselves. And so we consider ourselves helpless and beyond any possibility for help. And so we are silent. We don’t ask him for anything. We are unsure if God hears us at all. And if he does hear us we are not totally convinced he altogether cares that much.

Last week Kristina and I welcomed another baby into this world. He entered this world a bit wet, cold, and shaking. And this most helpless creature asked for help. He prayed in the only way that he knew how. He cried for help. He made some noise.  And before he could even open his eyes he was cleaned up and placed on a mother’s warm breast – his naked chest against hers. I covered them with a blanket. And Lazarus our boy was content. His prayer was answered. He rested peacefully.

Jesus tells us tonight that the Father himself loves you, because you have loved His Son and believe in Him. If sinful human parents know how to care for their children, how much more does our heavenly Father delight in caring for his own children. Like a newborn infant you have come into this world with more than your fair share or crying. But you are not an orphan – you are not an unwanted child.

You are redeemed and highly prized by God.  You are called by name. You are adopted by God through holy baptism, which means that you have Jesus as your older brother. God as your Father, and the church as your mother. Your prayers have failed but Jesus prayers have not. He prayed for you in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed for you on the cross. He rose from death itself to give you new life in His name. Thursday we observe the feast day of the Ascension where we see that Jesus has not just come to us but that he takes us with him to the Father. That’s why Jesus tells us tonight that he no longer asks the Father on our behalf but that we may call upon the name of our Father as if we were Jesus himself.

Through Jesus you have the status of children of God. For St. Paul teaches us in tonight’s epistle that there is one God, and there is one mediator, one go-between between God and men, the man Christ-Jesus. He has been born of Mary, rejected by men, and crucified for your own sins. Our Old Testament tonight tells us that Moses raised up the serpent in the wilderness and that all who looked upon the serpent would live.  And this Christ – who absorbed the wickedness of this whole world was buried for your sake – and more gloriously was raised up to bring life and immortality to light.  

Jesus has done this not for himself but for you. It means God’s wrath has ended. God is not angry with you. He’s not disappointed in you. Because when he sees you he sees his son. He sees Jesus. He sees who you were always meant to be from before the foundation of the world except without sin. Because Jesus has taken them all away. When you understand that the Father himself loves you – only then can you open your mouth to pray.

And it’s best to pray like an infant fresh from the womb. When it comes to the Christian life of prayer. It is best to be helpless. It is best to be weak. Prayers don’t need to be eloquent or well thought out. Just ask, cry out, say Lord help me.      

We chose the name Lazarus for our boy because in Hebrew, Lazarus simply means, God has helped. And God has done that and continues to in holy baptism – for you and for him - where you were washed clean from all sins at the baptismal font. Placed at the breast of holy mother church for true spiritual milk, comforted by the voice of your loving and heavenly Father, and wrapped in a white quilt of Christ’s righteousness.

This is really what Jesus means when he says “We must become like a little baby to enter into the Kingdom of God.” That we make ourselves totally helpless and depend only upon him. That we cry out for help – knowing that he is always more willing to give than we to receive. So ask and you will receive his love. Ask and you will receive the embrace of Christ. Ask and you will receive His body and blood given and shed for you. Ask and you shall receive – that your joy may be in full. Like a new born child this should be enough to make you content. Your prayers shall all be answered. And tonight you should rest peacefully. In the name of Jesus. Amen.      

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Jubilate)

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16).

We Lutherans don’t spend a lot of time talking about the Holy Spirit and I think there is a good reason for it.  I teach our confirmands that the Holy Spirit is not an ego-maniac.  That is to say the Holy Spirit does not draw much attention to himself but speaks of another namely Jesus Christ Himself. 

Jesus says tonight that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  The Ministry of the Holy Spirit is really a teaching ministry. The Holy Spirit comes in the name of Jesus.  Brings to remembrance all that Jesus has done and continues to do.  The Holy Spirit teaches and preaches nothing except Christ and Him crucified.  The Holy Spirit is a ministry of delivering the gifts of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit is not an ego-maniac.  The Holy Spirit is about Jesus.  And Jesus alone. 

Tonight Jesus teaches his disciples that he is going away – to be arrested, tried, and nailed to a tree.  He will be buried.  Raised on the third Day and will ascend to heaven 40 days later.  Jesus is going away.  But he is sending his holy Spirit.

When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

What does this mean?  The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in me.  Unbelief is the root of all sin and rebellion against God.  Unbelief is the origin of all pain and sorrow of all war, strife, and family feuds.  Do you think society is the cause of all your problems?  Do you think that your family problems are not your own doing.  Or perhaps the church should bend to your own will.  All of this is unbelief in God.  And that is why we all need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin. 

Hear the words of Holy Scripture.  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20). 

What does this mean?  Every mouth should stop flapping.  All excuses must stop.  All must stand guilty and hear God’s righteous judgment against sin. We are all condemned.  We have sinned and fallen short.  And the wages for sin is death. 

But tonight Jesus brings us good news.  In the final judgment and God’s tribunal.  You have passed through judgment and into life.  In the heavenly courtroom Jesus has taken your place.  The gavel has come down.  And the judge has pronounced you innocent for sake of his son.  Your crimes are forgiven.  You are set free by the blood of the cross.

Hear God’s Word recorded in Romans chapter 8: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Did you hear that? There is no condemnation for you. Jesus has been condemned in death and vindicated in the resurrection.  Repent of your unbelief and believe in Him.  Dear Christian the Holy Spirit abides in you by virtue of your baptism.  Hear the words of Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit: “He (that is the Holy Spirit) will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  And what is it that belongs to Jesus?  It is His Holiness, his righteousness, his perfect obedience to God.  Although your sins stood against you – Jesus has stood in your place. And although you are impoverished when it comes to any righteousness – He simply gives it all to you by grace. All this is credited to your account freely – with no strings attached. He declares that his body is for you. He declares that his blood purifies you of all sins.

 The Holy Spirit is not an ego-maniac. He’s not about helping himself but actually about helping you. Giving to you the things of the Kingdom of God. Giving you what you actually need. Not self-esteem, not ways to find empowerment, or 10 steps to a happier you. That’s for Oprah and Dr. Phil. No, what you need is Jesus – and that’s what the Holy Spirit wants to give you now. What you need is righteousness. You need the forgiveness of sins. You need life and salvation in this dying world – And that’s precisely what you have in Jesus.

Therefore our lives are different. You are children loved by God. You are God’s elect – His chosen ones – declared righteousness. You are destined for good things. This means you can lift our heads. And sing the liturgy like we mean it. Sing our hymns – knowing that our praises are joined by all the angels and saints in heaven.  

We are a people who have been saved – and declared righteous before God. And there is nothing left to do except thank him and praise him. In the name of Jesus

Thursday, May 15, 2014

RIP Carol Joan Matson

“Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat” (Mark 5).

In our Gospel text this morning Jesus comes to save a girl who had died. He came to the house and saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And Jesus said to them all, “The child is not dead but sleeping.”

Jesus goes to the girl, whose lifeless and cold body lay on her bed. Taking her hand he said to her “Talitha cumi” which in Aramaic means “little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately she began breathing, color filled her face, she sat up on her bed and smiled.  She was dead but now she was alive – more alive than she had ever been. Her brothers and sisters hugged her and were overcome with joy. Their hearts bursted with happiness. Their daughter, their sister who they had thought had died was not dead anymore. She was living and death had been beaten.  She was healthy, happy, and beautiful. She was with them again.

It was a miracle. Jesus has brought her back from the dead. Jesus says I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall never die. Jesus raises the dead. Jesus brings life to the world. Jesus restores all things. He makes all things new. All the miracles that Jesus does show us what he does now and on the last day.

In the church we are in the season of Easter and Carol was an Easter sort of girl. Her hope was in her Risen Savior – her faith was in Christ. Her ears were ever turned toward the voice of her good shepherd who said “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hear my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He has passed from death to life…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will not perish.”

Donna and Jacqueline your sister is the little girl in the Gospel text today. She is not dead. She is sleeping and it’s a good thing to sleep because in the morning the sun rises. Night becomes day. The lights breaks forth and Carol’s eyes will awaken in the morning light. Jesus loves Carol and Carol is with him. He will take her by the hand. He will say “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And she will. Like Christ she will walk out of the grave into the morning light. Christians do not die. We fall asleep. Carol is sleeping but she will wake up. She will breathe, she will be brighter than the angels. She will sit up and stand in the presence of God. She will be just as wonderful as she was before but incredibly even better. Carol’s labors are over, her work is done, she has done well.

But nonetheless we miss her something fierce. She was and is a beautiful creature – kind and compassionate with a big heart to help those in need.  Frankly, our lives are not as bright without her. Carol shined brightly in this often dull world. If I my speak for myself, Carol loved her pastor. She loved Kristina and our children. Carol was one of our very best friends, along with Donna and Jim of course and we miss her. Jesus said his disciples are the light of the world and the salt of the earth – and Carol was actually that sort of disciple – things were much brighter when you were with her. Her smile would light up a room. We miss our friend. We miss our sister in Christ.

But Carol was most importantly a friend of Jesus. And Jesus loved her the most. In his mercy he has taken her away from this world so filled with trouble to another shore – a much brighter and happier place. A place with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. A place more suited for her in the Kingdom of God. She wears a white robe and surrounds the Lamb of God with all the holy saints. 

And although Carol is part of our family, she has joined with the whole family of God – with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Her heart does not have any trouble now. She doesn’t need oxygen tanks anymore. Her lungs shall be filled with new breath to sing God’s praise. The songs sung in heaven are now sung by her as well.

Although we miss her we know that she is just sleeping. We believe that Jesus is coming again. He says “come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Like the girl in the Bible this morning, those who fall asleep in the true faith shall be gently lifted from their graves. Jesus says “Little girl, I say to you arise.” And we shall - caught up with the Lord in the clouds. And on that day every tear shall be wiped away from our eyes, and like Carol, we shall see God with our own eyes. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Mother's Day Message)

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:16–22)

Mother’s Day is generally not all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve never met a mother who was completely confident that she is a very good one. It can be a reminder of shortcomings. It can bring back guilt or regret. Some mothers have children or grandchildren who have abandoned the faith completely and live in unrepentant sin. Some of us had good mothers. Some of us frankly had bad mothers – who perhaps mistreated us.

Some mothers have been abandoned or mistreated by their own children. Some want to be mothers but can’t for a variety of reasons. Some mothers and daughters fight and sometimes sons fall out completely with their mothers. Some mothers have lost children.

Hallmark cards, flowers, and chocolates are fine but cards eventually go in the trash – flowers fade – and a sugar high only last so long. Mothers are not perfect – from Eve in the garden up till now we all bear the marks of sin. And it’s a strange thing to celebrate mother’s day in a society that values something wickedly called ‘choice’ over life itself.  

But the author of life has a message for us all. Our Gospel appointed for this morning, the 4th Sunday of Easter, seems fitting for mother’s day. Jesus is speaking on Maundy Thursday – the night of his betrayal. He is speaking about the salvation he is going to accomplish – there will be weeping and lamenting – the cross is not going to be pretty. Blood, sweat, and tears will be shed.

Jesus compares his work of salvation to a woman in childbirth. Jesus says “She has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the pain, for joy that a human being has been brought into the world.”

Now I’ve been in the labor and delivery room a couple times and we are preparing ourselves again. Blood, sweat, and tears are part of the package deal. After the fall God said “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” and so it is. Husbands in the delivery room ironically speak the same words that Jesus says seven times in this mornings Gospel text - “In a little while.” “Just a little while honey.  It will all be over. Just a little while now” – the same words of Jesus.

It doesn’t feel that way of course for the wife but it is nonetheless true. For when a mother gives that last cry of relief and a baby is laid upon her chest – “that little while” is gone. She is so overcome with joy the pain of childbirth is already a distant memory – it doesn’t compare with the joy that has been brought into the world.

Jesus this morning compares his act of salvation to childbirth. He will endure that agonizing “little while” of Good Friday – he will moisten the earth with blood and sweat and tears. He will labor for our salvation. He will cry out in agony – and in victory at last he will say – “It is finished.”

In a little while, three days later He will be raised from the dead. Four Sundays after Easter we are still rejoicing in this great victory.

Today is called Jubilate Sunday which simply means rejoice. But how much joy do you have in your heart? Probably not much. Now over half of Americans are on anti-depressants or anxiety medications. Therapists are more visited than pastors and joylessness across the board is on the rise for everyone.

Generally our troubles and sufferings comes from our own sins and not from others. We’ve exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We’ve forgotten the commandments of God. We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we have mattered most. We have insisted upon our own ways. We are more at home in this sinful society than we are at home in God’s Word. We’re more familiar with our tv guides than the bible.

Repent. Last week we heard about Jesus the Good Shepherd who seeks out his sheep who love to wander. And today as we contemplate the reality that we have all come from our mother – we should also remember that we have all been born again – in baptism- as children of our heavenly Father.

This morning Jesus speaks words of comfort to his disciples. He says “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Jesus is speaking about His Resurrection. He is speaking about His coming again on the clouds of judgment. He is speaking about the raising of the dead, the resurrection of our bodies from the graves, and the life of the world to come.

The most profound thing we can say on mothers day is that God himself has one. Mary rejoiced when the angel Gabriel visited her with the news that she would bear God’s own Son. This is why on Christmas we sing joy to the world.

And for repentant sinners who gather this morning – there is joy for you. For mothers who are far from perfect there is good news. In Jesus you are the perfect mother. And for those families who are broken – you are in good company with Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, and Mary. In Jesus – families are made complete. 

This morning we thank all mothers and indeed all women. For what is motherhood but a desire to care for the weak and help the most helpless?

But above all we thank God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Most of all, because we are born again, all of us, born by baptism into the holy family of God – with God as our Father and the church as our mother. And only in him are mothers made perfect, sons and daughters reconciled, and children return home.

We all have a “little while” more to go in this life of labor.  Like childbirth – blood, sweat, and tears is part of the cross we all bear. But our dear Lord has already showed us the way and says “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” At last we will find our rest. We will see him face to face. Our hearts will rejoice – and our joy will overflow. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Sermon from Rev. Harold Senkbeil - "Give me Jesus"

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

“You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” The African slaves who first sang those lyrics likely weren’t professional exegetes like we are, but they knew their Bible pretty well.  St. Peter puts it a bit more elegantly than they, but he makes the same point: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

There it is. That’s it in a nutshell. When you get right down to it, that’s what this thing called life is all about, the living hope that belongs to all those who are born again in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord by the washing of water with the word. Not Jesus and wealth; not Jesus and fame; not Jesus and success; not even Jesus and ministry. Only Jesus. Our hope is in Him alone. “You can have all the rest; (just) give me Jesus.”

But along with Jesus comes His cross. And that’s the hard part, of course, but it goes with the territory – and that St. Peter acknowledges too. “For a little while” he writes – as irksome as that “little while” is, he’s right, in light of eternity – “for a little while …you have been grieved by various trials.” And that’s pretty much it, isn’t it? Those trials come in different sizes, shapes, and durations, but they come most surely and certainly to us all. The ministry these days is not for sissies, and we all have our own bruises, bumps, and scars to show for it. I venture to say there’s not a man among us here who has not been grieved by various trials.

There is a certain gravity to grief, and we will learn a lot more about that tomorrow. (Schulz lecture) But the weight of grief and all the sufferings of this present time wrapped up together aren’t worth comparing to the glories that most certainly lie ahead.

Ministry these days often comes with a high price tag. It’s not easy holding forth the Word of truth when our world prefers to live a lie. People actually begin to believe they can “have all this world” plus Jesus too, and that makes ministry an uphill road. When promiscuity and perversion are the order of the day, it’s hard to preach and teach a life of chastity, self control, and the marriage bed undefiled. When the world is fixated on self indulgence and personal advancement, it’s difficult to preach self denial and sacrifice in the name of Jesus – and you are likely to be branded a killjoy and a hater if you take up the mantel of the Ministry and earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.

Then there are the darts and arrows the evil one directs against the conscientious servant of Christ; discouragement, despair and dismay are frequent visitors in the homes and studies of most ministers of the gospel, and you and I know that we are not impervious to the common temptations of all men since the fall of Adam nor are we strangers to sin, guilt, and shame. We too think we can have all this world, until life caves in and despair hits and we realize the world has us instead.

No wonder then, that we sing: “Give me Jesus.” That’s who we need: Jesus Christ our Lord. The One who was once crucified, dead and buried is now risen again from the dead, living and ascended to the Father’s right hand. From thence He shall come on the final great and awesome day to judge the living and the dead.  And on that day we shall receive the inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven until the day of his appearing when He will usher in joy inexpressible and glory and honor unbounded.  And on that resurrection day we will clearly see with our very own eyes what we behold only dimly now by faith: Namely, the salvation of our souls. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed; Alleluia!

+ In the Name of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT +

Monday, May 5, 2014

Misericordias Domini: The Sunday of the Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:11-16 ESV). 

The Bible is filled with shepherds. Abel, the son of Adam was a shepherd, he was killed as his blood cried out from the ground. Jacob is a shepherd too. He comes to a well that was covered with a large stone. The stone was so large, they had to wait for many other shepherds to appear before they could move the large stone away so that the sheep could be watered. But when Jacob saw the lovely and beautiful Rachel, bringing her father’s sheep to the well, there was no need to wait for other shepherds. He singlehandedly rolled away the stone and watered the flock.

Then there is Moses the Shepherd – he tended sheep before leading the people out of bondage to Pharaoh. One day when he was sitting by a well in Midian seven daughters came to water their father’s flocks. Some of the shepherds harassed them, so Moses stoop up to them. He rescue the women and watered the flock of sheep.

When it comes to Shepherds don't forget David. When he tried to convince Saul that he could take on the huge warrior Golaith, he told him about his skill as a shepherd. Whenever a bear or lion would come and take a lamb from the flock, David would go out after them and rescue the lamb. He would go after the lion, grab his mane, and kill the lion and wolfs which would attack his flock.

But today, the church, celebrates “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Jesus says “I AM the good shepherd.” That is to say Jesus is the good shepherd to whom all the Scriptures point. Abel, Jacob, Moses, and David they all point to Christ is not a good shepherd. But THE Good Shepherd – the one and only shepherd. Jesus Himself says “All the Scriptures testify to me.” The blood of Abel points to the sacrifice of Christ, Jacob’s latter points to the cross of Christ, Moses shepherds us through the Red Sea of Christ’s blood, David destroys Goliath and Jesus ends the devil’s tyranny.

You have someone better than Moses and David. You have Jesus. And Jesus says “the Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Most shepherds do not lay down their lives for the sheep. But Jesus – the Good Shepherd does precisely that. The wolf – that is Satan – and death itself is after us all. But Jesus does not run away and leave you to your own devices. He offers himself up instead.

On Good Friday the Good Shepherd truly did something wonderfully good for you. The wolf has always been after you. So Jesus played a cosmic trick on him. Instead of letting the wolf go after you He let the wolf go after him. He was willing to be beaten up, hung on a cross and left for dead. The Good Shepherd saw how the wolf of hell held all of humanity in his cruel jaws. So he let those jaws chew on him, let himself be eaten in death and swallowed up in the belly of the wolf.

This is all to say – He died our death. The wolf thought he had eaten his best meal yet but the wolf could not hold him – he burst forth from the belly of the earth. He was raised on the third day to bless you and to proclaim to you this morning that all your sins have been forgiven.  Like Abel, Jesus offers the pleasing sacrifice. Like Jacob, the stone is rolled back on Easter morning, and the flock can be led beside the still waters of baptism which revives our souls. Jesus is the better Moses who shepherds us out of the bondage to sin and into everlasting life. Like King David, Jesus is the better shepherd who puts a stone in the devil’s forehead and destroys the infernal wolf – Goliath is destroyed – death has ended.

Moses lifts up his shepherds staff and the waters part. The wooden staff of the cross is lifted high and Jacob’s latter with all the holy angels descend. And you are all invited. Jesus says “truly, today, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus is the Shepherd you need. He is good because he lays down his life. He is good because even though there is nothing good within us, He is still good. He loves you.

He loves the unloveable. He is good to those who don’t deserve it. And this is good news. This is the Gospel. That God loves sinners. That God is good to you.

For the confirmands this morning, dressed in white, and proud as can be there is an important message. You may graduate from confirmation. But you will never graduate from being a sheep. We are all just his little lambs here – and nothing more.

Everyone here has a problem with straying off. But here we know that God receives us again and forgives us our sins. He calls us into his fold. He protects us. He feeds us. He guides us. He dies and rises for us. He sets a table before us. He gives us not just His body and blood –but He gives us Himself with all that he is. He calls us by name. And he shows us all how to live.

Live only in Him and for Him alone. For he will lead you to greener pastures. The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. His rod and cross – they comfort you. You have a shepherd much better than Jacob, Moses, and king David, because this Shepherd is God Himself – His very Son. And only in Him can we lost sheep be found and at last find our way home. In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

(Much of the inspiration for this sermon was taken from Fr. Ralph Tausz)