Sunday, April 26, 2009

Easter 3 Sermon -- Luke 24:36-49 (LSB Easter 3B)

April 26, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to them: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.”

The Risen Christ gives a mission to His disciples. It is not enough for Him alone to rise from death. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are meant to achieve great things for many others. The events in Jerusalem had to take place, for so the Lord God had spoken. Jesus reminds His disciples of that fact: “Everything written of Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” But what had been written of Him included more than descriptions of matters which only affected the Christ.

The Lord God had delineated what would take place to the Christ for the benefit of many. It was written “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” For the past two months or so, those who have gathered here for Divine Service have heard prophetic statements from the Old Testament which described that very fact. Three weeks ago, it culminated during Holy Week with the great prophecy about Christ’s crucifixion.

Like countless thousands of the Lord God’s people of old, the Good Friday worshipers heard what the prophet had said about the Christ, but also about them: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for sin, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul he shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.”

The Lord God makes known the suffering that His Righteous One will undergo. But it isn’t pointless. Rather, it achieves a great goal: others are made righteous by it as He carries their iniquities away. So it was written, so it was accomplished, as Christ Jesus hung derelict and still in crucifixion.

Jesus tells His disciples: “You are witnesses of these things.” With their own eyes, the Eleven had seen the prophecies fulfilled. They had seen Jesus accomplish them, doing “everything written about [Him] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” Jesus had done everything that was foretold about Him—events and actions which had effect for others, including the Eleven who had witnessed His ministry on earth.

But now, after what had been written was fulfilled, Jesus gives a mission to these witnesses. The disciples now become apostles: “sent ones.” The Risen Christ makes it so: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.’” The Eleven who had seen Christ’s acts are given understanding of the Scriptures to know that what was prophesied had been accomplished by Jesus. And now they can make known what Jesus had done, so that the prophesied others may receive the benefit.

So the apostolic mission was given. And today, you have heard how Peter began to fulfill it. You heard Christ’s apostle proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name: “You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. . . . But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out. . . .” Beginning at the Temple in Jerusalem, Peter does what the Christ had given him as his apostolic mission.

The facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection—what the apostles had seen—are proclaimed, so that sinners may repent and receive forgiveness. The fulfillment of the Lord God’s prophecies is meant to deliver—“to rescue from the peril of everlasting death,” as today’s prayer stated. Those who hear and believe, whether in Jerusalem or far from it, are brought the perpetual gladness and endless joys of salvation. For they have been accounted righteous and their iniquities have been borne by that Crucified and Risen Christ, just as was written “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.”

The effects of the Christ’s work made known through the apostolic mission are meant to reach you. What Jesus has done is for your benefit. The witness of these things has been given. You are to hear the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name, for you are to receive the salvation that He has accomplished for you. And so it has been done by those who have stood in this pulpit or in the chancel on 13th Street or in the parlor of the Deller House in Harrisburg.

What Peter and John and the rest of the Eleven proclaimed is for your ears to hear: “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” You were not there in Jerusalem, but your sins, your transgressions, drove Jesus to Calvary’s cross and destined the Roman nails for His hands and feet—the same that He showed to the Eleven. “You acted in ignorance, as did your rulers.” For all that you knew by nature to be right was actually anything but. Your virtues were pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. But that was due to the blindness of sinfulness and depravity, the curse that Adam handed down to all his descendants.

But now you know differently. For what was prophesied has taken place. What the Lord God foretold “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” has come to pass. You have heard “what kind of love the Father has given to [you], that [you] should be called children of God; and so [you] are.” That love was shown by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, “the Holy and Righteous One,” whom you sent to the cross. But so it was foretold that even the treacherous acts done to Jesus in human ignorance would lead to salvation.

So you are exhorted by Peter, the apostles, and all who stand in their line: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” You now know how your actions violate God’s Law. So repent of them, just as you did this morning. Repent of what was done out of ignorance and turn away from the practice of sinning and lawlessness. Purify yourselves as the Lord God is pure. For a better, blessed fate is meant for you since the Lord God’s Christ has died and has risen.

You have sinned, but you have forgiveness as you believe in Him who has died and has risen. The marks in His hands and His feet and His side provide your salvation. Redemption is given in His name. Every one of your transgressions is to be blotted out, just as Peter said. For that is what the Christ’s death has made possible. And for all who believe, they shall see Jesus as He truly is, just as Peter and John and the rest of the Eleven witnessed. For that is what Christ’s resurrection has achieved: the promise of restoration and everlasting life for you.

“Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations.” That is the apostolic mission. That has been done in your presence, heard by your own ears, so that you may believe. You bear Christ’s name, as it was given to you in Holy Baptism. Through that divine act, you have been given the forgiveness of sins by being connected to Christ’s death and resurrection. And this morning, the very Body and Blood of Christ given in death for your salvation will be yours to receive on this day, so that your faith in Him may be strengthened. He desires to be the Author of your life—both now and in the world to come.

So the sent ones have spoken as they have come here in Christ’s name. Believe their words which extend the witness of Christ’s fulfilling what was written “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” For by faith in Christ’s name you will be given perfect health in body and soul, being raised from death just as He was, being made complete and glorious at the Last Day,“the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Holy Week 2009 at Calvary

Sanctuary adorned for Palm Sunday

Chancel adorned for Palm Sunday

Bare Cross and Torches for Good Friday Divine Service

Sanctuary with Pew Torches adorned for Easter

Chancel adorned for Easter

Empty Cross and Lily Display in Narthex

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter 2 Sermon -- John 20:19-31 (LSB Easter 2B)

April 19, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name.”

Thomas wasn’t there. That’s what the apostle John said: “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” He misses out on the experience. The other Ten saw Jesus with their own eyes. They heard Him speak to them. And it was the same Jesus who had been crucified, dead, and buried.

The significance of that event should not be overlooked. Jesus appears in their midst, alive and well, powerful and glorious. Listen again to what the Gospel-writer said: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Peter, James, John, Andrew, and the rest are witness to the resurrection; they behold the Crucified and Risen Christ.

To demonstrate His identity, Jesus shows His pierced hands and side. The Ten see the marks that the nails and javelin had made. The evidence of Christ’s crucifixion remains permanently in Him, the scars that show the path of suffering that He walked. It could have been a shameful thing for the Ten, seeing those marks of crucifixion. Jesus endured the nail-piercing; He bore the effects of the Roman spear. But the Ten had all run away in Gethsemane’s Garden. While Jesus underwent the beating, taunting, persecuting, and crucifying, His disciples had abandoned Him in fright.

Note how John describes the disciples on that resurrection evening: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews. . .” The fear still lingered with the Ten. But into this environment of fright, unbelief, and despair, Jesus steps: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Now the fright goes away. Peter is brave again; John has his faith restored; Andrew sees “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” alive and well again. Jesus appears and shows His glory and power: no locked doors will keep Him out. Christ appears and shows His love and mercy: the disciples’ abandonment will not be counted against them. “Peace be with you” are the words from the Lord’s lips.

But Thomas wasn’t there that night. He doesn’t see the Living Christ. He doesn’t hear the words of forgiveness and reconciliation. Thomas is no witness of Jesus’ power and glory, the shock and awe of having a Man appear in the middle of a locked room. His eyes don’t see the marks of Roman nails and spear. And that presents a problem for him. But should it?

We heard how Thomas reacted: “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in His side, I will not believe.’” It seems reasonable, doesn’t it? You claim to have seen a dead Man appearing alive again. And not only is He living, He is able to appear in the middle of a locked room. And not only is the Man powerful like that, He bears no grudge, but speaks forgiveness. It is unbelievable, unless I have the same experience.

The reaction of Thomas is reasonable, not any different than how we feel. How many times have we said the same? How many times have our lips spoken the chorus: “Sure, you saw that,” or “Well, that might be true for you” or “If it happens again, I’ll believe.” We want the experience. We demand the right to be eyewitnesses. Seeing is believing: that’s the paradigm we have in our lives.

But Thomas does get to have the same experience as the Ten: “A week later His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it in My side. Do not doubt but believe.” And the experience continues to be the same; Thomas makes the same confession of faith as the Ten: “Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

But then, there is the added statement from Jesus, a statement that we must take to heart: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” Jesus says it wasn’t necessary for Thomas to have the same experience as the Ten. Belief in His death and resurrection is not dependent upon seeing Christ appearing in our midst and showing off His scars. In fact, it isn’t going to happen for us. And yet, the Lord says that people who have not seen will believe. He talks about us.

That’s what we learn from this episode that took place both the night of Christ’s resurrection and the week after. We don’t see Jesus as the Eleven did, but we believe. Why is this so? Because we have the witness of the Holy Spirit, testimony from the apostles handed down to us. Remember how John concluded this episode: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name.” Though we do not behold the Risen Christ with our own eyes, we believe that He has conquered sin, death, and Satan for our salvation. We do so, as we trust the witness and promise that the Holy Spirit makes through the apostles’ words.

This is the way that the Lord God has chosen to work. He desires that all would believe in Him as the Savior of sinners. The Risen Christ wants all to believe in His actions, to rely on what He has done as the basis for redemption. But He doesn’t live here and walk the earth and perform all sorts of signs and miracles in our midst. Rather, Jesus leaves the testimony of the apostles, the ones He sends out to speak about Him. And He promises, as we will hear in a few weeks, that the Holy Spirit will be present in the world to work faith in those who listen to the testimony and believe. Christ’s words are not false, but accurately describe us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

As we heard in the Epistle Reading for today, we aren’t the only ones that have been brought to faith in this way; others have received the same blessing. Hear again what the apostle John wrote to a group of believers like you: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

There is the promise of blessing for all who believe, though they have not seen. Like the people who heard the witness of John and believed, so you also have been led to faith and receive the outcome of it—communion with Christ and with all of His disciples, sharing the life which was made manifest by Him. There is joy and hope in this Easter Season, though none of us have seen the Risen Christ with our own eyes. Our fingers haven’t touched His hands or side. Never has Jesus appeared in our homes by walking through locked doors. And yet, we gather in celebration of His resurrection, the event that none of us have seen.

But such is the way of faith: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” There is conviction in our lives, a trust in the certainty of Christ’s words and works. But it is not our own doing; it is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. It is exactly as the First Reading described the first generation of believers in Jerusalem: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”

Importantly, the grace of God comes to those who hear and believe what the Eleven in that Upper Room had witnessed. The other disciples saw Jesus with their own eyes. They heard Him speak to them, the same Jesus who had been crucified, dead, and buried. We weren’t there to see, but we don’t miss out on the results of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Rather, we are blessed by them, we are saved by them. For though we have not seen, we still believe.

The peace of Christ and the grace of God are given to us through the testimony of the witnesses. Through that testimony, the Holy Spirit has given us everlasting life, just as John wrote: “These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name.” So we hear, and so we believe the words of eternal life; for that is how the Lord God desires it for those who receive salvation in His name.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Resurrection of Our Lord Sermon -- Mark 16:1-8 (LSB Easter B)

April 12, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[The angel] said to [the women]: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”

The appearance of the angel at the tomb is an alarming sight. It defies what is expected. In fact, nearly everything that took place at that Garden Tomb was unexpected. Certainly the women did not anticipate finding the tomb standing open, since “they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome expected to find Jesus’ body present, since they “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Him.” But the angel states: “He has risen; He is not here.”

So the women see the unexpected. “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” Looking around, they see no corpse, no Lord to anoint in death. Rather, the tomb is now the former place of the Living One Jesus. They seek Him who was crucified, but now has risen.

But should this have been unexpected and unanticipated? Perhaps the appearance of the angel should have been surprising. However, the finding of an empty tomb should not have been so to those who had followed Jesus during the past several years. Note what the angel tells the women as they view the place where Jesus had been laid: “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” That last phrase deserves great emphasis: “Just as He told you.” For much is included in these words.

The rising of Jesus had been foretold. Jesus had made it very clear in the last portion of His ministry that it would be so. Numerous times He had made the statement: “The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be beaten and killed, and the third day rise again.” Jesus had spoken this clearly. He had also spoken it in mysterious ways. He had even made the point in parables. Those who had followed Him could not miss it.

But not only had Jesus made such bold predictions about His fate to His disciples, it had also been prophesied long ago in the Old Testament. St. Paul makes this point to the Corinthian believers: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” Note the phrase that Paul repeats: “in accordance with the Scriptures.” He is saying that the events which transpired in Jerusalem had been revealed by the prophets long before their actual occurrence, so that those who knew the Scriptures should have known what would take place to the Christ: both death and resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus should have amazed, but not surprised. The events surrounding His death, burial, and rising should have been awe-inspiring, but not unexpected. What took place in Jerusalem to Jesus had been spelled out in words: the Lord God’s words, the prophets’ words, Jesus’ own words. Though it is quite unusual to have the dead brought to life, it had been foretold. That the One who Himself had restored life to Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son at Nain, and to Lazarus would also be raised was a given. It was always destined to be.

So the angel tells the women: “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 women are sent with the message: what Jesus had said has taken place; what the prophets had foretold has come to pass; what the Lord God had promised has been delivered. Words have been fulfilled, including the word that the Christ would return to life and be the source of life for those who believe His statements about His identity and work. Jesus’ disciples are told to go to Him, to witness their Redeemer who has risen from the dead as proof of their own salvation.

The emphasis on what has been said and fulfilled is very important for you, as well. For what you celebrate on this day is the fulfillment of promises made to you sinners by your merciful Lord. The Lord God has given you a great promise of everlasting life. That has been evident for those who have gathered for worship the past several weeks. For they have heard Jesus’ promises: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” and “Whoever loves his life will lose it; whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.” These are just two of the promises that Jesus makes about eternal life for His disciples.

But had Christ not risen from the dead, these promises would have been worthless. How could Jesus give eternal life, if He Himself was still victim to death? How could His promises have worth, if they were not even true for Him? Jesus had promised that His servants would be where He is, but if it is the grave in Judea where Jesus is found, then such a promise is hardly worthwhile or deserving of hope.

However, you celebrate on this day the rising of Jesus. He is not bound by death and the grave, but has emerged victorious from them. It was so “in accordance with the Scriptures,” according to the words which had prophesied the events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. So you see promises about Jesus fulfilled and the potential for the promises made by Jesus to be fulfilled for you. That is what is included in those important phrases of this day—“just as He told you” and “in accordance with the Scriptures.” That is why the angel sends the women to tell the Twelve the news of the resurrection. That is why Paul is careful to deliver the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the Corinthians “as of first importance.”

So, too, the fulfilled words are meant for you to hear and to trust. The historical events of the resurrection are the basis for great hope. They are the foundation for your own life, the rationale for promises made to you, just as Jesus said and in accordance with the Scriptures. Such trust in the Lord God and His words is why the Psalmist writes: “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” It is meant for you, just as the Lord God has promised.

The future of everlasting life depicted in Isaiah’s prophecy is also based on the effects of Jesus’ resurrection. So Isaiah prophesies that the Lord God’s people will be gathered and joyfully share in salvation. Why is it so? Because promises will be fulfilled: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” This He has spoken to you who have been called to believe what He delivers through the death and resurrection of His Son and your participation in it.

Promises have been made and promises have been kept by your Lord Jesus Christ. The women sought Him at the tomb. But He was not there. Not because His corpse was stolen. Not because the women went to the wrong tomb. But because He has risen and “He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Now it is meant for you to receive what He has promised as your own: forgiveness, life, salvation, a place with Him in the everlasting kingdom with His Father. So it is yours because what Jesus said about His own death and resurrection has been fulfilled.

So on this day, “I deliver to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” This Jesus has done, fulfilling the words about Him. And so He shall fulfill His words about you. For at the Last Day, “you will see Him, just as He told you,” and so you will have a place in His kingdom forever—just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true, just as He has told you and in accordance with the Scriptures.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Easter Vigil Homily

April 11, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

The long awaited day has arrived. The 40 day pilgrimage has ended, for now is the night when our Lord has arisen. So we have sung with festive joy on this evening: “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.” The sadness has ended. Joy is found in its place. For that is the response that spared sinners, substituted victims, redeemed slaves, returned exiles, and rescued prisoners have as they witness and comprehend the change in fate that has come to them.

That is the story of this night. A change of fate has been given. The Lord God has acted with His divine ability to bring salvation to people. Noah and his family are spared from the flood. Isaac is spared from Abraham’s knife and a ram mysteriously appears in his place. The Hebrew slaves are freed from Egypt and escape recapture. Exiled Israelites are given leave of Babylon to return to the Promised Land. Three faithful young men are protected from the fires of the furnace, so that they may continue to worship in spirit and truth. These events are all done by the hand of the Lord God who brings life to people who were destined for death.

So the Lord God has acted in the past. And this night is to remember past acts. But this remembering is more than simply recalling what has been done. Rather, it is to see ourselves in these stories of deliverance, to see the Lord God building up to the act of deliverance that He accomplished for us. The events that we have heard on this night are the track record of our God. They point out what He has been able to do, so that we can trust His promises given to us. But they also prefigure what took place centuries later in the death and resurrection of Jesus, for that is the greatest act of redemption, one that transcends times, places, and people.

We are to feel the emotion of joy on this night, since our sadness has also ended. Like Noah, Isaac, Moses, the Babylonian exiles, and the Three Young Men, we have experienced redemption; we have been delivered. Our sins have been rinsed away. A sacrifice has been given in our place. Our tyrant has been overthrown. We have a promise of a land after our exile here on earth. The fires of hell will not consume us. This is the result of our having a share in the resurrection that the Lord God has worked with His hand.

You have been told that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified has been raised. And that is no simple human act. Rather, that is the act of God Himself. And since His tomb stands open and empty, so yours will also. All the deliverances of the Old Testament have led up to this great act. Here the Lord God acts, not in a temporary way, but for eternity. So you and I have been given a change of fate: “Were Christ not arisen, then death were still our prison. Now, with Him to life restored, we praise the Father of our Lord.” That is the reason for our joy this night and tomorrow and for eternity.

So our pilgrimage through Lent—both the 40 day season and all the time of our repentance—will come to an end. In its place will be the inexpressible joy that we have just first begun to taste this evening: “Now let our joy rise full and free; Christ our comfort true will be.” So it will be now and forever, as our life is given by the Lord God’s hand. The sadness has ended; joy is found in its place. For that is our reaction, since our fates have been changed. So let us sing the praises of Him who has made it so.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Sermon -- Isaiah 53; John 18 & 19

April 10, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Pilate] went back outside to the Jews and told them: “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I should release one man to you at the Passover.”

At times, the greatest true statements come from the mouths of those who do not fully understand what they have just said. So it is with Pilate in Jerusalem on this fateful day so many years ago. His statement about the innocence of Jesus and the release of one man who is to be condemned neatly summarizes the point of this day. Good Friday is all about the reversal of fortunes, the setting aside of former verdicts, and the freeing of those who were bound.

Of course, Pilate had no real way of knowing his role in these events or the fullness of truth that he spoke. He himself had asked Jesus: “What is truth?” What is that fleeting ideal that no one on earth seems able to comprehend or converse in? But though he did not know what he was doing, this governor of Judea facilitates the redemption of the cosmos and the gaining of a kingdom for Jesus that is not of this world.

“I find no guilt in Him.” With those words, the earthly authority exercising power given from above exonerates Jesus, the Son of God. He is innocent; there is nothing in Him to condemn; no blemish disqualifies Him in any way. The pagan Gentile acts like the Jewish high priest: declaring that the Passover Lamb is perfect, a worthy offering for sacrifice. That is what this governor says on behalf of Caesar, the Pontifex Maximus—the High Priest of Rome’s idolatry. And yet, it is the perfect, proper, precise declaration of innocence for Jesus, the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God.

So it is that Pilate sends an innocent Lamb to slaughter on that Passover. He offers the Jewish people a choice, as was their custom. And though they did not fully understand what they were doing, the people also select the proper sacrifice. They do not send the murderous robber Barabbas to death, but send away the innocent Jesus as both their scapegoat and the greatest Paschal sacrifice. Bearing their sins and the sins of the world, the Lamb of God carries them outside the city wall to be disposed of in Golgotha’s dump to be remembered no more.

The human actors in this cosmic play do not understand their script. To them, it is improv, ad lib. But the Lord God has written all their lines. He knows what must happen and arranges it to be so. Ignorance and wrong thoughts are turned into the most well-crafted dialogue and action. It isn’t that Pilate and the Jews stumbled into doing the Lord God’s will, but that their characters are manipulated for the great outcome to take place.

And so Pilate’s declaration of Jesus’ innocence facilitates what the Lord God had said through the prophet Isaiah would happen to the Christ: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.”

Likewise, the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish crowds in favor of Barabbas reflects what the Lord God had said about the Christ: “He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by man; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

So the confused sequence of events is put into place. Guiltlessness is declared, and yet the Innocent One dies. By being mocked by the soldiers, Jesus is worshiped. In Pilate’s sarcastic writing, Jesus is rightly called a king. As He is stripped of His clothes, Jesus bestows the robe of righteousness to humanity. Nothing seems to be as it should; truth is arrived in the most circuitous of ways. And yet it is the fulfillment of divine will.

Through that divine will, everything arrives to its proper conclusion. For the significance of this day is that the results which neither Pilate not the Jewish crowds intended come true for you, as the Lord God intended. Because the Innocent One died, you, the condemned sinner, are acquitted: you are the man that is released. But this is what the Lord God had promised: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgression; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”

So the Lord God desired with all His intention and purpose. And so He has delivered to you, facilitated by those who understood not what they said and knew not what they did. The truth comes from their mouths, the truth of your salvation: “I find no guilt in Him.” And yet, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” so that He may say: “I find no guilt in you, and so I release you according to My custom on this Passover Day.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday Sermon -- Mark 14:12-26 (LSB Maundy Thursday B)

April 9, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“And as they were eating, [Jesus] took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them.”

The readings for this evening present two incidents of eating with the Lord God. It is a unique thing to eat with the Lord God. It doesn’t seem to be possible, and yet it occurs quite frequently. In the Old Testament Scriptures, it appears that the Lord God eats with people on occasion. But in the New Testament Scriptures, the Lord Jesus seems to be eating with people constantly. In fact, it is one of the aspects of Christ’s life which is criticized, as the Pharisees called Him “a glutton and a drunkard.”

But the Lord God continues to have His people eat with Him. He wants their participation. He desires to have fellowship with them. And this is especially so when the Lord God does something great for His people. In the moments of redemption, the Lord God provides a meal for His people. Great actions are cause for great celebration, especially when forgiveness, life, and salvation have been provided.

So it was on the Exodus. The Lord God had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. He had given them a unique identity and had made them a nation. He had pledged Himself to them with a covenant, a covenant that His people would possess to bring them salvation. You heard how that covenant was brought to the Lord God’s people: “[Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”

The Lord God’s people are presented with the covenant that He had made with them. Blood of atonement was placed on them for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord God’s words were sealed in holy oath. And then comes the interesting event—the meal: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”

It is a sublime, surreal thing that takes place in Sinai’s wilderness. The leaders of the Lord God’s people are in His unveiled presence. They eat and drink before Him, and none are harmed. None are struck down despite their sin, despite their unholiness. The Lord God bids them welcome, as He has made a covenant with them, as they have participated in the blood of sacrifice. This meal in Sinai brings the elders of Israel into communion with the Lord God.

Move forward nearly a millennium and a half, and another eating event takes place. This time, the setting is quite different. There is no great mountain to ascend. There is no large assembly of the Lord God’s people. There is no altar, no herd of bulls to be sacrificed. But despite the different setting, the principals are much the same: the Lord God is present, as well as the leaders of the people He has called out to follow His lead. And in that setting, a covenant is made by the Lord God for His people. A meal is also shared.

On that Thursday of Passover Week, Jesus—the Lord God Incarnate—reclines with His followers. The total number is unknown, but all the Twelve were there along with others. And in their midst, Jesus speaks about fulfilling the covenant that He had made with their ancestors. And Jesus does something else: “And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’”

A sacrifice is made, but this time it is not the blood of bulls poured out. Rather, it is the blood of God Himself shed for the people. This is done, so that His people may have forgiveness. There is no altar, but the body of God Himself is offered unto death. This is done, so that His people may have life. Again, it is a sublime thing that transpires, nearly unreal. But it takes place, so that the Lord God’s people may have communion with Him and live.

That is the significance of this night which took place nearly two millennia ago. A covenant is made with you, words sealed with the sacrifice of God Himself. You are given a promise: participate in this covenant, and you shall live. And so, many of you have, believing the Lord God’s word of promise. Through your baptisms, you have been crucified and have risen with Christ. You have participated in His sacrifice, so that you may live. But He also gives you another way to continue to participate in His covenant: eat and drink with the Lord, eat and drink of the Lord, and you shall live.

The meal that the Lord God leaves for you causes you to remember this covenant. You recall His sacrifice. You recall the night when He was betrayed and beaten. You recall His crucifixion which atoned for you. But there is more than remembering. The meal presents to you those very things which were offered for your benefit: Christ’s own body and Christ’s own blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. That is the covenant that the Lord God Incarnate has made with you in accordance with His words: “This is My body; this is My blood of the covenant.”

And so you believe what Jesus says, even if it is surreal. You believe that His body and blood offered in sacrifice for you are present here. And at Christ’s invitation, you who have been baptized into His death and resurrection, who have been instructed in the Lord God’s Law taught in the Ten Commandments, who have been instructed in the Lord God’s acts of redemption taught in the Creed, who have been instructed how to pray as the Lord God has taught—you eat and drink with Him and of Him and He lays not a hand upon you.

So the Lord Jesus Christ desires—not only for those in the Upper Room, but for all His followers. As St. Paul asks the assembly of believers in Corinth: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Yes, they are, for they are so in accordance with the covenant made by Christ’s own words, instituting His will for His disciples.

Those same words of Christ invite you to eat and to drink with Him and of Him on this night. Remember His sacrifice for you and partake of what He offered for your redemption. Recall the covenant and believe in its promises for you. Receive the blessings that come from Christ’s own hands to you in this Holy Meal: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon -- John 12:20-43 (LSB Palm Sunday B)

April 5, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

So [the Greek pilgrims] came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

The Greek pilgrims’ request seems straightforward. But it does bring a question to mind: Which Jesus do they want to see? Not, mind you, that there are multiple Jesuses, though that can seem to be the case. Which Jesus do they want to see? Miracle Jesus, Professor Jesus, Palm Sunday Jesus, Good Friday Jesus? They are all the same—different aspects of the one Person—but to those who perceive Jesus, He can appear so vastly different.

Just what had piqued the interest of these foreign pilgrims? What had they heard that drove them to seek out Philip one of the Twelve? Was this a request based upon what they had just witnessed, as Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly? Or had these pilgrims received news from Galileans and Judeans who had been part of the crowds following Jesus? Perhaps the Greeks had run into someone who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus to life just weeks before.

The Gospel Writer doesn’t give much information about these Greeks who came to Philip. But he does provide the reaction of Jesus after hearing their request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.”

It’s an interesting reaction that Jesus gives. Jesus hears the Greeks’ request brought to Him and says that He will be glorified. But what does Jesus connect to being glorified? Death. Hating life in this world. Service. These don’t appear to be glorious at all. They seem just the opposite. And yet, Jesus says this will happen. He says that these are the events to be found in the hour when the Son of Man is glorified.

And to show that Jesus was serious about this, He repeats that same point later: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” John explains the point that Jesus makes: “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” The Gospel Writer doesn’t explicitly say if the Greek pilgrims were present during this statement, though it can be assumed that they were since Jesus was teaching publicly. Whether they were or were not, the questions can be asked: Is this the Jesus they wanted to see? Is this what they anticipated or hoped for?

You heard how some of the people reacted to Jesus’ words: “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can You say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” They didn’t accept Jesus’ words. They didn’t understand Jesus’ identity. Some just plainly didn’t want this type of Jesus—this bound to be crucified and dead Jesus. The Gospel Writer points out this fact: “When Jesus had said these things, He departed and Hid from them. Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.”

Hopefully, the Greek pilgrims weren’t counted among that number of those who did not believe in Jesus despite the signs He gave. But what about you? Is this the type of Jesus you want to see? Is this the Jesus you hope for? Is this the Jesus that you believe in? You are much like the Greek pilgrims: you don’t have the signs; you don’t have the years spent observing Jesus as He went from town to town on His ministry. What you have are the words of those who witnessed them and in their travels brought news about Jesus. Yet, the news they brought wasn’t only about the wonders that Jesus worked, but also about His rejection and His being lifted up in crucifixion and His paradoxical teaching about glory.

So is that the Jesus you want to see? Well that is the Jesus you are going to get from this pulpit, especially during this Holy Week. You have already received the Jesus who is “your king coming to you; righteous and having salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” For the next seven days, you will hear about the Jesus who washes His disciples’ feet, who is betrayed by one of His followers, who is denied by the chief disciple, who is condemned though innocent, who is rejected in favor of a criminal, who is lifted up on an instrument of torture and death.

This same, humiliated Jesus is He who speaks about glory. And yet, “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus talks about glory, and yet His glorification cannot take place without first experiencing humiliation. There is no Easter Jesus or Ascension Jesus without Christmas Jesus, without Miracle Jesus, without Palm Sunday Jesus, without Good Friday Jesus. His life is a unified whole—a life of both humiliation and glorification.

Recall again what Jesus said in response to the Greeks’ request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” So it is with Jesus. Without His death, Jesus remains alone: He remains righteous alone; He remains glorious alone; He remains enthroned in heaven alone. But by His suffering, by His “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” Jesus bears much fruit. There will be others who are made righteous, who are glorified, and who are in heaven with Him, just as He promises: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will be My servant also.”

That is the glory that comes to Jesus and comes to you through His humility. You are the fruit that He bears. He is the seed fallen into the ground that produces life in each of you. You are given a share of the life that Christ earns for you by His meeting the requisite cost of your sins’ wages. The Jesus of humility is placed into the ground to be raised on the third day, to spring to life, and to bestow His righteousness on pilgrims from all the ends of the earth. So Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” As humiliating as His crucifixion was, it is used as a magnet to attract people to the glorious life it earned.

The Palm Sunday and Good Friday Jesus does not remain locked in that place of time. No, there is an exaltation, a glorification that takes place for Him: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It is one and the same Jesus. By Christ’s death, “the ruler of this world is cast out.” No one must be subservient to Satan and his tyranny, since Christ has conquered that Serpent through the tree of the cross. Now there is no question who is Lord.

He who has been exalted and who bears the greatest of names is your Redeemer. This is the Jesus you want to see. This is the Jesus who will be presented to you at the end of days. But make no mistake: it is the same Jesus of humiliation, suffering, and crucifixion. That is also the same Jesus you want to see. This is the Jesus that will be presented to you this week, so that you may follow Him. For as you follow Him in faith, you have His promise: “Where I am; there will be My servant also.”

As you have been presented with the news of Jesus, like the Greeks you can say: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And so you will, for in this assembly you are presented with the Miracle Jesus, the Professor Jesus, the Compassionate Jesus—which is the same Humiliated and Exalted Jesus. He is the one Lord, your Lord, who has purchased and won you by His innocent suffering and death. He is the one Lord, your Lord, whom you live under in His kingdom, both now and for eternity.

Having that Lord may mean rejecting “the glory that comes from men.” It was a stumbling block for many in Jerusalem that kept them from believing. But as your blind eyes have been made to see and your deaf ears made to hear, you will love “the glory that comes from God.” It is what the humiliated, suffering, and crucified Jesus brings to you, as that same Jesus is exalted, glorified, and risen. May you see that same Jesus now and at the Last Day, being the servants present where your Lord is now.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.