Fourth Sunday after Easter (Cantate) (James 1:16-25)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fourth Sunday after Easter (Cantate) + April 29, 2018

Text: James 1:16-25

Welcome to the world!  From the moment we’re born and placed in our mother’s arms, we’re growing and learning.  We learn from sights, sounds, and smells.  We learn from things we do, and things that happen to us.  At home, at school and work, and wherever we go, we learn from experience.  Throughout our lives, we come to know more and more.

For all of the experiences we have in life, however, there is one thing that experience will not teach us.  St. James writes, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  Through all of our days on this earth, experience can’t teach us how true this is.  Experience will teach us that sometimes God is evil.  He lets us suffer hurt and loss.  He lets marriages break apart, leaving children caught in the middle.  He doesn’t stop school shootings and Muslim extremists.

Experience will teach us that God is fickle, blessing us at some times and cursing us at others.  What did I do to deserve this?  How come my family is so screwed up?  Why can’t my job be easier or simpler?  We’re left to guess what God’s plan is, because we think it changes with His mood.

There’s only one way that God teaches us His unchanging goodness: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  Our sinful birth into a sinful world can only give us an evil view of God.

But, He has given us another birth through the waters of Holy Baptism.  The Lord says, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”[1]  God has called us out of the darkness of experience and enlightened us by His Holy Spirit.  Our experience in this world would deceive us, but the Word of truth enlightens us to know that He is not a cruel and moody Deity; He is an Almighty Father…He is our Father in heaven.

More than that, He shows us that we are the firstfruits of His new creation—a new heavens and a new earth.[2]  It’s undeniable that this world and life is broken and sickly.  We are surrounded by evil and even see it at work within us.  In Romans 8, St. Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies.”[3]  This is what our Good, Perfect, and Unchanging God has given us.  We have eternal birth in the Name of Jesus.  We’re not left to grope in the dark to figure God out or what His plans are for us.  He tells us plainly: I love you and I have made you my child forever.[4]

So, we grow in life as God’s children.  And we know that this has nothing to do with age, since some become mature after many years.  (I know a certain pastor who was confirmed at age 24.)  As we grow as God’s children, He teaches us about life through His Word.  Our heavenly Father teaches us about dangerous things to avoid:

Romans 16: “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”[5]

Colossians 3: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”[6]

Our Father also teaches us what’s good to do:

Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”[7]

1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances”[8]

Ephesians 4: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”[9]

Proverbs 31: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”[10]

Therefore, James writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  Our heavenly Father wants us to be quick to learn how to live from Him.  This is why we read and study the Bible.  This is why we have Bible studies at church and in the home.  The Spirit tells us it’s important, but then our experience tells us a hundred other things that are higher priority.  In our busy lives that’s why it’s even more important to have time set aside to study the Word.

Our heavenly Father also wants us to know where to look when we sin.  “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”[11]

Yet we would be deceived if we thought the Bible was nothing but a rule book for humanity.  James says, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”   People railing against other people, using God’s Word as a club, is not God’s will.  God desires the righteousness of faith, and it’s never come by physical force.  Back in the 8th century, King Charlemagne took the “convert or die” tactic with German pagans, and it didn’t work.  It still doesn’t work today.  You can put up all the enraged billboards you want, and it won’t make righteous people in God’s sight.  You can yell at your children who refused to come to church, and it will only drive them further away.

God’s Word is also abused if His children are proud of their obedience.  Indeed, the Lord says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”[12]  But conservatives become far too proud of how faithful they’ve been to the letter of the Word.  Meanwhile, they neglect love, mercy, and humility.  Jesus has this rebuke for such diehard conservatives: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”[13]

But instead of “trusting in ourselves as righteous and treating others with contempt,”[14] God teaches us about true righteousness.  James writes, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”  None of our righteous living or confessing saves us, but Jesus does!  He is God’s Righteous Man,[15] and His righteousness is a gift to you.  “Receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.”  God put it there in you.  Various people have watered it—parents, pastors, and others—but “God gives the growth.”[16]  And the result of that is, as St. Paul also writes, “you gain Christ, and are found in Him, not having a righteousness of your own…but that which comes through faith in Christ.”[17]

Finally, James sums up what it means to be a mature child of God, who confesses Jesus as Lord, God as his Father, and has the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”  All through confirmation class, the students are called catechumens, which is Greek for a “hearer” of the Word.[18]  In being confirmed, the “hearers” echo back what they have heard from God.  In Baptism, the Creed was spoken for you, and at confirmation, those who have heard the Word speak back the Creed.  As a child, God’s Word was read to you, and in Confirmation you take it to heart.  God’s Word has formed you to the degree that you are no longer merely hearer—a catechumen—but a doer of the Word.

Yet we never actually leave the place of being a “hearer of the Word.”  Remember what James just said, “be quick to hear, slow to speak.”  None of us—pastors  included—can ever claim that we have mastered the Word.  It doesn’t have to do with how much time someone devotes to Bible study; it has to do with what we are.  We are God’s creatures—He created us by His Word.  He is the Vine, we are the branches[19]—His Word is implanted in us.  So, day by day, we live “by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”[20] Day by day, as James writes, we “look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and continue in it.”[21]

May the Father of lights bless us in our hearing and our doing through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.

[1] John 3:3 (see footnote)

[2] Revelation 21:1

[3] Romans 8:22-23

[4] 1 John 3:1-3

[5] Romans 16:17

[6] 1 Peter 1:15-16

[7] Psalm 1:1-2

[8] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

[9] Ephesians 4:15

[10] Proverbs 31:8-9

[11] 1 John 2:1-2 NIV

[12] Luke 11:28

[13] Matthew 23:23-24

[14] Luke 18:9

[15] Psalm 24:3-5

[16] 1 Corinthians 3:7

[17] Philippians 3:9

[18] From κατακούω, “hear and obey, give ear”

[19] John 15:5

[20] Deuteronomy 8:3

[21] James 1:25, NKJV

Third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate) (John 16:16-22)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate) + April 22, 2018

Text: John 16:16-22

Among the many promises of God, we have our favorites:

  • “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
  • “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2)
  • “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26)

But there’s one more the Lord makes in today’s Gospel, which probably won’t make anyone’s list of favorites: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  This is a promise we can count on being true today: Truly, truly, I say to you; Amen. Amen. You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. He does not say, if your faith is weak, you will weep. Nor does He say, if you go astray, you will lament.  It’s true for every believer.  If you follow Jesus, you will weep and lament.  We should not be surprised when this life causes us grief and sorrow.  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.” (1 Peter 4:12)

 

We don’t have to like it.  We don’t need deny it and pretend it’s not that bad.  The hurt is real when vows are broken.  It really is a dreadful violation when your home is robbed.  It’s painful to see like Walther League or a church choir, laid aside forgotten.  You can’t deny that it cuts deep when you see your friends and peers in the obituaries.  It’s not a figment of your imagination, and it does not mean your faith isn’t strong enough.  Don’t be ashamed to cry. Don’t put on a good face and hide it from other people here when they ask you how you’re doing.  If anyone gives you flack, tell them Jesus told you it was ok: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament.”

 

But Easter comes after Good Friday: “Your sorrow will turn into joy.”  That’s the ultimate end of the promise, because Christ Himself has been to the grave.  Sin unleashed its fury on Him.  For three long days the grave did its worst, until by God its strength was dispersed.[1] Because God died for us, the sorrows of all who believe in Him will turn to joy.

 

Honestly, though, it can seems like shallow comfort in the midst of it.  That’s what makes the analogy Jesus gives so appropriate: 21When 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.” (John 16:21)  The suffering and anguish we face is like that of a woman in the throes of labor.  The pain seems to go from worse to worse. She just wants it to be over.  Isn’t there any easier way?  Any platitudes you try to offer her will be repaid with a punch to the gut: “In the end it will all be worth it!” “It could be worse.” “I know how you feel.”  The only thing that will really help is when the baby is delivered.  Then she can rest.  Then the joy can truly be appreciated.

 

The time of joy is still on the horizon.  We are in the midst of labor pains, sorrow, weeping, and lamenting.  But the risen Christ is our guarantee that we will have joy that will not come to an end, which no one will be able to take from us.

 

Today, the world celebrates Earth Day with many festivities that promote conservation and sustainability.  While this world is full of beauty and it is the only place we have to live, it’s also the place of our lament, the old, broken creation.  Christians have something greater to rejoice in.

 

Today (as every Sunday), we celebrate Resurrection Day, the hope of the new creation already begun when Jesus rose from the dead.  Even while we weep and lament in the old creation, we yet have a joy which no one is able to take from us—not the sadness of life, not the devil who lures us into despair and unbelief, not even the grave itself.

 

Really, it’s hard to imagine what that will be like now, yet we follow our Lord.  He was taken away from us for a little while as He lay dead and buried, but He arose on the Third Day (just as He said He would, and just as the Scriptures foretold).  All who belong to Him will likewise follow Him through the sorrow, the weeping, the dying…and the rising!  He gives us the strength to bear our labors until He gives us rest in death and ultimately resurrected life.

 

In that Day, the words of Psalm 66 which we prayed at the beginning of the service will be entirely fulfilled: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth. Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!” (Ps. 66:1-2)  Alleluia! Praise the Lord.  Amen.

 

[1] Christ is Arisen! Alleluia! (LSB 466, st. 2)

Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias domini)(John 10:11-16)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias domini) + April 15, 2018

Text: John 10:11-16

“A Psalm of David. 1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

But what does that look like here on earth, and day to day?  To care for His flock, Jesus appoints shepherds (that’s what the title pastor means).  He said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?…Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

 

Jesus does not hire employees; He calls men to shepherd His flock.  That’s why the language and practice of trying to compare a pastor’s work to that of another job doesn’t fit.  Pastors do not work 40-hour weeks.  If he does, you’re out of luck if your husband dies on Friday, or if you’re in the hospital at 11pm on a Sunday night.  A hired hand will leave the office, and you will not be able to get ahold of him because he will shut his phone off.

 

Why?  Because there is no bond of love.  The hireling is in it for the paycheck and not much more.  The Lord requires love of His pastors, and you can’t put that on a job description or measure it in a quarterly review the way you can other workers.

 

The Good Shepherd calls pastors to shepherd His flock, to tend to them whenever and wherever they may be—whether they are in the hospital in Portland or having a family crisis on what most people get off as a holiday.  It’s an earthly reflection of how the Chief Shepherd Himself is with us.

 

This is what is so significant at those points in the service when the pastor faces the congregation—the absolution, the readings, the sermon, the pax domini, and the benediction.  These are all sacred points in the divine service where it is not just the man who speaks, but the pastor speaks in the stead and by the command of the Good Shepherd.

 

Because the pastor isn’t an employee, it is unnatural for the flock to become an executive board to manage their pastor.  At times they will, and they have in many places—but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  The Gentiles lord it over each other and exercise authority, but it shall not be so among you.[1]  It’s quite unnatural for a congregation to talk in terms of “getting their money’s worth” out of their pastor.  If a congregation has a faithful pastor who loves them, those Christians are blessed beyond anything that money can buy.

But it can’t be ignored that the men the Lord appoints, starting with St. Peter, are sinners.  Although they are called to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among them” (1 Peter 5:1), they just as much are in need of daily forgiveness.  They themselves struggle with weak faith, pride, they hurt people with their words and actions.  Their sinful failings bring shame upon the Office of pastor which the Lord has entrusted to them.  Their words and actions can do real, sometimes irreparable damage to the faith the Lord’s little lambs.  To put it plainly, pastors are just as bad as the people they are called to lead.  The only difference, perhaps, is that they have the devil’s target on their back, and experience more frequent spiritual attack.  They need the Good Shepherd just as much as anyone.

 

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He 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. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11–15)

 

The Lord arranges things this way because He knows that His flock needs this.  Christians are people who need congregations, who need shepherds.  They need someone to love them with a steadfast love, both when things are good and when they get ugly.  The sheep need someone who feeds them, even when some of the louder ones complain about doctrine as “worthless manna.”  God’s flock needs a shepherd who will stick with them, even when they deal low blows and make the complaints personal.

 

The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—all Christians, both pastors and laity.  24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24–25)  Again, He did it because we need it.  We often find ourselves wandering from our Shepherd.  His Word becomes burdensome and we instead lean on our own understanding.  We stay away from church after disappointments and hurts. Even within the church, fights break out among believers because of jealousy, fear, and greed.  The human limitations and failings of this divine relationship cloud our vision of what the Lord is doing among us.

Even in the valley of the shadow of death, our Good Shepherd tends us.  He sends His Word of grace and peace from heaven to purify our hearts.  He feeds us with His very own Body and Blood in the Sacrament for our forgiveness, restoration, and strength of body and soul.   We can thank Him that He has continued steadfast among His flock in this place, and He continues His work: “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.”

Let us pray,

Faithful Shepherd, You are ever with us.  In divine love, You laid down your life for us. We thank you evermore that You cause this life-giving Word to be preached among us.  Support our shepherd and bless his service in among us. Guide us with your Word and move us by Your Spirit to receive your tending gladly and follow where you lead, in the way that leads to eternal life.  In Your precious, saving Name we pray. Amen.

 

Note which didn’t fit in the sermon:

It’s true that in Matthew 9, when the Lord sees the crowds harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, He does call those He sends “laborers.”  But that’s an incomplete picture because those he sends are called to do so much more than a simple wage-earner.  Most of the Apostles He sent gave up their lives in the service of the harvest.

 

[1] Mark 10:42-45

First Sunday after Easter (Quasimodo geniti) (1 John 5:4-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

First Sunday after Easter (Quasimodo geniti) + April 8, 2018

Text: 1 John 5:4-10

Alleluia! He is risen!

 

The Introit for today begins, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word [that by it you may grow up unto salvation].”  It’s this text from 1 Peter 2:2 which sets the theme for this Sunday.  It’s from this 1 Peter 2 text that this Sunday gets it’s strange name “Quasimodo geniti.”  Visions of the hunchback of Notre Dame come in our head, but really that’s just Latin for the same.  Incidentally, the character in the Victor Hugo novel was orphaned and found on Quasimodo Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter, so he was named after this day in the Church year.

 

The common thread between the readings today is the power of the Word of God.  Nobody would argue that God is not powerful or that the Word He speaks is not almighty.  After all, the Psalmist says, “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” (Psalm 29:4-5).  But where the Word of God shows its greatest might is when it produces its intended result and works faith in human hearts.

 

John makes an amazing statement: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

  • What is “our faith”? We don’t talk much about what it is, because it’s a rather elusive thing.  The moment you start talking about faith on its own, things get tricky, because faith doesn’t have any power in itself.
  • That’s because faith is not a personality trait, which some have more strongly than others. Faith is a trust which is bestowed by God for a purpose.  Jesus said faith is able to move mountains,[1] not because of a special quality in a person, but because faith clings to God, for whom nothing is impossible.
  • Faith’s purpose is to join us to Christ and all that belongs to Him. Faith is like glue. Nobody boasts about how good their strong their glue, what a lovely shade of off-white it is, or put it in a case and admire it in the bottle.  It’s meant to be used when you want to bond two things together.  (Unlike glue, faith can’t be purchased or replicated.)  Faith is our bond to our risen Lord.
  • The Holy Spirit is the master of faith. He creates, strengthens, and nurtures faith.  “You hear His voice, but you do not know whence He comes or whither He goes.” (John 3:8)  This He does by the testimony of Christ, which is the Word of God.
  • The bond of faith in Christ puts all other bonds to shame. “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  We can see how strong this bond is in what our faith is able to overcome:
    • Twisted desires: 15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15–16)
    • Unbelief: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)
    • Evil spirits: 1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world…4Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-4)
  • The bond of faith is tested daily by trials we face. If our bond was on the basis of our decision to adopt the Christian philosophy, we would give up and choose another.  If we accepted the truthfulness of the Gospel just because millions have adhered to it throughout history, then we might as well be Buddhist or pagan.  But, the bond which the Holy Spirit works is mightier than our own fortitude.  Therefore Paul writes,

 

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39)

 

This hope, strength, and victory are all yours through the testimony of the risen Lord, which God has borne to you.  Abide in this testimony, because God does not lie.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Matthew 17:20

Resurrection of Our Lord (Mark 16:1-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Resurrection of Our Lord + April 1, 2018

Text: Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

The two Mary’s saw the corpse taken down from the cross.  They watched as their dead Lord was hastily wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in the tomb.  “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”[1]  They saw the stone rolled against the entrance to the tomb.

 

They had rested on the Sabbath, according to the commandment, but now the Sabbath was past.  It was time to give Jesus a proper burial with spices.  They even brought Salome along, who had also seen Jesus die.  These three eyewitnesses went to the tomb, because all of them were sure that Jesus was dead and everything was just as they had seen it left.

 

All the disciples were positive that Jesus was dead.  This was their reality.  They had seen amazing things, but evil men had taken Jesus away and destroyed Him.  They were so sure of this fact, that the women bought spices, the apostles locked themselves away for fear of the Jews, and the disciples walked to Emmaus disillusioned.

 

They were so firm in their belief that Jesus was dead, that they did not believe any other report.  Mary, Mary, and Salome came to the tomb, and much to their alarm, they found it opened and empty.  They heard the words of the angel, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”  The tomb is open and empty because Jesus lives.  But they ran away, trembling and astonished.  Not only did they not believe the news, they were afraid of what it meant.

 

If Jesus was still dead, they could put this tragedy behind them and move on.  After grieving, they could get back to normal life, and Jesus would live on in their memories.  “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,”[2] the Emmaus disciples admitted.  But I guess that wasn’t what God had in mind.  Just another let-down, another loss to be shouldered, as we move through this futile life.  Time will heal our wounds, and maybe one day the real Messiah and Savior will come.

 

The disciples on Easter weren’t the last ones to insist that Jesus was dead.  It’s been an ongoing quest that began when the chief priests and Pharisees who sealed the tomb and set a guard of Roman soldiers.[3]  Today’s atheists insist that believing in the resurrection of a man nearly 2,000 years ago is foolish.  That’s because they base truth on what they observe, and they personally haven’t seen anyone rise from the dead.  Therefore it must never have happened.  Liberal theologians are no better, because for them it doesn’t matter if Jesus lives or not, as long as the hope is real in people’s hearts.  A myth can still be good, if it makes a difference in people’s hearts.

 

But in truth, there’s doubt in our hearts that Jesus lives also.  We’re disheartened by what we see—a reality that’s full of evil—pain, grief, and loved ones who never come back.  We’re told day in and day out that the universe just works by natural forces—we must save the planet and save ourselves from extinction.  Medical advances make it so we live longer, but no one has cured death.  Maybe all of them are right, and that as Carl Sagan said, we’re nothing but an “insignificant blue speck” in the cosmos.[4]

 

More than that, we’re afraid that our faith has been in vain, and that God has lied to us.  Jesus’ disciples had put all their hope in Him, but it looked like He wasn’t any good at keeping His Word.  We’re afraid that God will let us be put to shame in our hope.  That’s why we pray so little.  If we don’t ask, we never have to be disappointed that God doesn’t answer.  This is also why we hide our faith from our friends and family.  It’s not that we’re afraid of looking like a “Jesus freak”; it’s that we’re afraid Jesus isn’t who our Sunday School and pastors told us He was.  So, we don’t tell others Happy Easter! Christ is risen!  We tuck our cross necklace into our shirt and stay home from church if people are visiting.

 

And then again, what if Jesus has come back from the dead?  That was the other fear on the minds of the disciples.  Sure Jesus might be alive, but what if He’s angry that we all abandoned Him and stood far off, saving our own skin?  He’s probably fuming mad that, not only did we abandon Him, but we always misunderstood what He was saying.  If Jesus is alive, we’re in trouble.

 

If Jesus is alive after being dead, that means He really is the Last Day Judge.  That means He remembers all those times I slept in rather than go to church, or those times I was too chicken to stand up for what God’s Word teaches.  He must know all my sins that added to His suffering.  Jesus lives, but we’re afraid He might live for vengeance.

 

But that’s where—thanks be to God—we are totally wrong.  The moment that the two Mary’s and Salome were alarmed, the angel replied, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.”  Do not be afraid because Jesus is risen from the dead.  Or do you not understand?  He shed His blood and died for your sins.  He was not just some tragic victim who fell because of your neglect.  Remember what has been written by the Prophet Isaiah, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”[5]  This is God’s will: to put your sins on His Son, and count you as righteous before Him.  Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, lives because God has accepted His sacrifice.  The Lord has put away your sin.[6]

 

Mary Magdalene came to understand this when Jesus appeared to her while she was weeping.[7]  He appeared to her, bringing the peace of His cross.  There was no condemnation for her or any of the disciples, because He had paid the wages of their sin.  She was the first eyewitness and messenger of peace.  But when she brought that report to the mournful disciples, “they would not believe it.”

 

They were still so set in their belief in a dead Savior.  They refused to believe the eyewitness testimony.  It isn’t much different than people today who hear the Gospels written by eyewitnesses, but refuse to believe their testimony.  If you believe that Jesus is still dead, you really don’t believe that His death paid for your sins.  It took Jesus appearing to the Eleven themselves for them to believe.  But even to these “foolish ones, slow of heart to believe,”[8] the first words out of His mouth are reconciliation: “Peace to you!”[9]  This is not the Jesus they were afraid they’d meet.  He willingly suffered and died so that He could rise and say, “Peace” to the Eleven…and “Peace to you” here today.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleulia) Amen.

[1] Mark 15:47

[2] Luke 24:21

[3] Matthew 27:62-66

[4] Opening monologue from Cosmos (1980)

[5] Isaiah 53:10

[6] 2 Samuel 12:13

[7] John 20:11-18

[8] Luke 24:25

[9] Luke 24:36, John 20:19

Easter Sunrise (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Easter Sunrise + April 1, 2018

Text: John 20:1-18

Sermon from Rev. David Juhl, adapted

 

With glad hearts raised to God, we say Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

 

It takes a special breed to be a morning person. Not everyone can get up before the crack of dawn and feel like they have six hours of activity under their belt. Most of us need a cup, or several cups, of coffee, or some other caffeinated beverage to jump start the day.

 

Saint Peter was a mo(u)rning person. Please spell it with a “u”. He’s up early and running to the tomb because Mary Magdalene has a strange report. The stone is rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. John is running with Peter and gets there first. But Peter goes into the tomb first. It’s a good thing he did.

 

Peter promised he would stand by our Lord’s side to the end. He didn’t. We all know he denied knowing the Lord three times, just as Jesus told him he would. The last time we heard about Peter, he was running away and weeping bitterly. He did the impossible. He lied about Jesus when he should have told the truth. Instead of preparing to pay the consequences for his allegiance to the teachings and person of Jesus of Nazareth, Peter wimps out, takes what he sees is the easy way out, and sins greatly.

 

We also take the easy way out every day. Opportunities abound to proclaim your allegiance to Jesus. But we won’t seize the day and speak up. There are times it’s ok to be a Christian, like around other Christians.  But then there are those awkward pauses when your faith comes up in conversation with a jaded atheist.  There are those silences after someone makes a statement about the value of life, or what they think God is like.  We act embarrassed about the whole situation and hope they doesn’t notice that we are a Christian.

 

Churches this day are packed of full and part-time Christians. Easter is one of those “can’t miss” holidays where everyone puts on their finest, gets up before dawn, and runs to church to hear the familiar account of an empty tomb, a weeping woman, and a case of mistaken identity. The sorrow of Friday turns to joy today.

 

But when you walk out those doors, it will be business as usual. You won’t remember why Jesus rises from dead, let alone dies for your sins. Easter is just another Sunday among other Sundays of the year. Why this forgetfulness?  There’s just too much sorrow and sadness in your life for the Resurrection to matter. Knowing that your Redeemer lives gives comfort, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage. Hearts waking with gladness to see what the Savior has done won’t fix a broken marriage. Good Christian friends rejoicing and singing will go on fighting and not speaking to each other once they leave this building.

 

All of us are mo(u)rning persons, or should be. Jesus Christ gives up His life so you may not die. Jesus rests in the tomb on the Passover Sabbath so you may rest in His Word and Sacrament every Lord’s Day. Beloved, count the cost of the Resurrection and what might have been, had our Savior not been born according to the flesh. Today would be just another Sunday. Tomorrow would leave us all, according to Tennessee Ernie Ford, “another day older/ and deeper in debt”.

 

Today Jesus removes the “u”. Today Jesus makes us morning persons. Spell it now without the “u”. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Ps. 30:5)  Sorrow is gone with the night. Morning has broken. So has the seal on our Lord’s tomb. So has the power of sin, death, and hell. Satan cannot stand the sight of the sun rising over Jerusalem, much less every place that Christians gather this Resurrection morn. He knows it’s another day closer to the ultimate sentence of residence in the lake of fire.

 

Today Jesus Christ ensures you, who trust in Him as your Redeemer, will miss the lake of fire. Today death is a thing of the past. Jesus is alive. So are you. Even if you can’t see it, believe the Word of the Lord:

 

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3–11)

 

You are baptized into Christ. You are washed clean from the stain of sin.  The Word of God does not lie.  Appearances may deceive, Satan tempts us, people disappoint us.  But the Word of the Lord endures forever.

 

What can death do to you now that our Lord has conquered it? Death is nothing. Life is everything. Satan is nothing. Jesus is everything. Sin is nothing. Grace is everything. 9Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9)

 

Rejoice in your God. Today Jesus makes you are a morning person. Because He lives, you also shall live and reign with Him to all eternity.

Allelulia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia) Amen.