Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jn 16:16-22


Easter 4

                                                                                                Jn 16:16-22



          It was the night when Jesus was betrayed.  Our Lord celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples.  Then he and the disciples made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not tell us anything about this trip.  However, John provides us with an account of what Jesus said to his disciples during this time.

          In John’s Gospel, Jesus often says things that the disciples don’t understand until after the resurrection.  For example, in chapter two Jesus replies to his opponents by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews are baffled as they reply, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  However, John tells us: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

          Earlier in this chapter, Jesus had shared unexpected news with the disciples.  He said, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”  Our Lord said that he was returning to the Father.  He was leaving, and naturally this was very troubling for the disciples.

          We will hear in next week’s Gospel lesson that Jesus said his departure was actually a good thing.  It meant that he would send the Helper. In the course of these chapters, known as the “Farewell Discourse,” Jesus explains what the Helper would do.

          The disciples were already confused and troubled by what Jesus had said.  In our text, the Lord compounds this as he shares more information that they don’t understand.  Jesus said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”

          The disciples were confused by this, as well as by what Jesus had already said.  We learn in our text: “So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?’ So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.’”

          Jesus knew that the disciples wanted to ask him.  He understood that they were deeply confused by his statement, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.’” 

In our text Jesus doesn’t directly explain what the “little while” is.  Instead, he tells them what their experience will be as they pass through it.  He doesn’t directly explain it because, as we will see, there was no way that they could understand.  They had to experience the event itself, and in this way they would understand and be transformed.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  Our Lord described a time in which the disciples would be sorrowful. They would weep and lament.  By contrast, the world would rejoice.  However, Jesus promised that their sorrow would turn into joy.

In order to illustrate this, Jesus said, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”  Labor is a time of hardship and difficulty – I am reminded of how Amy was in labor for 36 hours when she gave birth to Timothy.  However, when the baby has been born none of that matters.  Instead, there is joy that the child has been born into the world.

Jesus applied this illustration by saying, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  The disciples would experience sorrow in the present when they did not see Jesus.  But they would see Jesus again. This would bring joy, and no one would take their joy from them.

The disciples in our text are mystified by what Jesus is saying.  However, we now stand in a position to understand what Jesus means, just as they would in a few days.  Our Lord speaks about his death and resurrection. A little while and they would no longer see Jesus.  It was Thursday evening.  By sundown on Friday they would no longer see the Lord.  He would be buried in a tomb.  But then in a little while they would see him again.  On Sunday evening – on Easter – they would see him as he appeared in the midst of the locked room where they were.

John the Baptist had announced that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Our Lord had repeatedly declared that he would die. He said that he would be lifted up.  He told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” He said during Holy Week, 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.”  He said this because he would die on the cross.

          Jesus died as the sacrifice to rescue us from sin and God’s judgment against it.  Our lives are filled with the pervasive presence of sin.  We put God second, as our interests, hobbies, and desires come before him.  We act in selfish ways as we put ourselves before our spouse, family, and friends.  We allow anger to direct our words and actions.

          This sin is not a violation of some abstract standard.  Instead, it is an offense committed against the holy God.  When David confessed his sin he said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  As we just confessed, this sin deserves God’s present and eternal punishment.

          However, as we heard Jesus say last week: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Jesus lay down his life for us in order to rescue us from sin and God’s judgment. Our Lord assures us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

          Jesus died and was buried.  For a little while his disciples did not see him. They wept and mourned.  The hope that they felt because of Jesus had been dashed.  And the world rejoiced.  His opponents celebrated the fact they had killed the Lord.

          But after a little while – on the third day – Jesus rose from the dead.  Jesus says in our text, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  He was right.  We learn in John’s Gospel: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

          Through the work of the Spirit the disciples have shared this good news – this Gospel - with us.  And now, we too rejoice with a joy that will never be taken from us.  Jesus’ resurrection has transformed our life.  Not only do we know that sin is forgiven, but we know that Christ has given us victory over death.  Because we believe in Jesus we already have eternal life now.  Death cannot end our life with God.  And we know that the risen Lord will raise us up.  Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

          This does not mean that the struggles of this world have ended. We still encounter disappointments and problems.  We experience hardships and tragedies.  But because of Jesus’ resurrection we do not lose hope in the face of these things.  We do not lose hope because nothing can take the joy of the Lord’s resurrection from us.  His victory has changed our present and future. 

          In this section of the Gospel Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  We have peace because in Christ’s resurrection we find the assurance that God’s love for us continues no matter what circumstances may look like.  We live knowing that the victory will be ours because Jesus has already won. Our Lord declared, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

          Jesus’ death and resurrection also transforms the way we live. He said, This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  Christ gave himself for us, and now we give ourselves in service to others.  This means that we put the needs of others before our own. It means that we are willing to sacrifice to help those around us.

          This begins at home.  So husbands and wives, look for ways to assist and support your spouse. Children and youth, help your parents with tasks that need to be done – even when it isn’t your chore.  And then it continues out with our friends and co-workers.  Look for opportunities to support and care for the neighbors around you.

          In our text, Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  The disciples did not see Jesus after he had died on the cross and had been buried in the tomb. They wept and mourned.  But a little while passed, and on the third day they saw the risen Lord.  Because they did, we know that our sins are forgiven and that death has been defeated.  We have peace knowing that Jesus has overcome the world and confidence that God continues to love us in the midst of all circumstances. As our Lord says, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”












Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter - 1 Pt 2:21-25


Easter 3

                                                                                      1 Pt 2:21-25



          As many of you know, televangelist Joel Osteen is the author of the book, “Your Best Life Now.” Osteen’s basic message is that God wants to bless you and make you happy if you are faithful and trust him.  It has been a very successful message.  Osteen’s book was #1 on the New York Times best sellers list, and has sold eight million copies.

          If the truth of a theology were proven by the results it produced, then Osteen would be living proof that his theology is exactly right.  Because Osteen clearly is living his best life now.  He is conservatively estimated to be worth around $50 million dollars.  Osteen’s house is a 17,000 square foot mansion that cost $10.5 million dollars.  His church, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas has a weekly attendance of 45,000 people.  This is possible because the church – a former professional basketball stadium – holds almost 17,000 people.

          However, what you don’t find at Lakewood Church is a cross – it’s nowhere to be seen in the worship area.  And in this fact we find an indication that Osteen’s message is very different from what we hear from St. Peter this morning.  The apostle says that believing in Jesus and trusting in God does not spare us from suffering and hardship.  Instead, Jesus provides the model and pattern we are to follow in the midst of suffering.  However, we are blessed to walk in this way, because Christ is the One who died for our sins and has given us the living hope of the resurrection.

          Peter begins our text by saying, “For to this you have been called.”  To find out what we have been called to, we need to look back at the previous verses.  There Peter writes: “Slaves, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

          The apostle tells Christians who are slaves to obey their masters.  They are to do so, even when those masters are unjust – even when this involves suffering.  Peter says that when a Christian suffers unjustly and endures because of trust in God, this is a pleasing thing in God’s eyes.

          To endure unjust suffering. That is what Peter says is our calling.  He says this is so because of Jesus Christ. We hear in our text, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

          Now, of course, thankfully you and I aren’t slaves.  But before we think that we are somehow exempt from Peter’s words, we need to recognize that in the next chapter the apostle says to all Christians, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”  And there, Peter provides the exact same reason as he writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” Peter may be talking to slaves in our text, but he shares a truth of the Chirstian life that applies to everyone.

          In this letter, Peter wants us first to know that God has called us to be his own.  Earlier in this chapter he said, But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

          God called you and made you his own.  He did it through his word.  Peter says, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Through the water and Word of baptism the Holy Spirit gave you rebirth. He gave you new life as you became a child of God.

          God has called us to be his own. He has given us new life. And that means that now we seek to live according to God’s will.  Peter says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

          Yet living in God’s way is no guarantee that things are going to be easy.  Peter has just said that Christians may suffer unjustly even when they are doing what is right.  Beyond that, in this letter the apostle says that we will suffer because we are doing what is right.  He describes how those around us will revile us because of what is right.

          Our world today will let you do pretty much whatever you want.  People believe they have the personal freedom to act as they choose. What it won’t allow you to do is to express opinions that contradict the world. What happens if you tell your family member that living together outside of marriage is sinful? What happens if you say that homosexuality is sinful and wrong?  What happens if you say that men are men, and women and women? 

          And what happens if you say that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation?  To share Christ and the exclusive claims of the Christian faith often brings disdain in this world.  Peter speaks directly about this when he says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

          Following Christ may mean suffering and hardship.  So why would anyone want to do so?  Why would anyone want to walk in those footsteps?  Peter says that it is because “Christ also suffered for you.”  The Chrisian life flows out of what Jesus Christ had done for us.

          Jesus, the Son of God, had no sin of his own. Peter says, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.”  The Father sent his Son into the world to carry out the mission of salvation for us. Jesus Christ was obedient to the Father’s will he as submitted himself to suffering on our behalf.  We hear in our text, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

          Jesus had no sins. But we do.  Peter says, “For you were straying like sheep.”  In thought, word, and deed we stray from God’s ways.  That is why Jesus went to the cross.  Peter tells us, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

          Jesus took our sins as his own. By his death he has freed us from sin.  Peter says that we have been ransomed “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”  Christ suffered for us in order to win forgiveness.

          Jesus Christ died for us.  But that was not the end of God’s saving work in Christ. Peter begins this letter by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  On Easter, God raised Jesus. 

In Christ, God has conquered both sin and death.  Now he has exalted our Lord.  Peter says that the risen Christ is the One “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”  The Lord Jesus has ascended, and promised that he will return on the Last Day.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ may suffer for doing what is right; for believing what is right; and for saying what is right.  But Peter states this morning, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

We follow Christ, even when it involves suffering, because he has suffered for us in order to give us forgiveness.  He suffered and died, but that was not all.  Instead, in his resurrection he has given us hope.  We know that in Christ victory is ours because he has defeated death. We will share in his victory on the Last Day when the Lord raises us from the dead and gives us a share in his resurrection.

This future keeps us going.  It gives us confidence to face the challenges of living as a Christian in this world.  Peter says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  We follow in Christ’s footsteps because we know where they lead.  They may involve suffering and difficulty now, but they lead to resurrection and life with God on the Last Day.
















Sunday, April 7, 2024

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter - Ez 37:1-14


Easter 2

                                                                                      Ez 37:1-14



          World War I was characterized by trench warfare.  Unable to advance quickly due to the machine gun and massive artillery fire, both sides dug into the ground for protection.  They built elaborate trench systems that were protected by machine gun bunkers and barbed wire.

          The area between the two trench lines became a no man’s land.  Each side “went over the top” as they left their trench and launched frontal assaults.  These attacks produced little gain and resulted in massive casualties.

          A particularly grewsome aspect of this form of warfare was that in many areas, the bodies of killed soldiers were not recovered from no man’s land.  The dead of both sides were left where they had died to decompose.  Over time some became mere skeletons lying in the mud.  No man’s land was a place of death, strewn with those who had been slain.

          In the Old Testament lesson this morning, Ezekiel sees a similar scene.  He tells us, “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.” He sees a valley full of dry bones – like that of a great army that has been slain.

          Ezekiel was a priest who lived in the sixth century B.C.  He was part of a second small group of exiles that was taken to Babylon in 597 B.C.  Already these Judahites lived in exile even while Jerusalem and the temple still stood.  Then, God’s final judgment upon Judah for its unfaithfulness and idolatry arrived.  In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed the temple, tore down the walls of the city, and took the majority of the population into exile.  Our text takes place after that event.

          Yahweh asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered that God knew whether this could happen. So God said to him, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

          Ezekiel prophesied as commanded, and there was a rattling sound as bones came together, and then sinews, flesh and skin covered the bodies.  However, the prophet tells us that there was no breath in them.  They were not alive. So Yahweh told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath.  When he did so, breath came into them, they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

          God explained to Ezekiel what he was seeing.  He said, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’”  The people despaired as they were in exile. They had no hope.

          However, Yahweh spoke a word of hope.  He said, “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.’”

          As Ezekiel saw the army that had been raised through his prophesying, God used resurrection as a metaphor to describe what he would do for Judah. They might seem dead.  But God would restore them and bring them back to their own land. He would give them life. 

          Yahweh did this in 538 B.C.  Unexpectedly, Cyrus and the Persians defeated the Babylonians.  The Persian king then issued a decree that the Judahites could return to their land and rebuild the temple. Cyrus and the Persians were God’s instrument to bring the people home.

          In our text resurrection is a metaphor for what God will do for the nation. Yet this metaphor applied to the nation points forward to what we are celebrating today.  Yahweh had identified the nation of Israel as his son.  In the same way, the Messiah, the descendant of King David, was identified as God’s son.  Jesus Christ was the Messiah sent by God.  He was Israel reduced to One as he fulfilled what the nation was supposed to be.

          Ezekiel sees a valley of dry, dead bones.  This image captures our spiritual condition.  Paul told the Ephesians that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”  We were dead in our sins.  We were dead from the moment we entered the world. Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  Sinful, fallen nature produces more sinful, fallen nature.

          From the first moment that our abilities begin to demonstrate themselves, so does the presence of sin in our lives.  Sin is inside us, just waiting to come out. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

          And the dry, dead bones of Ezekiel also capture how we feel as we live in this fallen world. Judah complains, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”  The grind of life’s challenges wears us down.  We face ongoing health problems.  We have financial concerns and questions about our future.  We worry about our family and friends as they go through struggles.

          Because of the sin in our lives and in the fallen creation, God acted to provide us with salvation.  In the fullness of time he sent his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Because of her marriage to Joseph who descended from King David, Jesus was the Christ.  He was the Messiah who descended from David.  He was the fulfillment of God’s promises for deliverance.

          Jesus Christ was the revelation of God’s love for us.  Yet as we saw on Good Friday this love was revealed by means of the cross.  It was revealed as God gave his sinless Son up to death. Paul told the Romans, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

          God is the just and holy God who punished our sin in Christ.  Because he has, they are no longer counted against us, and we have been reconciled with God.  Paul told the Corinthians, “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.”

          Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. Sin and death go together, and the full power of sin could not be overcome by death.  During this Eastertide we celebrate the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This is no metaphor as in our text, but the fulfillment as God raised the Son of God – Israel reduced to One.  God defeated death in the resurrection of Jesus.

We hear in our Gospel lesson how the risen Lord appeared in the midst of a locked room with his disciples.  He showed them his hands and his side as he demonstrated he was the same Lord with same body that they had known before his crucifixion.  He had the same body, but in the resurrection it had been transformed so that it can never die again.  In Jesus, the resurrection of the Last Day has begun – the resurrection that will be ours when Christ returns on the Last Day.

When we want to say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off,” the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope.  St. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  We have a future because of Jesus.  It is a life where there will be no health problems or troubles of any kind.  This hope gives us encouragement and strength to keep going as we keep our eyes set on the risen Lord.

In our text Yahweh talks about putting his Spirit within the nation.  He had said in the previous chapter, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

          God has given you the Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism.  There you received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Spirit. Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The presence of the Spirit is the guarantee that you will share in Jesus’ resurrection on the Last Day. The presence of the Spirit also means that Christ’s resurrection power is already at work in your life.

          It is the Spirit who prompts and enables us to love and serve those around us. Paul told the Galatians, “through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Look for ways to help your spouse, your parent, your sibling, and your friend.  Do this, especially when it requires effort and sacrifice on your part.  Paul described the Christian life when he said, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

          On this Sunday we continue to rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord died on the cross in order to reconcile us to God.  He was raised from the dead in order defeat death.  His resurrection gives us hope in the midst of all circumstances.  We keep our eyes fixed on our risen Lord as his Spirit sustains us in the present.  We wait with hope knowing that we will share in Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.