Sunday, March 31, 2013

LSB Resurrection of Our Lord [C] Sermon - Luke 24:1-12

March 31, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

St. Luke does the Eleven no favors in his description of Jesus’ disciples that Sunday morning. He does not hide their doubt and unbelief. He doesn’t conceal their dismissal of the women’s “idle tale.” No spin is found in his gospel. There is the exhibition of the unadulterated truth of the matter—good and ill—so that his audience can hear an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth.

The Evangelist’s depiction of the Eleven places them in the category of people that St. Paul described in today’s Epistle reading: “people most to be pitied.” It makes us pitiful people, if the resurrection of Jesus never took place, or if we fail to believe it. What would that leave us with? Certainly there would be ritual and a moral philosophy. There would be a group devoted to Jesus’ social teachings. Perhaps there would still be a Christian Democratic Union or Christian Coalition with representatives in parliaments across Europe. But to what end? Without life everlasting, there is no real hope in anything more than this world. In light of what Jesus had said, with no resurrection there is no redemption.

That realization is what plagues the Eleven. They consider three years’ time with Nazareth’s so-called prophet to be wasted. They contemplate their lost hopes and dreams. They could recall the grand entry into Jerusalem and the awe-inspiring Passover they had spent with Jesus. But their minds are also haunted by His betrayal, arrest, beating, and condemnation. They themselves had abandoned Jesus. They wonder what had gone so horribly wrong. And when the women come back with reports of Jesus’ return to life and sights of angels, they dismiss it out-of-hand, an “idle tale” with no basis in cold, hard fact.

But are the Eleven alone in acting that way? Or do we act in the same way? Faced with the failures of our life, with the broken dreams and lost hopes, we doubt. We doubt that there is anything good in life, that there could be something greater than our lives’ troubles. We may even act like the women first did that Sunday morning: “seeking the living among the dead,” looking for solutions among our wisdom, inventiveness, or genius. Turned into ourselves, we see there is no hope, nothing to cling to. And with that mindset, we can even miss the eternal good that is to be found outside of ourselves.

That is what the resurrection account is meant to overcome in our lives. It directs us away from ourselves, away from our own created realities, which will lead us to nothing but death and despair. Into that environment, the resurrection of Christ enters, shining brightly through our gloom. It is unbelievable and unfathomable. It may even seem like an idle tale to us because we know that human beings are powerless over death. We know our weaknesses, and like the disciples, we infer that weakness about Jesus as well.

But exactly there, Jesus’ message—the one repeated by the graveside angel and reported by the faithful women—comes into play. The powerful message of the resurrection hinges on just who has risen from the dead: Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.

So much significance and importance is found in that term: “Son of Man.” It tells us that not just any person was laid in the garden tomb near Calvary. The title informs us that He is divine. “Son of Man” is a title of God, the promised Messiah. It is a name with a message like “Son of David” or “Immanuel.” With that, we are forced to put aside our assumptions about human weakness and broken promises and lost hope. If it is God Himself, the Author of Life, the Eternal Word-made-flesh, that hanged dead on the cross and lay still in the tomb, then we can believe that He has power over death itself—just as He says.

That is what the angel’s message reminded the women, the Eleven, and all of us. Those words take the Eleven’s minds back to where there was no doubt, no thoughts that Jesus’ words were idle tales. It takes us back to Galilee earlier in Christ’s ministry, to the place where even Peter himself confessed that Jesus was that Son of Man, the promised Christ. Peter is confronted with his own previous testimony about Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” as well as the prophecy of all the events in Jerusalem that unfolded just as Jesus said.

Confronted with that, Peter’s doubt is eroded away. No longer does he dismiss the women’s report, but sprints to the tomb to see for himself: But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” But this is a reaction not of unbelief or doubt, but disbelief: amazement and wonder. Peter also remembers Jesus’ words and sees that they have come true. The events have happened as Jesus had foretold, down to the very last detail—betrayal, death, and resurrection. Promises are kept. Weakness is overcome. Hope is restored.

That is what the news of the resurrection does for each of us. It turns us back to the One more powerful than death, who backs up His promises with actions. The Word that Jesus speaks with His own mouth and through His messengers comes to us, carrying the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. It removes trust in ourselves or in our experiences. That misplaced trust is replaced with faith in what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf, relying on Him and His actions, despite what our reason or senses might say.

That message of Jesus carries us back to the events of Gethsemane, the Judgment Hall, and Calvary. It shows that it has all been done with a purpose—that these weren’t just bad happenstance, the result of unfortunate circumstance. Not only a purpose, but that we are the ones meant to benefit. Jesus’ words confront us with the fact that He deliberately endured all this for our sake. Jesus suffers and dies, knowing that this brings us salvation, fulfills the will of the Father, and meets all He has guaranteed. That is what the women experience at the tomb and the Eleven come to realize that first Easter Day. It is also what occurs in each of us, as the message of the Risen Lord enters our hearts and minds.

So we do not consider the women’s report “an idle tale.” Nor do we consider what the apostles handed down to us to be mere legend. Instead, we find in it our hopes restored, our lives reborn, our destinies transformed. We marvel at what has happened, not in unbelief, but in awe, reverence, and wonder. For what has happened to Jesus is what He promises us as our own future.

Thus the apostle, a proclaimer and witness of the Risen Jesus, wrote: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.Such news overwhelms doubt, tramples unbelief, removes weakness. This is what this day and every Sunday achieves and reminds us: a time will come when our tombs will be opened and none shall find us remaining in them. So it shall be, since our Lord Jesus Christ “has been raised from the dead,” and our enemy death is destined to be destroyed forever.

Let that cause your reaction of joy on this day, no longer considering Jesus’ words and works and the Church’s confession of them to be idle or worthless, but an eternal treasure which is stored up for you with the Risen Lord in heaven: the promise of your own everlasting life.

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

Easter Vigil Homily

March 30, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Christ has triumphed! He is living!” That is the theme of Easter. That is the message that the Church hears again this night and then carries out into the world. Yet, such message is not a new one. Rather, it is a continuation of the message about the Lord’s triumphs for His people. That line of triumphs is what you heard tonight, beginning with the Creation Account. All was very good. But the death that entered through Adam’s sin marred that very good creation. So the Lord does something about it. Each time He acts to have His will fulfilled, the Lord prevails.

The Lord’s flood drowns the sins of the world. A ram is provided in substitution for the firstborn son. The forces that enslaved lie dead on the seashore. The Lord’s words bring a city from death to life. A false idol is shown to be nothing compared to the One who appears like a son of the gods. These highlighted acts of the Lord are part of His triumph that culminates with His dealing with death itself. All lead up to the night that shines with the glory of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. That is what we remember and celebrate.

Our rejoicing of this night is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. All who believe in Him are delivered from the bondage to sin and restored to life and immortality. The seal of the grave is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth out of night. The triumph of the Lord Jesus takes us into the new creation that He establishes. But this time, there will be no more need for acts to remedy a problem. The new creation stands as very good for all time. It is ruled by the life that Jesus brings. That is the extent of His triumph.

St. John Chrysostom vividly wrote of that triumph. Hear again words that Christians heard long ago:

He who was taken by death has annihilated it! By descending into Hell, He has made Hell captive. He angered it when it tasted His flesh. And foretelling this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hell was angered when it encountered You in the lower regions.” Hell was angered, for it was abolished. Hell was angered, for it was mocked. Hell was angered, for it was slain. Hell was angered, for it was overthrown. Hell was angered, for it was bound in chains.

Hell took a body, and it met God face to face. It took earth, and it encountered heaven. It took that which was seen, and it fell upon the unseen. O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave! For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen.

That triumph of Jesus is the source of our joy. Let that joy be taken from here this night out into the world, so that His light may continue to shine on those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. “Christ has triumphed! He is living!”

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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Homily - John 19:1-42

March 29, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

“What I have written I have written.” Pilate’s words are meant to insult and anger the chief priests. They had stridden into his fortress at the crack of dawn, hauling along a Man who had already been beaten by them. He had found nothing in this Jesus of Nazareth to condemn Him. Corporal punishment was doled out to appease their demands. But even the scourging and the mocking were not enough to please them: “Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law He ought to die because He has made Himself the Son of God.’”

Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back: “The Jews cried out, ‘If you release this Man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’” Now they had threatened his political career. There would be no going home to Rome should this get out. Letting someone claim to be a king run free in Palestine would be the end of him. And so he takes the way out: “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered Him over to them to be crucified.”

But Caesar’s representative speaks one last word, fires one last salvo: “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’” Rome would make the definitive statement on the matter. And even when Jerusalem complained, Pilate was unmoved: “So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but rather, “This Man said, I am King of the Jews.”’” Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’” That’s the last word in Pilate’s mind.

Yet, the last word in the matter of Jesus’ crucifixion does not belong to Pilate. What he wrote remains known even to this day. But what matters is not his inscription. Neither do the charges that were brought against Jesus by the chief priests. No, the last word belongs to the Lord: what He has written He has written. What the Lord has spoken determines the matter. You have heard what He has spoken—both in the Scripture readings and the responses from Isaiah’s prophecy.

“What I have written I have written.” That is the Lord’s statement to us. He says that to us who have made demands of Him. He says it to us who have taken liberties with all His graciousness. He says it to us who find that what He provides isn’t good enough. He says it to us who have run rampant over His creation. He says it to us who have found all sorts of things to condemn about Him, but find no fault in ourselves. He says it to us who have substituted our laws for His just decrees.

The Lord’s word is spoken: “I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The fault of the people is made known. That pronouncement stands written, even today.

The Lord has also spoken about Jesus and His work: Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, 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. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” The righteousness of the Messiah is made known. That decree of the Lord also stands written.

The Lord speaks about the effects of Jesus’ work for the world: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” The benefit given through Jesus’ acts is made known. That statement of the Lord also stands written.

So the Lord says to us: “What I have written I have written.” He does not intend it to be an insult as Pilate meant his statement to be. No, He intends it to be the declaration that discloses why Jesus endured all the suffering and pain, the bitter griefs and woes. It is the final verdict in the matter of Jesus: there is no guilt in Him; He truly is the Son of God; salvation for mankind has been finished by His acts; His righteousness is meant for those who had none; by His not being released, we have become the friends of the Lord. This is the last word.

That last word informs what we say this night. We offer our prayers on the basis of what the Lord has said, on what stands written: “By Your dreadful crucifixion, by the raising of Your cross, by the anguish that You suffered, by Your prayers and tears, by the insults that You endured, by the shedding of Your most precious blood, by Your patience and humility, by the love with which You loved us to the end, O Jesus, deliver us.” And the Lord answers: “You are delivered. Your salvation is completed. You are forgiven. It is finished. The Scriptures have been fulfilled. What I have written I have written. I have spoken, the matter is ended.”

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

LSB Holy Thursday [C] Sermon - Luke 22:7-20

March 28, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”

The Day of Unleavened Bread had come. It was the day of days for the Hebrew people. Millennia before, the Lord had brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. It had come at a price, though. Plagues had been visited upon the Egyptians in the hope that Pharaoh would be convinced to release the Lord’s people from their slavery. But after nine plagues, there was no convincing. Pharaoh had hardened his heart; then the Lord completely hardened it for him. But the Lord has determined that He would free His people. The death of the firstborn of Egypt would be the method. That would be the final act.

So the Lord gives instructions to His people. Prepare for leaving, for quick flight. Make unleavened loaves. Slaughter an unblemished lamb and roast it. Take the lamb’s blood and paint it over the lintels of the homes. Eat with your belt around your waist and your staff in your hand. For the Lord is about to bring His salvation. He will pass over the houses of His people and keep them safe from harm. And after this salvation had been accomplished, the Lord instructs His people that they annually must eat a meal that recalls that night.

And so when that annual day comes in Jerusalem, Jesus instructs His disciples to prepare to make their annual remembrance of the Passover: “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.’” But this Passover is different because of what will happen that night. This was the day on which the Passover Lamb would be sacrificed; another day when the Firstborn would die and the Lord would deliver His people. Jesus was preparing a Passover for His people that would fulfill what was done millennia before in Egypt.

That is what you remember on this night. As Jesus’ people, you have been given something great to remember. Your salvation has been accomplished. It was done with outstretched arm and mighty hand. But the deliverance is not from the Pharaoh’s enslavement. No, it is from a much worse tyrant. There is the blood of a lamb that marks and brings salvation, but not one that is raised in pens and pastures. No, this Passover Lamb is the Firstborn Son of God. There is a meal that you have been given to eat. But this time, the menu is not unleavened bread; it is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

Tonight is set aside to remember what took place on that Day of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem: “And when the hour came, [Jesus] reclined at table, and the apostles with Him…. And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “’This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’” Those words disclose what has been offered for your salvation. Jesus’ body is given for you. Jesus’ blood is poured out for you. That is what brings you freedom and deliverance. That is what has been given to make you His people.

Just as the Lord brought Israel out of slavery, so also He has brought you out of bondage. It is just as you learned it from your catechism study: “He has redeemed me, a lost, and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.” This is the manner of your deliverance: the body of the Son of God given for you; the blood of the Son of God poured out for you. They are given to redeem you.

Remembering these things, you hear again how Jesus made you His own, how He has given you access to the Lord’s holy places. This is what the apostle wants his audience to know: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Through His body given for you and His blood poured out for you, Jesus grants you the ability to stand in the presence of God, to be in His sanctuary. Whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup, confidently believing this Word and promise of Christ, dwells in Christ and Christ in him and has eternal life. So you can “live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

The meaning and significance of this night is not that Peter and John went into a Jerusalem house and prepared the Passover meal for Jesus. No, the subject and objects need to be reversed. The meaning and significance is that Jesus prepared the Passover Meal for Peter and John and James and the countless number of individuals whom He has made His people. Jesus has prepared the Passover Meal for you—not just a dinner that remembers something that happened long ago, but a banquet that distributes salvation to you right now.

So as you eat and drink this meal of the new covenant, you have the Lord’s words spoken to you: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” That forgiveness which the Lord promises is yours because Jesus has taken all the plagues and death upon Himself. The death of the only-begotten Son of God, the Firstborn of God, brings life to you. He is the Unblemished Passover Lamb who takes all your blemishes upon Himself. He has borne them. He has overcome them. He has put them out of the Lord’s remembrance. And so you have the deliverance that was promised. This releases and frees you. The salvation has come at a price, but it is the price that has been paid for you.

So come and eat without cost. Eat the bread that satisfies. Drink the cup of eternal blessing. Partake of the Passover Meal that is prepared by Jesus for you. Remember what He has done for you. Show how He gave His body into death and poured out His blood. For this Jesus was delivered for your offenses and raised for your justification, so that your sins will be remembered no more.

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

Sunday, March 24, 2013

LSB Palm Sunday C Sermon - John 12:12-43

March 24, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Jesus had become a celebrity; Jerusalem was rolling out the red carpet for Him. That’s the theme of the reading that began today’s Palm Sunday Divine Service. The Gospel of the Palms records Jesus’ triumphal entry into the holy city. He is there at the very time when Jewish pilgrims from around the world were gathering for the Passover Festival. He is there, and the people want to see Him: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him….”

The crowds are interested in seeing Jesus. They are excited about what they had heard concerning His works. The Gospel writer tells us: “The crowd that had been with [Jesus] when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign.” Jesus’ sign was remarkable: a dead man was brought back to life. So the crowd wanted to see the One who had brought life into the midst of death. The sign had driven the crowds to make great statements concerning Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

That exuberant and celebratory mood carried through Sunday morning. Jesus even says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The glory of that procession leading into Jerusalem is expected to remain forever: the Messiah had come! But then Jesus drops a different, even unexpected statement on the people: “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.” Those words are heard, and the glorious mood seems to seep out, like air escaping a leaky balloon. Yet, Jesus makes a definitive statement that confirms His earlier words: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

What is Jesus doing here? What is the point of His statements? Jesus is showing that the glory of Palm Sunday, the triumphal nature of His entrance into Jerusalem, is not His end goal. To be sure, it is good, right, and salutary that Jesus receives the acclamations and praise of the people. He rightly is called the King of Israel. The people are correct in confessing that Jesus has come in the Lord’s name, with the Lord’s authority. Their prayer for salvation—“Hosanna!”—is right on target. But Jesus is not there to bask in the glory of that day. No, He is present to do something else, something that does not seem glorious at all.

Jesus is in Jerusalem with a purpose: to be the Unblemished Lamb offered at Passover. He is present to have His blood painted on the beam of the cross in order to bring salvation. That is His goal. That is what this parade into Jerusalem leads up to. This is how Jesus brings judgment against the rule of Satan, the realm of sin and death, casting out the ruler of this world. He reveals that purpose to the people on that first Palm Sunday: “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.”

Jesus tells the people that He will die. That is what He is in Jerusalem to do. It seems like the last thing that should happen. How does that mesh with the palm waving and the adoring crowds? How can the Messiah undergo such things? That’s the question Jesus is asked: “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?” But what they do not understand is what Jesus knows. Through His dying, life will be given. By His rising again, death will be done.

This is the heart of Jesus’ statement: “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.” Jesus’ dying is how He does not remain alone like a single grain of wheat. Instead, it is how He will make mankind be like Him. They will have His righteousness. They will have His life. They will have His glory. Jesus will produce a harvest of people who are just like He is, because His path leads not only to the cross but also beyond it. Jesus’ path leads to what the apostle mentions years after His dying and rising occurs: “He 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. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name….”

Jesus was not in Jerusalem to receive the glory that comes from man, but to go through the actions that leads to the glory that comes from God. He was present to have what was always rightfully His, but also to make for Himself a people who would share in His glory. This is how Jesus answers the cries of “Hosanna! Save us, Lord!” It is how He takes for Himself the crown not only of Israel but of all nations: “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.” This comes to Jesus who does not stop at Jerusalem’s gates, but goes out those gates to Calvary, crashes through the gates of Hades, and opens the gates of Paradise.

This is the path that Jesus invites you to follow. His statement discloses how you will share in what He earns for you: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him.” Your place is with Jesus—with Him in His humility, His betrayal, His suffering, His death and also with His exaltation, His resurrection, His ascension, His being seated at the right hand of the Father, His eternal rule. That place is given to you, as you follow in His path, as you receive the salvation that He provides to you.

The statement in the Old Testament Reading spoke of this salvation that the Lord provides. But note when He gives it: “The Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.” This is what He does for you when all the trust in your ability is removed, when all your thoughts about what is glorious and worth keeping are dispelled, when all the attempts to love your life are ended. Instead, the call is to recognize that you have no hope in yourself, so you know the need the Lord’s aid. You are called to forsake the honors of this world, so that you may have the eternal honor that comes from the Father.

Your identity is not to be master of your own fate, but to be disciples of the Master. Made disciples of Jesus, you have His mind in you. Made disciples of Jesus, you recognize the truth about Him: “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.” Made disciples of Jesus, you are called to die and rise with Him.

From this day through next Sunday, you will have the opportunity to hear again how Jesus humbled Himself and became an obedient servant for your sake. You will see Jesus walk the way of death to life for you. You will be made to understand how you are the fruit that Jesus bears by being falling into the earth and dying. He has drawn you to Himself, to follow the sign of the cross in which victory is found.

This path that Jesus traveled is now your path of pilgrimage. As you follow, you will be where He is. You will have the red carpet rolled out for you, when the Father bids you welcome because of what His Son Jesus has done—His bringing life into the midst of death by becoming obedient unto death and rising to life again. Then the Scripture will be fulfilled for you: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” He will answer your cries: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” And your response will be: “I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation.”

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

LSB Lent 5C Sermon - Luke 20:9-20

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son, perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw them out of the vineyard and killed him.”

“Do Not Want.” On the Internet, you can find photo-shopped pictures of a dog sitting at a table being served a plate of broccoli. The dog’s face is crinkled up in a look of disgust. It has no desire for what is being given to it. That type of sentiment is what Jesus speaks about in His parable. But when He tells it, the picture is a bit different. There is more than the “Do Not Want” caption. No, the story that Jesus tells would be like having the dog knock the plate of broccoli off the table and then leaping up and mauling the server to death.

This is what Jesus describes with His parable. He speaks to the people in the Temple right after the priests, scribes, and elders had challenged His authority to do so. They would not receive John the Baptist; they will not receive Jesus. No, they want to keep any word from flowing out of Jesus’ mouth. They want to silence Him. But Jesus won’t be silent. He speaks and speaks some more. He tells a story that shows how the priests, scribes, and elders were simply repeating the actions of their forefathers and about to do even worse.

Jesus’ story about a vineyard being let out to wicked tenants is simply a retelling of Israel’s history. It begins with Israel’s planting: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while….” The planting of Israel happened millennia before Jesus. It began with the call of Abraham, continued with the birth of Jacob’s twelve sons, and was enacted when the Lord took the Hebrews out of Egypt and placed them in the Promised Land of Canaan. This was His nation, His chosen people. The Lord gave them leaders to teach and guide them in the Covenant that He had established with them.

But the history of Israel is plagued with eras and events when the appointed leaders were doing anything but teaching and guiding the people in the Covenant. Both the priesthood and the government failed. Both rebelled against the order that the Lord had established. They were to be good tenants of the Lord’s vineyard. But they brought forth anything but a good harvest—the right faith and righteous deeds meant to be found among Israel. Any of that harvest which happened to be good was not being given to the Lord.

So what was the Lord to do? He sends prophets to warn and to correct the priests and rulers. They come looking for the harvest that should be present: “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” But when those prophets came, there was no handing over what was expected. No, there was the manhandling of the servants: “But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.” The prophets were sent, and they were rejected. It happened to the unnamed prophets and major ones alike.

But the owner has one card left to play, one last person he can send. Not just a servant will go and visit the tenants: “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son, perhaps they will respect him.’” They would have to listen to the owner’s son, wouldn’t they? When he speaks, he carries an even greater authority than the servants did. This will solve the problem. The tenants will hear the owner’s son and change their ways.
“But when the tenants saw [the son], they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” With those words, Jesus discloses what will happen in Jerusalem. He had come at the end of the long series of prophets that began with Moses and ended with John the Baptist. But the result is the same in Israel: those whom the Lord sent are rejected by the priests and rulers. And Jesus knows it. For He had already said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken.” And that forsakenness of the house of Jerusalem comes when the owner of the vineyard makes retribution for what the tenants did to his son: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Jesus’ parable is a message of judgment against the scribes, priests, and elders who had rejected Him. Their failure to receive Him as the Promised Messiah would be a costly mistake, for it has effects both in time and in eternity. But Jesus’ parable also has a message of hope. Even the murder of his son is not the end. The vineyard in the story is not destroyed. The owner still has a place where his planting brings forth fruit. He will get the fruits that his good land produces. The vineyard will have others put in charge of it.

And this is where you find good news in this parable. Jesus’ citation of the Psalter shows where it is located: “But He looked directly at [the people] and said, ‘What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?” The son may be rejected and killed by the tenants, but the owner’s will is still enacted. The Lord will have His kingdom established; His Son is the cornerstone on which it will be built. For what the psalm foretold is what Jesus also foretold: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” That day will be celebrated by the vineyard, as the psalm declares: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For you who are the Lord’s vineyard, you hear and read this parable of Jesus not in a vacuum or only in the time setting of the Monday of Holy Week. No, you read it through the prism of Good Friday and Easter morning. The owner’s son was cast out of the vineyard and killed. But the Lord’s Beloved Son was also raised on the third day. Jesus’ words on Easter Evening will make that clear: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” The rejection and suffering must happen, but it is followed by resurrection and glory. And for you who receive Him, you have the inheritance given to you.

Note that well. The tenants thought that they could kill the heir and take the inheritance for themselves. But that pernicious plot is brought to naught. Their rejection of Jesus brings nothing but dread to them. Yet, that crucifixion of Jesus followed by resurrection opens up an inheritance for many. It is what you heard on Christmas morning in John’s famous words that were echoed again after you made your confession of sins: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This is the blessed fate that has been given to you, just as it has been given to others before you. Paul described it in himself, speaking of the changes that happened to him. He went from one who was a rejecter of the stone to being built on the cornerstone: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more…. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” That is what the receiving of Jesus brought to a Pharisee who had persecuted the Church. But when built on the cornerstone of Christ, Paul has his place in the vineyard. The Lord welcomes him to share in the kingdom.

And so the message of the parable is directed to you. Acting like the scribes and priests—the wicked tenants—leads to destruction and loss. That is the fate of those who beat the servants and kill the son: “When the stone falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Those who refuse to hear the prophets and reject Jesus suffer this fate, but this need not be. “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces.” And yet, the brokenness that comes from contrition, from hearing the message of repentance that the prophets and Jesus brought, will be answered by being bound up again. The tears of sorrow that you sow for your unrighteous deeds, your acting like the wicked tenants, will be changed to shouts of joy. It is so, as you receive Jesus as the Beloved Son and the benefits of His death and resurrection for you.

Even the apostle had to note: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Jesus’ work continues to be done in you, because He has made you His own. The Lord has willed you to be part of His kingdom, to be His vineyard. Hearing His prophets and His Son, now you say that this is what you want. Even the broccoli of hearing the words of law that they speak about where right faith or righteous acts have been lacking is actually desired. Your hearts and minds are set on what the rejected Son of Man brings to you through His death and resurrection. His words of gospel show you what is yours, as He establishes you on Himself, the chief cornerstone. Those words will not be silenced; they have been spoken to you. And so you see that even in the parable about wicked tenants who kill the owner’s son, the Lord has done great things for you; you are glad.

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

LSB Lent 3C Sermon - Luke 13:1-9

March 3, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“[The vinedresser] answered [the owner], ‘Sir, let [the tree] alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Today and the next two Sundays, you will hear Jesus tell parables. These stories will speak to His identity and His work. They will reveal who Jesus is and the purpose for His presence among the people of Israel. These parables of Jesus will convey three major messages: repentance, reconciliation, and retribution.

Today’s parable is a call to repentance. Jesus tells it after He was confronted with an incident that took place during His lifetime. Jesus had spoken of the people’s inability to recognize the signs being done among them, so that they would understand the time they were living in. He says: “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” So some in the crowd give Jesus something to interpret: “There were some present at that very time who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”

So Jesus interprets this event. He addresses this incident, as well as another one: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Note what Jesus does in explaining these events. First, He dispels an incorrect understanding about them. The death of the Galileans and the people in Siloam cannot be attributed as the wrath of God being poured out on some grave sin that they had committed. But then Jesus does something remarkable: He uses the two tragedies as examples to call people to repentance. Note well the statement that Jesus says twice to the crowds: “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Just what is Jesus doing? How could He dare say such a thing? Jesus points out that the deaths of the Galileans and the residents of Siloam were terrible. But a worse fate exists: there is a perishing that is more severe, a destruction that is eternal. This will be the fate of all those who do not repent, who do not turn from wickedness to righteousness.

To make His point even more clear, Jesus tells the parable about the fruitless fig tree: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’” Here the fate that Jesus talks about is put into picturesque language. For the fruitless fig tree, being cut down is to perish. It would be hacked by axes and dragged to the burn pile. There would be no life in it at all.

The problem with the fig tree is its lack of fruit. It is meant to bear fruit. That’s why it’s in the owner’s vineyard, why the owner planted it. But if the fig tree won’t bear figs, then it’s worthless. It’s doomed to be cut down. Jesus’ words put the situation into stark plainness. They are directed to the people of Israel whom the Lord had planted. They are especially meant for those who won’t abide by the Covenant that the Lord had made with them. As the Covenant People, the Israelites had an expected way of life that the Lord had called them to. If they would not live it, then they had become worthless to Him.

But Jesus’ parable also discloses something that was happening among the Israelites: “And [the vinedresser] answered [the owner], ‘Sir, let [the tree] alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” The fig tree has a reprieve. The vinedresser wants another go, another attempt to make the fig tree bear fruit. He has a plan: “I will make the effort to help the tree. I know what can turn it into a productive asset for the owner. Given the chance, there is hope for this fig tree.”

Jesus’ words about the vinedresser reveal His identity and work. He is the vinedresser present among the people of Israel. His miracles, His teaching, His efforts are all done with the goal of bringing them to repentance, a change in mind and thought. Jesus digs around their hearts, showing them their errors, exposing how they have broken the Divine Law, and revealing the corrective actions. Jesus places the fertilizer in their souls, speaking the Good News of the kingdom of heaven, recalling all the Lord’s promises, pointing them to the Covenant that He fulfills for their benefit. This is the way to return the people to their identity, to make them fruitful trees in His Father’s vineyard.

But this effort of Jesus, the vinedresser, is not endless. There is a limit to it. Note what the vinedresser says: “If [the tree] should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” The vinedresser does not say that the fate of cutting down a fruitless tree is invalid or uncalled for. If there are no figs on the tree next year, then the axe will be laid to its root. It will be the task that the vinedresser himself will take up against the tree. He will hack down the tree and drag it off to the burn pile.

Jesus’ parable is part of His service as “a watchman to the house of Israel,” just as Ezekiel was centuries before. His parable puts in the people’s hearing the same words that the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he does he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” To put this in terms of the parable: If the fig tree trusts in its place in the vineyard but does not bear fruit, it will be cut down; if the fig tree uses the ground and produces fruit, it will remain standing in the vineyard.

This call to repentance is not primarily meant for the world-at-large; it is for all those who have been given a place within the Church, the people of God’s choosing. Jesus’ parable is a call to repentance for you. You are the fig tree that He talks about. The owner, God the Father, seeks fruit from you. He desires to see the evidences of the new life that He has granted to you. He wants to see His people walk in the statutes of life that He has established. They govern the actions of your daily living. The Commandments that you learned spell out the way you are to act towards God and towards your neighbor.

But you don’t only have the owner coming looking for figs. You also have the vinedresser present, turning the soil, digging around, putting down the manure. The actions of Jesus are done, so that you would be productive. This is what happens among you. Jesus is present with His gifts. He brings the good news of what He has done for you: the death that has atoned for your sins, the resurrection that has brought you a new life. You are joined to these things. You are made a partaker and sharer of them. That’s what Jesus does for you through hearing the record of what He has done, being baptized in His name, eating the heavenly food that He provides. You have not been left alone or unattended. There is a digging and fertilizing and pruning that take place, a divine effort being done for your benefit.

But the parable asks the question: What does the owner find among you? Is the fruit present? Or is your place in the vineyard being used up without anything being brought forward? Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation. Now is the year when the vinedresser is working among you. This is why Jesus is working in the Church now. But the time will come when there is no more work going on. The time will come when the owner will come to his vineyard, bringing the vinedresser along, and point out the fig trees that aren’t bearing any fruit and call for the axe.

So what is to be learned from this? Jesus’ call to repentance is meant for you: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Ezekiel’s call to repentance is meant for you: “When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this.” Paul’s call to repentance is meant for you: Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” These warnings and exhortations are for the Church, for the Lord’s people, for you. They point out the ways of injustice, unrighteousness, and wickedness—the ways that the Commandments speak against. Fruitlessness, injustice, and desiring of evil are not to be found among the Lord’s people. They are to be pruned, cut out, and removed from you during this time of grace.

But that is what Jesus’ work done among you accomplishes. Jesus’ promises attached to His work are spoken to you: “I have baptized you; you are regenerated. I have absolved you; your guilt is removed. I have fed you the bread of life; you live because of Me.” And so you hear the blessings spoken when receiving baptism, absolution, and meal: “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting…. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it…. The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.”

Through these things, Jesus gives you what you need to be fruitful trees in His Father’s vineyard. They deliver to you what Jesus has earned by fulfilling the Covenant for you, doing what you could not accomplish. Now is the year when Jesus is working among you; now is the time to receive His benefits. Participating in these means of grace will make you be what the Father intended when He called you to be His own people. In them is the life that the Spirit bestows, the life that makes you fruitful. May that fruitfulness be found in this place, this part of the Lord’s vineyard where He has planted you.

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