Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009 Easter III John 10:11-16 Good Shepherd Sunday

I AM the Shepherd, the Excellent one. The Shepherd, the Excellent one, His life He lays down on behalf of the sheep. The one, a hireling and not as a shepherd, that one is not the sheep's owner; he sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters; because a hireling, he is, and has no care in himself about the sheep. I AM The Shepherd, the Excellent one, and I know Mine, and Mine know Me. Just as the Father knows Me and I Myself know the Father, and My life I lay down on behalf of the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; those it is necessary for Me to bring in, and My voice they will hear and they will become one flock–one Shepherd. Through this the Father loves me because I Myself lay down My life, in order to take it up again.

*Good Shepherd* Sunday is once again upon us, and the message is the same each year at this time, "You are God's sheep, and Jesus is your Good Shepherd!". I suppose there are not too many variations on this particular theme. In fact, I was accused a while back of "recycling my sermons" most likely with reference to this day, since there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of *new* things to say about Jesus being our Good Shepherd. He's the Shepherd, we are His lambs. That's about it.

So let's take a different approach--from the perspective of those outside of the Good Shepherd's flock. The unbeliever will hear all of this talk about a faithful shepherd laying down his life for the sheep, and to them it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If the shepherd is killed by wolves, how does that help the flock? There would be no one left to protect them, and then the pack would have a field day, feasting on notin' but mutton! It sure doesn't seem like a dead Shepherd is of much use.

Now, there are some that would try to take away from Christ's words here, as though He were only saying that He would be willing to risk almost everything, even to the brink of death, to protect the sheep. Such a pretty-good shepherd would be acceptable to even an atheist, I suppose. But it is not good enough. Jesus is an excellent Shepherd, as good as good can get. He is a Shepherd Who does exactly what He says, laying down His life, unto death, for the sake of you, His sheep.

This is just how it had to be. For Jesus, your Almighty, Divine Shepherd does not choose to remain so very different from you, His sheep. He becomes one of you, sheep-like in every way, except that He never fell into the habit of wandering that sinful sheep like you know all too well. He came in your place, becoming the sacrificial lamb for you at the cross. There, He suffered all the punishments for your wanderings, and died your death there for you on the hill called Calvary. He laid down His life for you.

Jesus does this to show how His death for you is a paschal death, that eternal death would pass over you completely, and kill Him instead! For Jesus is not only your Good Shepherd, but He is also your passover lamb, Whose blood marks your doorposts as those who are redeemed by His sacrificial death in your stead. Just as the 1st-born were spared back in Egypt, so are you now spared by He Who is called the First-born of all creation, Christ Jesus, your Lord & Savior–your Good Shepherd!

For your most Excellent Shepherd had both the authority to lay down His life unto death, and also was able to take that life up once again on Easter Sunday. He did not allow death to have a victory, but took His life back up to continue being your Good Shepherd even now! He leads you beside the still waters of baptism, which for you become living water unto life everlasting! He brings you to the green pastures of His Own Supper table, feeding you with His body and blood for your forgiveness.

Not only does He Shepherd you in this way, but He provides under-shepherds to care for you in the individual flock of this congregation. These men are no hirelings who work only for a paycheck, but those employed by the Good Shepherd Himself. He is even given the title of those who shepherd the flock to good pasture–Pastors. They proclaim forgiveness with the Good Shepherd's Own voice, which you the flock recognize in the pulpit, and in the blessed sacrament of Holy Absolution.

So, what good is a dead Shepherd anyway? The ultimate good, since by Jesus' death, the Good Shepherd has destroyed death for you eternally. By His rising to life again Easter Sunday, this most Excellent Shepherd has restored everlasting life to you and He has brought immortality to light for you as well. By His laying down His life unto death, your death sentence is removed forevermore. By His taking up His life again for you, you now live in heaven with Him as your Good Shepherd's flock.

Today's hymns from LSB:
#710 The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want
#709 The King of Love my Shepherd Is
#740 I Am Jesus' Little Lamb

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009 Easter 2 John 20:19-31

Jesus came and stood in the midst and says to them, "Peace to you!" And having said this He showed the hands and the side to them. The disciples then rejoiced, having seen the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! Just as the Father sent Me on a mission, I also am sending you." And having said this He breathed and says to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If ever you dismiss of anyone sins, they are dismissed from them; if ever you hold against anyone (sins), they have been held fast." But Thomas, one of the 12, the one called Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. Then the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "If I do not ever see in His hands the mark of the nails and I thrust my finger into the mark of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, not at all will I believe." And after eight days again His disciples were inside and Thomas with them. Jesus comes, the doors having been locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace to you!"

During the Vietnam war, the "flower children" demonstrated for peace. Oddly, they would hold up two separated fingers (formerly the symbol for victory) as a call for peace. No doubt they were supporting the troops and hoping for the peace that came from total victory. The nuclear disarmament crowd also utilized signs with their popular peace symbol. Middle East peace proponents make use of a dove with an olive branch, symbolic of the peace which God gave to Noah and his family after the flood. Yet Jesus offers a different peace altogether for us..

The peace Jesus bestows is one that is beyond our full human understanding. It is like the greeting of peace which Jewish people use even today when they say "Shalom"; yet from Jesus, it means much more. For our Lord & Savior, this is not just some sort of holy-howdy. It's not simply wishing folks a peaceful life here on earth. It does not offer peace for our nation against its enemies. The peace Jesus bestows to the disciples here is not a horizontal peace between two worldly warriors, be they individuals, or groups of peoples.

The peace Jesus offers is the incomprehensible peace of heaven! The Lord gives a vertical peace, between His heavenly Father above, and sinners down below. Jesus offers the peace of forgiveness, and the disciples are overjoyed. For their Savior could have been angry with them for running away and abandoning Him in his hour of great need. He could be showing up there in the upper room to really lay into them for all their faults, and they know they deserve such a reprimand. They are pleasantly surprised to hear Him offer instead, "Peace to you!"

The peace Jesus the peace of holy Absolution–you know, that fancy word for God-flavored forgiveness. Jesus offers complete, total, and absolute forgiveness to the disciples, which results in complete Peace between them and God above! Their sins have been removed from them, washed by the Baptist all the way to the cross of Jesus where He bore them as His Own personal burden. He shows them the marks on His hands and side, so they can see for themselves that He has already suffered their punishment for them, in full. It is finished.

Foreshadowing His death the next day, Christ Jesus offered to the disciples His body given in the bread, and His shed blood in the cup for their forgiveness in the Lord's Supper. Jesus was all about the peace which only His forgiveness could bring. Now, He offers them a trinity of *Peaces*, for their jobs were about to change. No longer disciples who follow after Jesus, now they are Apostles, sent out before Jesus on the mission of bringing this forgiveness and peace to others. They received His Spirit. They went out. They forgave sins. They brought peace.

Fast forward. You are now part of one apostolic church. This means that what Jesus gave His apostles to do, namely forgive and bring peace is now the task given to the church. Publicly, your pastor is called to baptize sinners, to preach the gospel, to absolve sins, and to serve you Holy Communion for your forgiveness. Your sins are washed to the Cross in Baptism; the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus from Calvary are given to you in Communion; the voice of Christ proclaims His love to you from the pulpit; you may also come and your pastor will absolve your sins.

Now most of you have been baptized, heard sermons, and come to the communion rail for Jesus' body and blood. But not very often are people here absolved, and that's a shame. You know what Luther once said about coming to your Pastor for private confession and absolution is? It is simply being a Christian! Yet how quick we are to forget what we learned back in Confirmation class about Confession and Absolution: That before the pastor we should confess those sins which we know and feel in our hearts. And you know what sins grieve you the most...

Recall what you learned from your Catechism: "I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they...absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself". If Jesus were standing here, wouldn't you want to hear His voice say to you, "Peace to you!"? Of course you would. Since you confess that your pastor proclaiming the same words of Jesus is just as desirable, it should be offered all the more.

For this reason, the time has come for this congregation and its pastor to hold regular hours each month for private confession and absolution. To begin with, one Saturday per month, your Pastor will make himself available to hear private, confidential confessions in the sanctuary, and absolve those who come to confess, no strings attached. Each time, you will be dismissed with Jesus words of absolution to you this day, "Peace to you!" Amen.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#467 Awake My Soul with Gladness lyrics
#470 O Sons and Daughters of the King lyrics
#487 Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain: below

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009 Easter 1 Mark 16:1-8

And the Sabbath, being over, Mary of Magdala, and Mary the one of James, and Salome bought spices, that they may come and anoint Him. And very early, on the first day of the Sabbath, they come to the tomb, the sun having risen. And they were saying to one another, "Who will cast aside the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb? And looking up, they see that the stone had been cast aside, though it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they marveled. And he says to them, "Do not marvel; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who has been crucified. He is risen! He is not here; look, the place where they laid Him! But go, say to His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into the Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.' " And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had taken hold of them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

There are monumental events which leave people dumbstruck. On your wedding day, at the moment you become husband and wife, you may find yourself tongue-tied. As the clock winds down, and your team wins the championship, your may find yourself at a loss for words. As your first child is born into this world, that moment may overwhelm you, and find you speechless. An even greater event took place on Easter Sunday, and the woman were so bewildered at the event they were dumbfounded!

Yes, resurrections from the dead are pretty amazing situations. But the resurrection of Jesus was different. Jesus had made a habit of raising folks from the dead well before Easter. Jairus' daughter was awoken from her sleep of death at Jesus' words. The widow's only son was raised as Jesus ruined a perfectly fine funeral. And after four days in the tomb, Jesus raised Lazarus to life again. But these were resurrections performed by others. Never had a dead man raised himself to life again!

But that's just what Jesus did! Most dead folks do nothing but stay dead and rot. Not Jesus. He was one of the busiest dead men you'll ever meet! On Friday, He ascends to heaven to be with the thief on the cross in paradise. Then sometime before dawn on Sunday He descends to hell to ruin the devil's evil *God is dead* party by preaching a sermon Satan and his minions don't care for. Then, early on Easter morning, Jesus raises Himself from death to life once more, as described by the angel.

What can you say to such an amazing action of a dead man! You may be tempted to speak words of disbelief. "It's just not possible!" you might want to utter. But with God, all things are possible! "It's all so unbelievable!" you may want to say. Yet a God-given faith is capable of moving mountains! "It's just too good to be true!" you may want to exclaim. But remember, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! And Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for you as well. He is risen, amazing though it is.

The women trembled in fear, because they were taken hold of by their astonishment. So they said nothing to anyone, even though the angel told them they should. Perhaps they were afraid to say words of disbelief, so they chose to say nothing, discretion being the better part of valor and all. Or maybe they feared the Romans or the Jewish leaders, who might come after them if the news got out that they were the first to find the empty tomb. But more likely they were just overcome and speechless.

Today, almost 2000 years removed from this amazing resurrection event, what can you say now about it? Do you tell others what Jesus rising from the dead means to you, or do you find yourself speechless instead. You can't blame the shock of the resurrection event for making you tongue-tied. Perhaps it's been a long time since you've been in a bible class, so you are not sure exactly what it means. Or perhaps you do know, but fear your friends or family won't understand it like you do.

But be reminded how important Jesus' resurrection is for you. For you know that you died with Jesus on the cross too, and you were buried with Christ by baptism into His death. If Jesus hadn't raised Himself, you'd stay dead in the tomb as well. But Jesus is risen, and so are you! Jesus has raised up you as a new person, forgiven in the cleansing of Holy Baptism, and given opportunity to walk now in newness of life. The New You walks here in time with Jesus, and hereafter with Him in eternity!

Jesus' rising is vital for your triumph over sin and death as well. His resurrection Easter Sunday is proof positive that His death on the Cross indeed has conquered death for you, once and for all. His body given at Calvary, and His blood shed for you there are offered you for your forgiveness this day in the Lord's Supper. The victory of Jesus is no longer His alone, but now yours to share forevermore!

Hymns from LSB for today:
#457 Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia lyrics
#475 Good Christian Friends Rejoice and Sing!
#458 Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands lyrics
#489 Hail Thee Festival Day (Easter stanzas)
#463 Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia! lyrics

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5, 2009 Palm Sunday Matthew 21:1-9

And Jesus stood before the Governor; and the one governing questioned Him, saying, "You are the King of the Jews?" Jesus spoke: "You say." And in the accusing of Him by the Chief Priest, and of the Elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, "Don't You hear how much they testify against You?" And He did not answer him, not to 1 word, so to amaze the Governor greatly...Then were crucified with Him 2 thieves, one on the right and one on the left. And the passers-by were blaspheming, shaking their heads and saying, "The One destroying the temple and in 3 days building it up, save Yourself; if the Son of God You are, come down from the cross!" In the same way also the chief priests were mocking, with the scribes and elders, saying, "Others He saved, Himself He is not able to save. King of Israel, He is. Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him." He trusts in God; let Him deliver now, if He wants Him; for He said that "of God I am Son." The same way also the thieves, the ones crucified with Him, reproached Him. And from the 6th hour darkness occurred upon all the land until hour 9. And around the 9th hour Jesus cried out in a great voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani", that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

The activities of Jesus in scripture are manifest. His miracles over nature, turning water into wine, calming the storm, walking on water, and feeding the 5000 are some of His well known works. His preaching and teachings are memorable, from the Sermon on the Mount to the parables of the Prodigal Son and of the Good Samaritan. His acts of great compassion are well remembered, from his healing of blind, deaf and lame, to His casting out of demons, to His curing the sick, to His raising of the dead.

Yes, many a sermon and bible study have addressed the *active obedience* of Jesus, Who lived a perfect life in keeping all God's commandments, both in refraining from sin, and in taking on acts of charity. But today, it is a different story. Jesus is not so active now. He is most passive, allowing unspeakable evils to fall upon Him, without defending Himself to accusation, and without saving Himself from the death of the cross. No less important is Jesus' *passive obedience* at the cross!

Jesus is indeed your perfect sacrifice for sin at Calvary. His active obedience to His Father's will His whole lifetime made Him a perfect one. But it is His passive obeying that makes Him your sacrifice on Good Friday. Think about it. He had every right to defend Himself from the false charges against Him. He didn't. Like a lamb to the slaughter, He didn't open His mouth. He very well could have saved Himself and stopped His Own crucifixion, for He was the Almighty God, after all. But He didn't.

Not that Jesus didn't think about bypassing His death on the cross. In His full human-ness, He prayed the night before for the possibility of this cup of suffering be taken from Him. Yet He prayed, not for His human will to be accomplished, but that the Divine will of His Father be done. And it was. Jesus did not advocate for His innocence, so that He could be your advocate with the Father. He willingly went to the cross to suffer the punishment for your sins, death and separation from His Father.

When Jesus does finally speak up, it is not to defend Himself, but to announce exactly what is taking place at Calvary. "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" This is not a question for Jesus' sake, but for yours; that you realize exactly what Jesus' passive obedience is all about. You deserved to be the one forsaken by God. Jesus took your place. He drinks down the cup of the Father's wrath, His hatred against sin. Jesus becomes your sin at the cross, receives your death of forsakenness.

The Jewish leaders spoke well for Jesus, stating that "Others He saved, Himself He cannot save." For there was no other choice for Jesus than His passive obedience–letting Himself be crucified for you at the cross, to save you. Oh, He could have saved Himself, but that would have meant that everyone else, including you, would perish in a death of forsakenness. In that He did not choose to save Himself, His death now means life for you! His forsakenness at the cross means your acceptance!

Yes, had Jesus acted and taken the advice of the passers-by to "come down from the cross", you would still be in your sins, the wages of which is death eternal. But He chose not to act, but to be passive in allowing others to crucify Him for your sake. For you are not like the Jewish leaders who would only trust in Jesus if He could come down from the cross. You believe in Him solely because He remained upon the cross, and died in your place there, so you may life forever in Him...and He in You this day, as you eat of His body given at Calvary, and drink from His blood shed for you there.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#443 Hosanna, Loud Hosanna lyrics
#441 Ride On, Ride On in Majesty
#442 All Glory Laud and Honor lyrics
#440 Jesus, I Will Ponder Now lyrics