Sunday, May 28, 2017

Suffer as a Christian

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017

1 Peter 4:16
Suffer as a Christian

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

I. Suffering because of me

Much, if not most, of the pain and suffering we endure is our own fault. And a lot of this self-inflicted pain and suffering is done intentionally by us. This means that we know what is wrong, but we do it anyway. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote:

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

We know they are evil, but we so often end up doing them anyway. And we hurt ourselves and others that we never dreamed of hurting, and above all, we dishonor Jesus. The evil that we don't want to do is what Peter wrote about in his first letter:

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
1 PETER 4:15 NIV

We might try to dance around his warning with a trite, “Well, Im not a murderer or thief. I’m not a criminal—I’ve never been in trouble with the law. And I’m not a meddler; I stay out of other people’s business.” If we take this approach to Peter’s words, we are wrong. Jesus said that anger is as evil as murder:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subject to judgment.

Jesus, God and the Judge of all, regards hatred and anger and murder as one evil thing. And we certainly are guilty of hatred and anger, both letting our anger rage and fly (losing our temper) and holding onto hatred and packing it deep inside ourselves (holding grudges).

Same with thievery and meddling: we steal from God in how we use our money. We treat our money as though it were actually ours, and not the way it truly is, on loan from the Lord Jesus to use for our daily bread and for the good of others. As to meddling, we have talked behind the backs of others to harm them, and not to build them up. We have listened to gossip and chosen not to defend the person being trashed.

So we are guilty, guilty of all of it. To pretend otherwise is to despise Christ and His holy law. So we say: “I am guilty, Lord. I have sinned.” And we also say: “Have mercy on me, a sinner! Treat me the opposite of how I deserve! Give me Your life instead of the death I have earned! Be kind to me and speak gently to me!”

And His answer is always the same: “Yes, I forgive You. Because of My blood and death, I will not hold Your murder, thievery, and meddling against you. I will give you life in the name of My Father and Me and My Spirit!”

II. Suffering because of Him

He makes and keeps you as His Christian. And while our suffering won’t stop there, our suffering will change.

By faith in Christ we now suffer because we wonder why we still suffer. The difference is subtle, but vital.

Unbelievers suffer for their murdering, thievery, and meddling, like us, but their misery only goes to the tips of their noses. They curse fate or chance or humanity or the government or their family for their predicament.

On the other hand, believers suffer because we struggle to see how it could possibly be any good that Jesus still leaves us here on earth. We suffer, wondering if Jesus really loves us since He is allowing us to dangle in our lowliness. We suffer, thinking that if we are still messing up and sinning, we must not really be Christians. The Devil delights in accusing us with these questions, and he leads us into suffering, hoping that the last thing we will do is resist him by:

Cast[ing] all your anxiety on [Jesus] because He cares for you.

Suffering is part of the Christian life. We might even say: “No suffering, no Christian.” To be clear, we dont go looking for suffering as though the most miserable person is the most loved by Christ. But suffering will find us, and when it does, we hold on to Jesus and the name He put on us in Baptism.

The suffering Peter mentioned in his letter is in the context of actual physical persecution, in his days being crucified or burned in Rome or stoned or flogged in Jerusalem simply because you confessed Christ the Savior, or in our day men, women, and children being machine gunned on a bus in Egypt.

Our time and place is different. No one is killing our children, but many are trying to drag them into the worship of happiness at any cost. No one is trying crucified you, but we are surrounded by a business culture and co-workers that will kowtow to any lie, no matter how perverted or ridiculous.

And so we suffer, from within and without, for the name of Jesus. And when His glory is revealed when He returns to the earth—we pray sometime today—He will lift us up from our troubles and bring us into His everlasting peace, where where only the truth is sung and death and pain and suffering will be a distant memory, if not completely forgotten. Godspeed the day!

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many, for you! Alleluia! Amen!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lift Up Your Hearts

May 25, 2017

Luke 24:50-51
Lift Up Your Hearts

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

There is something special about lifting up your hand over someone elses head and speaking Jesus to them.

It happens during the ceremony of Baptism, when a sinner is saved by Jesus. The baptism itself is the pouring of water on the head as the eternal name of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—are spoken over the baby or adult. And then the pastor will place his hand on the head of the baptized and bless them some more.

It happens during the service of ordination and installation, when a man is placed into the office of holy ministry and over his congregation. This will happen soon in Freeport and Elizabeth and if you get to go, youll see the other pastors put their hands on the head of this new pastor and bless him with promises from Jesus.

For both the baptized and for pastors, the blessing is the same: God is with us. Jesus said,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:20

Jesus says, “I am with you.” This is the promise that lifts us up when we are afraid, when we are worried. And we fear and worry about many things in this life, usually about losing things. Think of the disciples. They were doubtless worried about losing Jesus. What would happen when He left? How would they survive? What were they supposed to say and do?

For the forty days after leaving His tomb, Jesus had been answering their worries. He has been preparing them for the time when He would be lifted up into heaven and hidden from their eyes. He prepared them by showing them that His dying and rising was their life. He did it first and for us. And we follow Him by dying and rising in Baptism. And in the Lords Supper we confess His presence with us—His I-am-always-with-you-ness—by saying back and forth: “The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.” We could say like this: “Ascend your hearts. We ascend them up to the Lord.” This isnt some mystical buzzing, but rather the confession of the reality that right now through the means of His Word Jesus is present with us. Right now.

This is why we are blessed. When Jesus stands with you, seen or unseen, the many losses of this life cannot harm you.

You lose your job; Jesus says, “I am with you.”
You lose your health; Jesus says, “I am with you.”
You lose your child, your spouse; Jesus says, “I am with you.”

Prepare your children, your grandchildren, for the many changes of life with the only blessing that lasts. The promise of our lifted-up Lord to never leave you or forsake you.

So tell your children how much you love them. That no matter where they go, you will always care for them. And that even better, there is One who loves them even more than you. He proved it by being lift up on the cross and He blessed them when they were lifted up to the baptismal font.

So go ahead, fathers. Bless your children. Speak Jesus to them and lift up your hands and bless them, saying, “The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.”

Then He led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. And while He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up into heaven.
LUKE 24:50-51


Monday, May 22, 2017

It’s What Christians Do

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017

John 14:15
It’s What Christians Do

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

A man is running across a sky scrapper. Hes being chased by men in suits. Theres a helicopter. Quickly the man is trapped on the roof. Suddenly he gets a call … from his mother.

Yes, youve been tricked into another insurance ad. The narrator explains that moms always call at the worst times. Its what they do. This, of course, is the pitch: switch to this company, because they'll save you money. Its what they do.

Of course, companies can’t always save you money. And moms never call at bad times. But this idea that there are just certain things that certain creatures do because they are that way has the ring of truth. And this is nowhere more true than for Christians.

Today Jesus assures you that you love Him and this love for Him shows in how you live. You live by obeying His commands. He almost makes it sound as though He wont save you unless you obey Him! He said,

If you love Me, you will obey what I command.
JOHN 14:15 NIV 1984

But a bit later in verse 21, He said:

Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me.
JOHN 14:21 NIV 1984

You come to know Jesus and His Father through His Word that kills the old you and bring you to new life. This is life is from His obedience and death, not ours.

4We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.

People who are alive do things. And people who live with Jesus obey Him and do His things. What are His things?

Think back to your confession earlier in the service where we all confessed that we are sinners:

15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing.
ROMANS 7:15, 18-19 NIV

Our new life in Christ is dogged by our old flesh that keeps trying to drag us back into the worship of all the different known and unknown gods of this world. But we obey none of these idols; we obey Jesus. Its what you do. And what He wants I want. And what He doesnt want I dont want. But how do we know which is which?

He told us. He had Moses them down: His commandments. Do you remember them?

Say the commandments.

We obey His commandments by not doing certain things and by doing other things. For example, you will not stay mad at people who you think deserve it, but instead you will assume that their words and actions are done with good intentions. Its what Christ does. Its what you do.

And when we dont, Jesus does. And He gives you His obedience to His Father as His gift to you. He was crucified for your disobedience and was raised to life to tell you that your disobedience is forgiven. And we agree with what He says. He says, “You are alive and you obey Me.” And we agree with what He says. We obey. Its what you do for Jesussake, who died and lives for you.

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
JAMES 1:22-25 NIV

We do what Jesus says. It’s what we do. When Jesus calls on us to obey Him, He is simply describing His people and how they live in Him.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dying Jesus’ Way

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017

John 14
Dying JesusWay

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Jesus is the way. But where He leads us isnt always where we want to go.

You want Him to lead you to fortune and glory. Jesus said:

Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
JOHN 14:11 NIV 1984

And you say, “Yes, Jesus, miracles! Show me more miracles, Jesus!” But then He doesn’t give you the miracles you really want. He goes a different way.

His way is Baptism and it is a miracle. But we don’t treat it like a miracle. This is my guess, but if Jesus would take away your depression or pain or blindness or cancer, you would remember and celebrate that day for the rest of your life, as you should! Why not with Baptism, the day Jesus ended your slavery to the Devil and created you to be new person. This is the beginning of your eternal life.

Jesus’ way is His body and blood going into our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins. This, too, is a miracle, but we don’t want too much of this kind of miracle. We want miracles that we can count and measure and feel good about—that’s our way.

Jesusway doesnt always feel good. His way is His body nailed to a cross. His suffering and death is His great miracle for us, but we often dont treat it that way. Weve been told that Jesusdying is the sad part, and that we should focus on the glorious happy miracle of the Easters empty tomb. Indeed we see this in our art at church and at home. Its accepted by many that Jesus hanging from the cross should not be the primary image for Lutherans, but instead the empty cross is the one we should display.

But Jesusway was to die on an empty cross; His way was to die on His cross and then to rise from an empty tomb. Jesusway is one of suffering and loss throughout His life: the Bethlehem manger and Calvarys cross are both full of the very body and blood of God in the flesh.

Jesusway is His Fathers gift to us: His sent Son giving up His glory for a time by being born of a virgin and born under His holy law of love. Jesusway is being punished for our total failure to love Him and others perfectly, a failure that we can never make up for. So Jesusway is to do it for us: rising to life to tell us that His full cross was the payment for all our lack of love.

Jesusway is dying and rising. And therefore this is our way, dying and rising. We have died and been raised to life in Baptism. As we remember this day, our eternal birthday, we die and rise in Christ. As we receive the body and blood of our risen from the dead Savior, we go His way into life with His Father.

He tells all His disciples that we know the way to the place where He is going. And this way is death and resurrection for us!

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many. Alleluia! Amen!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Pastures or the Pastor?

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017

Psalm 23:2
The Pastures or the Pastor?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
PSALM 23:1-2

Where are the green pastures about which David wrote?
And what does this tell us about Jesus?

David wrote Psalm 23 3,000 years ago. But more important for understanding green pastures is the geography. Green pastures for us in the West, especially Iowa, are really green. Close your eyes and hear the words, “Green pastures,” and you're likely to see thick green fields of alfalfa.

But in the eyes of those in the Middle East, green pastures don’t look green. Farm country there is hard to find and when you are growing crops, you don’t want sheep grazing on your farm land. So shepherds in the Middle East find grazing land wherever they can, often on rocky hillsides. Instead of lush valleys, they graze their sheep on ancient hill paths. These paths are even lines with each other up the hill, spaced so that each sheep can graze on either side of their path.

From a distance it might look like the sheep are eating dirt and rocks, but when you look closely they are eating little shoots of grass. This is the wilderness, but it is also the green pasture. Moisture that blows in from the Mediterranean Sea provides just enough water for these tufts of grass to grow on these rocky hill paths. And so this is where a shepherd take his sheep, leading them by his voice along these paths, where they get just enough.

This does change our thinking about what it means to be one of Jesussheep. If you think of the green pastures as rich fields where you can just flop down and eat—where you really dont need a shepherd—you may stop listening to Jesusvoice.

Your family hopefully is a green pasture for you—a gift from the Lord—but its tempting to love your family more than Jesus. For example, its tempting to try and keep your home an outwardly happy place by refusing to call a family member to turn away from a sin that they are saying isnt a sin. To keep your family looking like a green pasture, its tempting to remain silent and end up loving a father, mother, daughter, or son more than Jesus. He warns of this temptation:

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

As sheep, our great temptation is to worship the pasture instead of the Pastor, which is what shepherd means. And Jesus is our Good Pastor.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for His names sake.
PSALM 23:3

And so thinking about these hilly paths, following our Good Pastor, you receive just enough. He gives you the promise of Gospel in baptism, preaching, and communion. This Gospel is that our Good Pastor stood between you and the justice of God and sacrificed His life to satisfy His justice. His death makes you just and right before God. And it is enough. Like sheep in the wilderness, as long as we have our good Pastor speaking to us, we have enough.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many. Alleluia! Amen!

Monday, May 1, 2017

His Words Come First As He Walks With Us

Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017

Luke 24:16
His Words Come First As He Walks With Us

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Before His glorious death, Jesus must have walked hundreds of miles on the dusty roads of Israel. So why not seven more?

On this most busy of days, Jesus was visiting with many of His disciples. And two of them were walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile trip. And Jesus joined them on the road.

And He does it again. He gives these disciples first His Word, then His body. Just like with Mary and Thomas, He wants them to trust His Word alone. Thats why He hides His presence from them—He wants to be found in His Word.

And what wonderful words! After rebuking them for their failure to connect His promises to the actual events unfolding right around them, He explained to them what the Scriptures said about Him. How I wish Cleopas had written down this most illuminating of all catechism classes, but we can take some very wise guesses as to what Jesus taught. He would have taken them back to the beginning when He promised Himself to Adam and Eve. And then when He promised Himself to Noah and then Abraham. He would have proclaimed the words of King David in Psalm 22, that are the Words of Christ:

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from saving Me,
so far from My cries of anguish?

And ends with these triumphant words:

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before Him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and He rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve Him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim His righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
PSALM 22:27-31 NIV

These words are fulfilled in Christ! And these words filled these believers with joy and gladness! They were those of whom Jesus spoke,

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
JOHN 20:29 NIV

Perhaps you have had the chance to talk with a stranger, and as the conversation went on, you both began to realize that you were followers of Jesus, who knew how deep sin goes, how Jesus' death and resurrection satisfied God's anger at our sin, how Jesus gives us this peace through water, word, body, and blood, and how we followers follow Jesus' way of the cross—suffering and loss, with Jesus always there for us. In other words, you both realized you were Lutherans. This joy might give you a sense of the joy of these Emmaus disciples.

Naturally they did not want this mysterious friend who had connected the dots for them to depart from their presence. So they asked Him to stay with them since it was getting late. He said yes, and soon they saw for just a moment.

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight.
LUKE 24:30-31 NIV

They ran back to Jerusalem and told the others what they had seen, and then they saw Him again and knew it was Him for a whole evening and for the rest of their lives.

And so it is with us. Jesus stays with us in the evening and the morning, when we are home and when we are at church and when we travel on the road. He is always with us through His Word.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many. Alleluia! Amen!