Friday, May 15, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Forty days ago the stone was rolled aside. Jesus walked out of the grave into the morning light. The powers of hell cracked under his feet. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” It is gone! Death is defeated. Life has won.

The grave could not hold him. He burst forth from the warm soil like a flower in the spring. Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener, and in a way, he was. 

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Risen and fresh from the grave he showed himself to the women, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the Emmaus road. He showed himself alive to all the disciples and later to Thomas in the upper room. See and touch my hands, my side, and my feet. Thomas saw and believed, saying, “My Lord, and my God.”

Jesus then went fishing with the disciples on the Sea of Tiberias. He showed himself risen from the dead, alive, and victorious to 500 men at one time. They have born withness this. He continued to teach them, saying, “was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory.” He interpreted to them in the scriptures all the things concerning Himself – that all of the Scriptures bear witness to him. His death and his resurrection. He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

None of this is speculation! All these things actually happened. Jesus did not just briefly appear and disappear. He was teaching and preaching after His resurrection for 40 days. Men have born witness to this with their lives. Men do not suffer for the sake of preserving a lie. Men lay down their lives for the truth.    

Jesus said “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

He then led them out to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. He departed from them and ascended bodily into heaven, and a cloud took him from their sight – to be seated at the right hand of God in power and glory.

What does this mean? Jesus said “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God has highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above all names, that in the name of Jesus every knee that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth should bow.

While the disciples looked after Him as He went into heaven, two men in white robes stood by them and said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven.”

He will descend from the clouds with a battle cry and with the voice of the archangel and with the blast of the trumpet of God at the end of the world, on the Last Day.

This is the meaning of what we confess every time we gather for the Divine Service. We confess with our mouths “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.”

All believers receive eternal life in body and soul and all unbelievers will be condemned and banished with all demons into the eternal fire. That’s what the Bible says.  

But He doesn't just come on the last day. We are living in the time of Pentecost, where He comes continually. And he comes in mercy and in love. In Word and Sacrament. Under a preacher voice – announcing the forgiveness of sins.  

For you who are baptized and believe in Christ, what have you to fear? He destroyed all of your sins at the cross. He ransacked the gates of hell. He has opened all your graves already. Heaven’s doors swing open. Cancer, financial ruin, death itself will not have the last word with any of us. Jesus lives and reigns victorious over all.

Sure we have tears and sorrow now, but these things will pass. Jesus has ascended into heaven, saying where I am there you shall be also.

Therefore we pray that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us form this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. In the name of Jesus. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Homily for The Sunday of Christian Joy

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me...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 ESV)

God made man for eternal joy and blessedness but when Adam followed the serpent, the devil, he was sentenced to eternal sorrow and condemnation. Women have children in pain. Men live by the sweat of their brow. Like Cain and Abel, our children fight, and feud, and rise up against one another. They hold grudges and hope the worst for one another.

And so God promised a Savior who would crush the serpents head and on the holy cross he did just that. Christ has been raised from the dead. The Father raised him up on the third day to announce the total defeat of sin, death, and the devil. He ransomed us from hell by his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. Why? All so that you may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. God has bought you back – Your sins, though heinous, have all been removed. His love is greater than your wickedness. His goodness is greater than your evil. You belong only to him. It is finished.  

He is risen. Sinners are forgiven. The dead are raised. Winter has ended and spring has sprung. You are baptized into Him – baptized and drowned into his death and raised up in his resurrection. You belong to God – children to be lifted from your beds and gravestones on the last Day – caught up in the clouds – raised by God to everlasting life to live with God in the splendor of heaven.  

But your not there yet. Tomorrow you’re most likely not going off to heaven you’ll just be going off to work. You have to put up with a rude boss – maybe hostile coworkers. You have to wash the dishes. You have to care for your aging spouse. Spar with difficult children and face criticism and critique. You’re not in heaven. You belong to heaven, but you’re not there yet. You’re down here where the cheerful blast of Easter trumpets are not heard, at least not now, because what you hear best is the fiery blast of God’s law – the piercing blare of a guilty conscience.  

Jesus gives his disciples some mysterious words this morning. He says “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” He is of course giving something of a farewell address in the upper room before the Last Supper. He is telling them that he is going away. He will be arrested. They won’t see him when he’s locked in Herod’s dungeon – then beaten – spat upon – crucified and killed. They won’t see him when his dead body is laid in the manger of the earth in a dusty grave.

Then Jesus says and a little while and you will see me again. We know that He is speaking about his resurrection on the third day – that’s what Easter is all about. Now He has ascended bodily to the right of the Father to be present for us in even a more glorious way through His Word and Sacrament – preached and given right here within these four walls.

But we’re still dealing with the little while of this life. A life which Martin Luther called a “valley of tears.” As blessed as our lives are down here – we’re still pilgrims – we’ll always be strangers in something of a strange land still ruled by our sinful flesh, the devil, and the grave.

Our anxieties bear witness to this. So do our medicine cabinets. It is a terrible mistake however, to think that our own sufferings are worse than the person sitting next to us in the pew.   

Generally people keep things to themselves. We are germans. We are Lutherans. That is what we do. We grin and bear it. But none of us knows what each other is going through. No one knows whose wife cheated on them, nobody knows who struggles with addiction. No one knows whose child had an abortion and now the whole family suffers horrible guilt and remorse. No one knows who is nearly on the verge of a mental and spiritual breakdown.   

And therefore, if anything, we should be more sympathetic to one another. We suffer from what is common to all men. As we wait through the little whiles of life, we’re in all in this together, tossed about in the same boat. The Scriptures say that “Our hope is in the same Lord. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

You’re living between the day of Pentecost and the Last Day. You’re living in the “little while” of this life. Our Lord this morning likens your salvation to a woman in child 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.

Jesus says “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  

Traditionally today is called the “Sunday of Christian joy.” Jubilate in latin simply means “rejoice,” and even though you have not rejoiced for some time, rejoice simply over this: that you too shall see God, face to face and much to your surprise he won’t be disappointed in you. Through his holy cross – his forgiveness you have divine approval.

In heaven our sicknesses will be brought to health. Our broken families will be restored. Jesus forgiving blood will cover us all and even now, the treasures of heaven belong to you.  

But for now in this in between time, as we await the final trumpet blast make room in your heart for true Christian joy. We are destined for eternal joy and blessedness. Though weeping may tarry for the night joy cometh in the morning. In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

(some inspiration for this homily comes from Fr. David Peterson on 4/22/2015)