Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:13-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday of Easter + April 30, 2017

Text: Luke 24:13-35

 

On the road to Emmaus is another scene after the Resurrection.  It’s another way that Jesus reveals Himself to His disciples that their hope is not in vain and that all He said during His previous ministry is true.  His aim in this appearance is to speak to their hearts rather than their eyes, and fill them with a confident faith that He is risen indeed.

 

Easter afternoon, two disciples of Jesus are on their way to Emmaus.  Yet as they walk, they were discussing, debating, mulling over—maybe even arguing about[1]—all that had happened to their Master.  Here are some of the things they’re wrestling with and trying to fit together:

Jesus of Nazareth was a mighty prophet before God and all the people,

But the chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned.

We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.

Besides all this, it’s now the third day since this took place.

But some of the women….and an angel said: He lives

And they found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.

This is the information they have, and they’re trying to make it all fit.

 

Then a stranger walks up (they are prevented from recognizing Him) and in seeming ignorance asks them about the topic of their impassioned conversation.  This prompts one of them Cleopas, to sum it all up.

 

Then this stranger brings clarity to their dashed hopes and scattered experiences.  He brings a clarity that comes from the Word of God, beginning with Moses and the Prophets.  You believe this Jesus was to redeem Israel, but don’t you remember what God did to redeem Israel at the Red Sea, by putting to death the firstborn sons of Egypt?[2]  Do you suppose that freedom comes without a death?  And the prophets knew this well because they lived it.  Every true prophet preached the Word but at one time or another was rejected by the people and persecuted.  In fact, they were sharing in the sufferings of the Christ they proclaimed.  But as for the Christ Himself, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied,” for God’s Holy One did not see corruption, but destroyed the covering of death which is over all people.[3]

 

By then, they had arrived at Emmaus and the stranger said He had to be going on.  But they prevailed upon him: “Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.”  In other words, don’t go, we want to hear more.  Your words lift us up out of hopelessness and make Moses and the Prophets clear to us.

 

So, the stranger stays with them for the evening meal.  Yet at the meal, He does something out of the ordinary, even for a pious Israelite two days after the Passover.  “He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”  He acted as host, head of the household in the liturgy of the Passover now fulfilled.  This was not any common meal—it was the Lord’s Supper.  At this point, God opened their eyes and they recognized who this stranger was: it was Jesus, risen from the dead, the true Christ, and their Savior.

 

But at this point, He disappeared from their sight.  Why?  They no longer needed it to be with Jesus.  They were held back from recognizing Him while He spoke and up until the breaking of the bread.  But when God opened the way for faith to recognize Him, He took away the vision.

 

Their reaction to this is also one of faith.  They reflect on their experience on the road: Our hearts burned as He spoke to us and opened the Scriptures.  As He opened the Scriptures, we saw Him in a way that eyes could not.  When He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to us, this was Him as well.  Then, they go and tell this to their brothers, so that they would also have reason to rejoice.

 

This is comforting news for us, His brothers today.

 

Last week we heard Jesus say to Thomas blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  It would be troubling if that’s all Jesus said to future generations of Christians.  We believe in a God we haven’t seen.  Where is he?  I don’t know.  Can you hear his voice?  I’m not sure.  We would be left to search for where Jesus was and wonder if our “burning in the heart” was really Jesus or some bad pizza we had the night before.

 

This visit from Jesus to Cleopas and the other disciple is good for us to hear, because it shows us with certainty where Jesus is found.  Jesus comes to you in the Word of God, where God opens your heart to understand the Scriptures and all things concerning Christ.  This is different from having a just a head knowledge of the Bible.  You can know the Bible in this way and still go to hell.  Jesus said to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”[4]  God gives His Holy Spirit so that you would know Christ through the Scriptures.  Even this is knowing more than the facts that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, etc.  It’s more than knowing that this was done for an abstract group of people—for us men and for our salvation.  The Holy Spirit brings you to know that all of this was for you, so that you can say “I believe.”  This is the Good News that causes our hearts to burn within us, that even when I was lost in blindness, perplexed about what God was doing, uncertain whether He cares, that He sent His Gospel to me that I might be His own and have something to cling to in this world of change and chance!

 

It’s doubly comforting for us disciples today that Jesus not only comes to us in the Word, but also with accompanying signs of His Good News (what we call the Sacraments).  In these, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, He takes the benefits of His birth, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, and delivers it in physical means.  Baptism is a washing of rebirth because it is the water by which you are crucified with Christ and raised with Him, adopted as God’s child, and given the gift of His Holy Spirit.[5]  The Lord’s Supper is more than a ceremonial meal of remembrance because Jesus Himself says, “This is My Body given for you; this is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”[6]  The Words of Institution make this Food one that brings forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

 

You are blessed this day, because Jesus is among us to bless us.  Though our eyes are kept from seeing Him resurrected and glorified, God has opened our hearts and revealed Him to us in the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread this day.  Therefore, let us pray:

 

Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. (LSB 257)  Amen.

[1] The verbs used for their discussion denote debate or passionate discussion.  Jesus perceives this too in verse 17 with a word that literally means “throwing back and forth” to describe their conversation.

[2] Exodus 11:4-7, Exodus 13:14-16

[3] Isaiah 25:6-9

[4] John 5:39

[5] Titus 3:5, Romans 6:3-5

[6] Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Second Sunday in Easter (John 20:19-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday in Easter + April 23, 2017

Text: John 20:19-31

 

This sermon was written by Pastor David Juhl and adapted by Pastor Michael Miller.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The first word the disciples hear from the mouth of their resurrected Savior is His Easter greeting: Peace be with you. Jesus’ greeting encompasses the whole result of His Easter message: PEACE. On the evening of the day of resurrection, the disciples were together. Their hearts were still full of sadness and guilt. They had heard snippets of the Easter news from the women at the tomb, Peter and John, and even two disciples who saw Him as they travelled to Emmaus.[1] Nevertheless, they still did not believe that their Lord was risen. Fear of the Jews overwhelmed their hearts, driving them to hide behind locked doors. Above all a bad conscience remained because they had forsaken their Lord and denied Him.

 

Then suddenly the Lord is in their midst. His greeting to them is this: Peace be with you. He also shows them His hands and side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Fear dissolved and peace moved into their hearts. Peace came to them not due to the mere appearance of the Lord, but because Jesus came to them with such a friendly greeting.

 

The disciples have reason to rejoice after their sorrows. Christ’s greeting to them is precious. This was no ordinary “How ya doin’?” Christ’s words to them are spirit and life. He imparts peace to His disciples with these words: peace with God and forgiveness of sins.

 

This is what we are doing when we greet one another in the peace of the Lord before the service.  It’s not just your ordinary casual exchange, an extra to say good morning.  It’s an Easter greeting that we have received from God and are sharing with our brothers and sisters.  Jesus’ resurrection means your sins are forgiven and you have a gracious God, and you are able to share that with one another—even those who have wronged you or whom you have wronged.

 

The fruit of the resurrection is peace with God. When Jesus shows His hands and side, He reminds them of His suffering and death. There is forgiveness of sins in these wounds. There is also satisfaction of God’s wrath over sin and reconciliation between God and mankind.

 

The resurrection of Christ is a seal that the work of our redemption is accomplished. In a manner of speaking, it is God’s Amen to His Son saying, “It is finished!”[2] We are reconciled to God because of Jesus. We have peace with God because of Jesus. This is why our Lord’s Easter greeting is so precious. He pledges peace with God. In this peace is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

 

Is this greeting really for us to hear and believe? We know it is for the disciples, because they saw Him in the flesh, felt His hands and side, and heard Him say, peace be with you. The Lord no longer dwells among us in as He did then. It is not possible for Him to walk into our midst and greet us as He did then.

 

The first one to ask this question was Thomas.  Now, Thomas put himself in a precarious position—willfully staying away from the other disciples that Easter evening, refusing to believe the multiple reports of the resurrection he’d heard, then demanding that Jesus meet his standard of proof before he would believe.  By being in unbelief, Thomas actually jeopardized receiving that peace which Jesus had won by those wounds.  Let this be a warning for our faith.

 

Yet, the Lord Jesus brought good out of Thomas not being there that night, because we weren’t either.  Think of us, so many centuries later.  We have even more rational reasons to disbelieve than Thomas.  Can we trust that “peace be with you” was spoken to us too?  Hear the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  That’s you and me!  We might blame our doubts on not having seen Jesus, but Jesus assures us that’s not a problem.  He sends His peace to you even today.

 

Although Jesus is no longer visible to us, we hear His Word. In the precious greeting to His disciples that Easter evening, Jesus institutes the pastoral office—the preaching office to announce this Easter peace from heaven to you. He sends His disciples as the Father has sent Him. Hear those comforting words to His disciples: Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What pastors preach is as certain as if the Lord Himself spoke it. What heavenly comfort this office brings to us even when our guilt threatens to crush us and we can’t see any way path to peace.  In the midst of the locked door of our heart, Jesus’ Word shines through and says even to us: Peace be with you.   Let it be to you as you have believed.  Amen.

 

[1] John 20:1-18, Luke 24:13-34

[2] John 19:30

Funeral of Charles R. Vorderstrasse (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Funeral of Charles R. Vorderstrasse – April 20, 2017

Text: Ephesians 2:8-10

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The epistle reading that we heard earlier from Ephesians was the sermon text at Chuck’s confirmation back on May 4, 1941 in this congregation.  Chuck lived the faith that he professed that day, up until this past Sunday when he breathed his last.  So, it’s fitting for us to meditate on these words of St. Paul in light of the life of faith God gave to Charles, His child and our beloved brother.

 

  1. For by grace you have been saved through faith.

The Gospel was front and center in Chuck’s life: It is by grace that you have been saved.  Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to secure your eternal home in heaven.  It’s a true gift that doesn’t require any contribution on our part.  We might think such a great treasure would demand something of us, but then it wouldn’t be grace.  Faith is simply the hand that receives the wonderful salvation God gives in Jesus Christ!

 

That faith was handed down to Chuck by his parents, Paul and Ida, and that hand of faith received what was taught through word and example.  This was the faith that his parents wanted him to have when he was baptized on October 24, 1926.  At age 14, Chuck publicly professed that this faith was his own—summarized in the Apostles’ Creed.  That faith, borne out of God’s love for Chuck, freed him to love God in return and also love those around him.

 

It was a faith that gave him an underlying confidence that God is his heavenly Father, so that no matter what may happen in life—whether having to move cross-country during the Dust Bowl, living in poverty, or losing his daughter in a car accident—God would be faithful to see him and his family through.

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith.”  The calm peace that comes from believing these words attended Chuck as he suddenly found himself in the hospital last Thursday.  As the potentially terrifying, terminal diagnoses rolled in, Chuck continued to be optimistic because he knew that God was for him.  “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”[1]

 

But Chuck knew that whenever he should die, he was not going to face a tribunal for all the ways he had failed God, or even a review of all the good things he had done.  None of it counts toward his eternal rest—it was all earned by Jesus who was born, lived, suffered, died, and rose for him.

 

  1. This faith is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.

When we read in the obituary that Chuck had a “life well-lived,” we can see that it’s true.  What we want to know next is how we can accomplish the same thing.  What is the good life to live?  Gallons of ink have been spilled trying to answer that question.  Guess what?  God gives us the answer.

 

If you want to have a life well-lived, don’t look to Chuck—a fellow man and also a sinner (for that is why he died).  Look to God.  What made this life well-lived was the fear, love, and trust in God that endured to the end, the repentance and faith that the Holy Spirit kept in Chuck’s heart and the heart of every Christian.  But we want to know, What’s the secret to having such a faithful life before God?  “What must I do to be saved?” asked one inquirer.

 

“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”[2]  There’s the key—it’s not about what you do.  Even the faith in a believing heart is the work of God:[3] “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  When we stop trying to save ourselves and let God do His work, He opens our minds and hearts to see His Son and find our true Sabbath rest in His work on the cross.  “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

 

  • So that no one may boast.

Chuck had this realization because God had given it to him.  “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Since it was a gift from God, there was no reason to be proud of his own accomplishments.  What could he boast of in being a Christian son, or brother, or husband, or father?  All that he had was a gift from God—his very breath, his family, and his place in God’s eternal family through Jesus.

 

  1. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works.

Finally, St. Paul says on the basis of this faith, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  What you witnessed in this man was God’s handiwork.  God the Father adopted Him as a beloved child in the waters of Baptism, through God the Son who lovingly shed His blood for him and for every single man and woman, and God the Holy Spirit who caused the Word of God to take root and bear fruit in Chuck’s heart.[4]

 

 

 

A caring heart is the work of God, shown in a man who always cared how you were doing, who “in humility counted others more significant than himself.”[5]  He did this because He has the Spirit of Christ who made Himself the compassionate servant of all, so that they might be saved from destruction.

 

A serving heart is the work of God, shown in a man who helped others without complaint, displaying the service of Christ the Lord: “Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.”[6]  In the ultimate show of service, Jesus, the Lamb went uncomplaining forth, and even though it meant loss for Him, it meant great riches for all who believe.

 

A heart that shares the faith is also the work of God, shown in a man who raised His children in this congregation—not because of the hard work and years of service he put into the organization, but because this is where such a Christian faith is preached and believed.  Chuck wanted for his children the same thing Paul and Ida gave to him: a place where the Word of God is preached and taught in all of its glory.

 

God grant by the power and working of His Holy Spirit, that this faith be in you.  In this faith, you will have peace, confidence, and hope.  Peace that God has redeemed and fully forgiven you through the holy blood of Christ.  Confidence to live life trusting in God’s faithfulness.  Hope of knowing what when your last hour comes, you will be talking about the hope of heaven one minute and be there the next.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Romans 14:8

[2] Acts 16:30-31

[3] John 6:29

[4] Galatians 3:25-26, John 3:16, Acts 2:38

[5] Philippians 2:3

[6] John 13:34

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Sunrise) (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Sunrise) + April 16, 2017

Text: John 20:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

No doubt you’ve seen it for a few weeks now.  Easter sales, Easter dresses, Easter candy, Easter lilies.  If you didn’t know better, you might think Easter is just another holiday with its traditions, no different from the 4th of July.  It’s just an excuse to get together and have fun with family and friends.

 

But with all of these traditions, it might be hard to get down to the reason for celebrating.  If we don’t know what Easter is about, then we’re just left with pastel colors, bunnies, and ham.  The name “Easter” doesn’t tell the story.[1]  The reason we celebrate today is because this is the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Jesus who was dead now lives!

 

It’s popular this time of year to try and debunk the Resurrection as old-fashioned myth, or just a peculiarity of Christian religious tradition.  If it is, then get up and go home.  Religion is just an opiate for the masses, and I’m peddling nothing more than therapeutic lies.

 

But it is not just myth, it is truth.  Jesus actually was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.  He actually suffered under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And yes, He did rise from the dead on the Third Day.  All of this is true, and that’s what makes Easter such a reason to celebrate.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is a fundamental change to our existence.  Sin is forgiven and death’s grasp is broken!  Without Jesus and His resurrection, life on earth is depressing. All you can hope to do is live for the moment and spend time with all the other people who no more than a flash in the pan of time.  But Jesus is risen, and that means human life has a hope and a future—the hope and future God truly intends for all people.

 

The resurrection of Jesus gives comfort in sickness and death.  He gives the hope of a joyous eternity.  His resurrection puts the greatest joys and most painful sorrows of this life into eternal perspective.  As we grow weary of this life, that’s where Easter makes all the difference.
The true meaning of Easter—the death and resurrection of Jesus—is not something to be put on the shelf and brought out just once a year.  The devil would love it if you believe that lie, because then he can get you to do whatever he wants, scaring you with the threat of the grave.  If you believe that, you may as well eat all the ham and candy you can get your hands on, because you too will die.  But if you want more, believe in Jesus whose death and resurrection changes everything.

 

That’s why Easter is such a big celebration.  Jesus gives joy to our lives!  He gives us more joy than can be found in fleeting things.  He lifts up our hearts from the depths of sorrow and gives us new hope and strength.  When it looks to us like everything is a lost cause, our Lord and Savior is there with His Word—“Do not be afraid.”  Amen.

[1] The name Easter comes to us from the Old English name for the month of April.

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Matthew 28:1-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Resurrection of Our Lord + April 16, 2017

Text: Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Mary and the other Mary were at the tomb first.  They saw the angel and heard his words.  But the other disciples didn’t.  We make a big deal of differences and turn it into division.

 

This world is full of division right now.  Conflict in the Pacific, conflict in the Middle East, conflict in between states and Washington, DC, and conflict between Americans.  Political parties, income level, questions of ethics, and even personal preferences have become battle flags to be waved at one another.

 

The Christian Church is no exception, because it’s also made of people.  How long have you been a Christian?  What church do you belong to?  Traditional or contemporary?

 

What our human race needs is some unity.

 

On Good Friday and the Resurrection of Jesus, God brought about a lasting unity.  In those events, He showed what our human race really has in common—sin and death.  This common disease and enemy afflicts us all.  “They are corrupt,” the Lord declares, “They do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.  The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:1-3)

 

So, God, in His mercy and faithfulness sent Jesus to be the Savior for all:

 

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Romans 5:12, 15)

 

There is one Jesus for all, because all of us have the same ancestry.  With that ancestry came sin and death.  Something every one of us has known is the effects of sin and death on ourselves and the world—and we cannot free ourselves from its power!

 

All of the struggles over money and power, the men and women lost in war, property destroyed in a vie for supremacy.  This is the work of man, which brings only death and division.  But God on the cross made peace.

 

He doesn’t make one sacrifice for Jews, another for Gentiles; one Savior for men another for women; a black Jesus and a white Jesus.  There is Savior for all mankind, for the people of every nation, tribe, and language.

 

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)

 

So through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has shown His love to all people.  As Jesus said beforehand, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

 

Now God has made peace and removed the hostility between heaven and earth.  Now the only division that is left is between faith and unbelief.  Yet by the power of His Holy Spirit, He brings near even those who are far off that they might know salvation and peace in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38-39).  God give you that peace this Resurrection Day!  Amen.

Good Friday (John 19:17-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Good Friday + April 14, 2017

Text: John 19:17-30

 

The Seventh Petition

“Deliver us from evil.”

 

We cry out under the weight of evil.  The children of Israel cried out to God from cruel slavery.[1]  Our hearts ache as we hear or live stories of abuse, murder, and fraud all around us in the world.  We plead with God for a miracle when we see our loved ones stretched out on gurneys at the verge of death, or when parents have to bury their children.  Who will save us?!

 

It’s little comfort to explain the psychology or mental illness leading people to commit their crimes.  It’s not very helpful when the doctor tells us what’s wrong when there’s no treatment.  We need another help beyond our human ability.

 

God has heard the cries of His people—from those of His ancient people to the pleads of your heart.  But, there is no stranger way that God answers our cries to be delivered from evil: The Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

He delivers us from sin by becoming sin for us and for all men.  Apart from Him, guilt only increases, and we are left in the mire of our own making.  We try to improve society and ourselves, but things only get worse and more depraved.  Only the blood of Christ can give a meaningful answer for the sins of the world.  Only the blood of Christ counts before God and gives us peace while we live in this body of death.[2]

 

He delivers us from the devil by bearing the full brunt of Satan’s attacks against humanity.  Satan, whose name means “adversary,” holds our sins over us to drive us to lose hope in God’s mercy.  He led our first parents into sin and now continues to preach to us that there’s no way we could be children of God because of the things we’ve done or failed to do.  But the Son of God delivers us from those assaults by bearing the accusations and lies Himself.  “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  Never, because it is by this cross that Satan is disarmed and has nothing more to accuse for those who trust in Jesus.

 

He delivers us from death by His death.  Who can save us from the curse that entered the world with sin?  Who has the power to undo what cancer does, to heal our broken bodies, and to save those who have been taken by the grave?   No mere creature could overcome death.  But by His suffering and death, Christ tasted death for all of us.[3]   And by tasting death, He destroyed its lasting power over us.  Everyone who believes and is baptized into Him has the promise of His resurrection!  Because of Christ, His people whose bodies are now lifeless will rise to eternal life.  Death no longer has dominion over them.[4]

Yes, cry out, “Deliver us from evil!”  Cry this out in confidence because by the evil of His betrayal, trial, suffering, and death, your Lord Jesus Christ has delivered and will deliver you from every evil which is done under the sun.  Amen.

[1] Exodus 1:8-22

[2] Romans 7:25

[3] Hebrews 2:9

[4] Romans 6:3-9

Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:17-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Maundy Thursday + April 13, 2017

Text: Matthew 26:17-30

 

The Sixth Petition

“Lead us not into temptation”

 

Tonight, we continue the theme of our Lenten midweek services, taking a closer look at each petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Tonight, we come to the sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation” on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.

 

In Scripture, there are two kinds of tempting.  One is from God, and the other is from the enemies of God—the world, the devil, and sinful hearts.  The tempting or testing that comes from God is good, as James exhorts us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials[1] of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”[2]  This is when the struggles, weaknesses, and failures of life result in a greater reliance on God.  It is confirmation of our faith, and the one who draws closer to God out of trial is even called perfect and complete!

 

But then there’s the other kind of temptation, which is addressed just a few verses later in the same chapter of James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”[3]  Same word as in the Lord’s Prayer and what was called “trials” before.  In this case, however, the result is that someone loses trust for God, no longer fears Him, and even hates Him.

 

This is what happened for Judas, leading up to Jesus’ betrayal.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Temptation came to Judas, as Satan entered his heart,[4] and he was lead willingly into this evil.  Jesus knew beforehand that this would happen—that this must happen—to Judas.  But the more tragic thing than Judas’ sin was that he ended up losing his trust in God, despairing of His mercy and “seeing to” his sin himself by hanging himself. [5]  He could have repented and been restored, but he gave up on his Lord.

 

 

 

But Judas wasn’t the only one tempted that night.  Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”[6]  Peter also sinned against the Lord by denying Him three times.  The difference was that afterward, Peter was restored.  He grew in the awareness of his weakness—that his resolution to suffer with Jesus was prideful and his ability to keep watch was only as strong as his flesh.

 

And it wasn’t just a one-time battle for Peter or for any of us.  Peter had other times he was tempted, like when he gave into the circumcision party and refused to eat with Gentiles.[7]  But through the temptations with faith, God’s work in us is to keep us firm in faith.

 

So in this petition, we pray that we may have the steadfast faith of Peter, and be saved from the unbelief of Judas.  Truly the devil is a strong enemy, far more powerful than us.  He is able to snatch the Word of God from our hearts and blind us to the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy.  Our most heartfelt resolve cannot stand in the hour of testing. Even more, the great company of unbelievers would sweep us away from our faith in God. All of these stand against us persevering in the faith.

 

But One stands for us, who is Jesus Christ.  He prays for us, He fights for us, and He is greater than all who seek our fall.  And we pray that this Almighty Helper would never leave us to fend for ourselves—even for a single hour.

 

Even while we are attacked by these things, our Lord gives you special comfort and strength in His Body broken and His blood shed for you.  He offered His very life to make satisfaction for all of your sins, and He now gives that crucified and risen Body and Blood for you to eat and to drink.  Do not be afraid in the hour of temptation, for your Lord is near.  He was tempted in every way as you are, yet He is without sin.  He is gracious to forgive and restore you, and almighty to deliver you!

 

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.[8]

 

Just as you eat and drink the fruits of His suffering, He is faithful to bring you to the fruits of His resurrection in glory. Amen!

 

[1] Same word in Greek as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer

[2] James 1:2-4

[3] James 1:13-14

[4] Luke 22:3

[5] Matthew 27:3-5

[6] Luke 22:31-32

[7] Galatians 2

[8] 1 Peter 4:12-13

Palm Sunday(Matthew 27:11-66)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Palm Sunday + April 9, 2017

Text: Matthew 27:11-66

In the Middle Ages, a new form of theater developed called the Passion Play.  It’s performed in many different ways and in different venues.  The point is that what started in the Church became a whole genre of performing art.

 

When we hear the Passion today, we might sit back as idle observers—as theater-goers.  We might want to say “Boo!” when the Pharisees come on, hiss at the Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus, and weep when Jesus is lashed and carries His cross to Golgotha.

 

But the Passion is not meant to be idly observed; it is meant to be participated in through faith.  This is your Lord’s passion, not a fictional character and not a stranger.  We are not just audience members, but actors in the drama.

 

When Pilate’s misunderstands and is mired in unbelief at the plain words of Jesus, that is us.  When he perceives that Jesus was delivered up on fake charges, sits on a judgment throne, and yet refuses to do justice, we do the same.  Pilate washes his hands in response to the pangs of guilt, hoping to silence the nagging voice of conscience but refusing to repent, and we’ve been there too.

 

In the Judgment Hall, the crowd thirsts for Jesus’ death.  They used their vote to free a murderer and condemn of the Giver of life, just as we have used our freedom to turn away and reject God’s ways.  Like the crowd, we would rather be God’s people without Him telling us what that means.

 

When Jesus is taken out by the soldiers, we are there too.  They proudly mock this suffering man, alienating themselves both from His cause and His agony.  Not only do they revel in the fact that they seem to be better off, but they rub that fact in and belittle Jesus.  If He’s supposed to be some kind of Savior, He must be useless because all this is happening to Him and He does nothing to stop it.  Like them, we would rather have glory, power, and visible success, rather than rejection, weakness, and suffering.

 

Then, there’s Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry His cross.  Now it can’t be avoided. Jesus’ passion is not something to be spectated, but we are part of it.  St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”[1]  We are marked with the cross in Baptism, and He calls us daily to take up our cross and follow Him.[2]

 

Truly, His cross was the greatest, for by it He saved the world.  But we should not be surprised when this world and this life of sin compels us to carry the cross.  Why can’t life be easier, people like us, justice be done?  These are the wrong questions to ask.  Rather, by faith we see what God is at work doing the suffering and death of Christ.  It is His Passion to save us.

 

So when we bear our own small crosses, trust that God will be glorified through this burden, agony, betrayal, or loss.  Mind you, how this will be is rarely apparent from under the cross.  “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”[3]  Jesus’ disciples couldn’t see what God was doing until Easter and Pentecost. So don’t try to look for a reason right away—it may well be hidden from you.  Instead, trust the good and gracious will of God for you: “For those who love God, [He works] all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[4]  Believe in the God who saved you through death and resurrection, and know that in His love, He will also save you from every evil, that you might glorify Him.

 

This Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus to the cross, find comfort in what He has done, because it isn’t just a story to be read.  It’s a story to be lived, for by it you have life.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Romans 6:3

[2] Matthew 16:24

[3] Hebrews 12:11

[4] Romans 8:28

Lent 5 Midweek (Matthew 18:23-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Lent 5 Midweek – April 5, 2017

Text: Matthew 18:23-35

 

The Fifth Petition

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

Of all the professions there are, debt collectors have to be among the most ruthless in carrying out their job.  It’s not just in recent years, but collecting on outstanding debts goes back to the first time someone didn’t pay what they rightly owed.

 

This is the language in the 5th Petition.  What we know as “trespass” is actually a clarification offered by the King James Version (and Luther’s German Bible, Schuld).  To trespass against God’s command is to sin.  Yet, the original word is opheleima, Greek for something which is owed—a debt.

 

Debt collectors threaten, sue, and show up with tow trucks all to collect on what is owed.  They’re good at what they do, too.  Their work is so feared that even the mention of “being sent to collections” strikes fear in our hearts.

 

What the 5th petition tells us, however, is that God is a debt collector.  Our sin against Him is a serious, insurmountable debt.  “24 When [the master] began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.”  Send out the repo man, call in every credit service from coast to coast, and throw him in debtor’s prison.

 

But there’s a turn of events. They don’t show up at your door to make collection.  They show up at the cross of God’s own Son.  There, He makes full payment for your debts—the good you’ve failed to do and the evil you’ve gone right ahead and kept on doing.[1]  His holy blood is able to pay the price to settle accounts with God, and you come out debt-free.

 

But the grace of God is not like going to those companies that promise to wipe away your debt just to avoid the consequences, so you can go back to foolish ways.  That would be to abuse the Master’s kindness.  No, those who are truly repentant and grateful for the blood of Christ have a change of heart.

 

The children of God look at the load of debt—ten thousand talents, if you like round numbers—and they see the sacrificial loving kindness of God.  God, who had every right to demand great and frequent payment for our offenses, blotted them out of His ledger with the blood of Christ.  Then, they see the debts others owe them—financial, emotional, or spiritual.  If we’re thinking numbers, nothing can compare to the value of Christ’s redeeming work, but it far outshines whatever could be done to us.  If God in His infinite justice and righteousness, could forgive us our debts, how much less cost is involved to forgive our debtors?

 

God will not have His loving kindness treated lightly.  His Son bore the cost of the sins of the world so they could be taken away from us—“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]  If we, however, in our finite wisdom hold onto those sins and judge someone more harshly than God has judged us, we infuriate our Master.

 

32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

 

And of our many sins, carrying grudges and uncovering old debts is one of the most persistent.  We all have our own private collection agency.  So, in this petition, we not only pray that God would forgive this wickedness, but that He would give us clean and renewed hearts to pay our debtor’s accounts with the holy blood of Christ.  If we can do this, we will know what the love of God is which He showed us.  We will be able to genuinely live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and never be cast out.

 

God help us!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Romans 7:19

[2] John 1:29, emphasis added

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fifth Sunday in Lent + April 2, 2017

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27

You’ve heard it said, “Seeing is believing.”  This works most of the time.  You wouldn’t buy a car if the dealer refused to show you the one you were buying.  You wouldn’t work long for an employer who promised you a paycheck but never actually came up with the money.

 

However, sometimes our faith—what we believe—is opposed to what we see.  Think of what we confessed in the Creed—we see God’s visible creation, but not His Son and what He did for us, and while we’ve seen a portion of the holy Christian and apostolic Church, we haven’t seen the Spirit or the rest of it.  Nevertheless, we believe in these things because God’s Holy Spirit is at work in us—His Word tell us this is all true.

 

Think about the valley of dry bones:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. (Ezek. 37:1-2)

Sight sees dry, dead bones.

 

Then the Lord asks a question: And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”  That’s faith’s answer, because what our eye sees and what our mind knows would say flat-out “No.”  But what the rest of the vision shows is that God is able by His Word to do what we may not see or yet see.  Even death itself is not too great an obstacle to God.

 

This is the same thing we see in the raising of Lazarus.  21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’”  It’s faith over sight.  Sight sees a lifeless body, a closed tomb.  Faith sees that God is able to do all things good—even if it should be to raise the dead.

 

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

 

There again the Lord asks a question.  It can only be answered with faith, by the Holy Spirit at work in a person’s heart.  Do you believe that God is Almighty, that He is who He says He is, and He can do what He speaks?

 

Faith answers affirmatively.  Yes, I believe because the Holy Spirit tells me God does not lie.  He is not limited in what He can do.  Everything which we confess in the Creed is true, even though we’ve seen very little of it.  All of the Bible is true, even though we may not fully understand some things, and haven’t seen others.  We believe that God has given us nothing but truth to cling to.

 

Doubt and unbelief will put limits on what God can do—sometimes thinking He can only do as little as our own imaginations.  “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’”[1]  All looks lost, and judging by man alone, it may well be.

 

God’s people Israel today say can’t bring the people of this generation to faith.  We need to spice things up to “get the young people.”  They’ll only come if you throw out the liturgy and model yourself after a rock concert.  We believe in market analysis and hearsay from false prophets and hypocrites who claim to know the Scriptures but deny the power of God.

 

God’s people look to themselves and say, “I’m tired and worn out from all that I’ve been through.”  I believe in the doctors who tell me all that’s wrong with my health, and the gurus which tell me I need to take some “me time” and focus on myself for a while.  I believe in my calendar which is packed with far too many “important” things to fit in serving my neighbor or taking up a job at church.

 

Yet faith comes first, then sight.  Look and believe what God did to dry, dead bones.  Look at what He did to a man dead in the tomb for four days!  Why do we doubt that He can sustain His Israel, the Church?  Why would we believe He’s more at work where we see impressive things happening, and not at work everywhere His Word is preached—including Bethlehem?

 

We are people who have the gift of the Holy Spirit, who joy in the forgiveness of sins, who are members of the holy Christian and apostolic Church.  We are God’s people, and our hope is in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Death is an easy thing for God to overcome by His Word.  So, can He not also dispel our sloth and hopelessness?

 

Even though we do not see the dead raised, we believe that His Word goes out and accomplishes His purpose.[2]  He calls the weary to rest, He convicts the indifferent, He raises those in spiritual death.

 

Now, come you weary people of God, to the feast which your Lord has prepared for you at His table.  This is the Body and Blood of your Risen Lord, and by it He will strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.  And faith says: Amen.

[1] Ezekiel 37:11

[2] Isaiah 55:9-11