Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter - Quasimodo Geniti - Jn 20:19-31

                                                                                                Easter 2
                                                                                                Jn 20:19-31

            Every night when it is time to go to bed, I follow pretty much the same routine.  I take a quick look at Twitter to see if there has been any breaking news in the world or in sports.  I look at the ESPN app on my phone to see the baseball scores for the day and to check on the standings.  I usually take a brief look at eBay to see if there are any new listings of HO gauge Pennsylvania model railroad items that Matthew or I may be interested in buying. Next, I load anything else into the dishwasher that can still fit, and start it.
            And then, the last thing I do every night before going to bed, is to make the sure doors of the house are closed and locked.  Do I think anything is really going to happen if a door is unlocked? No, not really.  There have been occasions when I have forgotten to check, and it turned out that a door had been left unlocked.  I certainly don’t lock the doors out of fear.  Instead, I do it as a precaution. Things are just safer that way, and so it would be silly not to do so each night.
            In the Gospel lesson this morning, we hear about two occasions when the disciples were together with the doors locked.  Yet there is a striking difference between the two. The first time we are told that the doors were locked where the disciples were “for fear of the Jews.”  The second time we are only told that the doors were locked.  There is no mention of fear.  Instead, the locked doors become a circumstance that helps to reveal why there was no longer fear among them.
            Our text begins by saying, “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.’”  On the evening of the first Easter the disciples had ample reason to fear the Jews - a term that is used here to designate those who were opposed to Christ.  The Jewish religious leaders had engineered the execution of Jesus. Were they going to be satisfied to stop there?  Or would they seek to wipe out Jesus’ inner circle of followers as well?
            Beyond that, it had been a bizarre day.  It began with the shocking news that Jesus’ tomb was empty.  His body wasn’t there.  In John’s Gospel we are told that Mary Magdalene had seen two angels who asked her why she was weeping. Then the risen Lord had revealed himself to her. Next, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and told them about how Jesus had said he was ascending to his Father.
            While they were swirling with fear and uncertainty in that locked room, Jesus appeared standing in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”  Our Lord then showed them his hands and side.  It is a fascinating detail. The marks on his body provide the assurance of continuity between the Jesus standing before them, and the Jesus they had seen die.  Nails had been driven through hands and feet in a way that meant failure and sorrow. Now the places where those nails had been became a witness to the fact that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. 
            It was the same Jesus! And in a moment, their world changed.  Our translation says the disciples “were glad when they saw the Lord.”  Now, I am glad when I see a final score and learn that the Cubs have won.  But I rejoiced in 2016 when they won the World Series for the first time since 1908.  And that is in fact what the Greek verb here means – “they rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
            The apostles and first disciples may have been ancient, but they weren’t stupid. They had far more firsthand experience with death than you or I do. And they knew that when a person died, he or she was dead.  They didn’t go around expecting people to rise from the dead.  They didn’t expect someone who had been dead to appear in their midst. 
            Yet that is what Jesus did.  Then a second time he said to them, “Peace be with you.” And he added, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  Jesus breathed “and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
            The risen Lord declared to the disciples that they had peace. Then he called them to a task that was to deliver this peace to others.  He authorized them in the same way he had been authorized by the Father, for their work was now an extension of the work the Father had sent Jesus to do. Through the work of the Spirit they were now to forgive sins.
            The disciples had heard Jesus say to his opponents, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Then he had added, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
            Jesus had been lifted up on the cross.  Yet now, he stood in their midst alive – risen from the dead.  John the Baptist had declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  In his death, Jesus had accomplished this.  He had won forgiveness, and now he was sending his disciples with the authority to apply this forgiveness to others.
            Jesus sent them to give forgive sins.  And of course, as Luther says in the Small Catechism, where there is the forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation.  Jesus Christ stood in their midst having risen from the dead.  He was the One who had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Now it was clear why this was so. The Lord Jesus had defeated death.  In forgiveness he gives life now that will never end.  In the resurrection on the Last Day he will give us bodily life once again.
            Forgiveness of sins, life, and resurrection of the body provided by Jesus Christ the risen Lord - that is what we find in our text this morning. With good reason, Jesus stood in their midst and declared twice that he was giving them peace!
            But sometimes, we get confused about what this means.  And our confusion can lead to doubt, and even despair.  On the night Jesus was betrayed he told the disciples, “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 has never promised that the peace he gives means the absence of hardships.  I noted at the beginning of this sermon that the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples we are told that the doors were locked “for fear of the Jews,” but the second time we hear nothing about fear.  However, nothing about the circumstances of the disciples had changed in seven days.  In fact, you could argue that they were in even more danger seven days after the resurrection.  The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. In the hardness of their heart they refused to even consider resurrection.  Surely they wanted to find Jesus’ bdoy that they believed to be stolen, and the logical place to start was Jesus’ disciples.
            When Martin Luther preached on this text he commented: “In this fear and anxiety the Lord comes, soothes their hearts, and sets them at peace – not by taking away the danger, but by their hearts being unafraid.  The malice of the Jews was not take away or changed, for they are angry and rage as before, and outwardly everything remains as it is.  But they are inwardly changed, so that they are comforted and immovable and no longer care if the Jews are still raging.”
            The peace that the risen Lord gives is the assurance of the peace of God; the love of God; the life of God.  In this we find the basis to live confidently in this world, even as we share this with others in what we do and say.  It doesn’t mean the end difficulties in some kind of “best life now.”  Luther went on to say: “But Christian or spiritual peace turns that around, so that outwardly the misfortune remains, such as enemies, sickness, poverty, sin, devil, and death.  They are present, do not cease, and are encamped all around; nevertheless, inwardly there is peace, strength, and comfort in the heart, so that it does not care about misfortune and even becomes more courageous and bold when it is there than when it is not.”
            That last statement by Luther points us to a reality that we don’t want to acknowledge.  God uses times of hardship for our good.  He does this because the old Adam is still there.  Our sinful nature always wants to turn in on itself.  It wants to enjoy the good stuff of life and ignore God.  It wants to make the good things of life into a god.
            The old Adam has to be crucified – he has to be killed. God allows difficulties and challenges because that is what they do.  They show us that nothing else can provide the hope and help we really need. They become occasions when in fact our heart does become more courageous and bolder in faith.
            Some of you may have heard about Kelly Stafford, wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Not long ago she was diagnosed with the exact same kind of acoustic neuroma brain tumor that Amy had.  Naturally, Amy and I took an interest in what this mom of three young children is experiencing, and we have followed it on Instagram.  Kelly’s posts in these first days after surgery have reminded us what it was like when Amy first came home from the hospital. We also know what a long and slow road Kelly, who is a committed Christian, faces as she recovers.
            We look back on this experience that we never would have chosen, and recognize how God was at work in the midst of it to cause us to grow and mature in faith; to lead us to understand more fully why the resurrection of Jesus Christ causes us to see everything differently. 
            Jesus passed through the suffering, weakness and shame of the cross where it seemed God was nowhere to be found.  But in his resurrection on the third day we see that God was in fact right there – right where he needed to be in order to give us forgiveness and salvation. We learn that the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the reason we can confidently trust God no matter what is happening.
            Martin Luther said of this: When Christ comes, He lets the external adversities remain but strengthens the person.  Out of timidity He makes a fearless heart; He makes a trembling person bold; He makes a restless conscience peacefully quiet. Then the person is confident, courageous and cheerful in the things in which otherwise all the world can no longer help with its comfort and goods.  That is a true and lasting peace, which remains forever and is invincible as long as the heart clings to Christ.” Our heart clings to Christ because as the risen Lord he appeared in that locked room and said, “Peace be with you.”

Friday, April 26, 2019

Luther's thoughts: Adorning baptism with words and works - The active baptismal life

The Adornment of Holy Baptism Through Life and Conduct

From a sermon on Holy Baptism by Dr. Martin Luther

Since we are so graced as to have the doctrine correctly held among us [of Holy Baptism], we should also make sure that our lives conform to it, and not abuse this grace or let it be in vain. But having died to sin and become new people through Baptism, we are to walk henceforth in a new life as newborn people, as Saints. Here it is apparent how the devil obstructs us at every turn so that, while Baptism is not treated incorrectly, it nevertheless remains without fruit among us. Although it was without our works and good life that we found grace to obtain Baptism correctly, we are still to devote ourselves to honoring and adorning it with words and works and our whole life from now on. Baptismal fonts, altars, and pulpits are there to remind us of this. Since they are to bear witness to the fact that we are baptized and Christians, we should also plan to honor the baptismal font and so live that we may view it with joy and that it may not bear witness against us.

But tragically, many now act as if they might as well always remain as before in their old skin, live as they please, and so make their glorious Baptism only a covering for their shame, as though they had been called to the kingdom of grace in order to have the power to do as they wish. Despite this, they assure themselves that God is gracious and make the excuse: “I am a weak man. Surely God will take this into consideration and forgive me,” etc. No, not so, dear brother! I did not point you down that path so that Baptism should grant the liberty to sin. Quite the opposite! Your sins have been remitted, and you have now come into favor (who were before in disfavor because of sin) so that you might now live another life and depart from sin. Being baptized and remaining in sin do not go together. It is given for the very purpose of taking sin away so that man would become just and increase in good works. If he was disobedient, angry, spiteful, unfaithful, and unchaste before, he is to depart from that, pray an Our Father instead, and from that point on take care and strive to be obedient, patient, and kind. If you do not do this, do not think that all is well with you nor boast about the grace of Christ a great deal in order to justify your sin. It would certainly be significant, if you should find yourself so greatly improved that, for a year or two or some length of time, you would not become angry, curse, etc., as before. Then, if you should fall once or twice through oversight or weakness, people could take this into consideration and offer you encouragement again. But remaining in your former ways and persisting in being angry, impatient, and spiteful shows that you have received your holy Baptism to your great harm.

Likewise, if you had been an adulterer, fornicator, or coveter, then Baptism should teach you from that point on not to strike, commit adultery, covet, steal, and rob any longer. The former is forgiven and dead, and from that point on there is to be a different, just, righteous, beneficent, disciplined man. If you find such life and fruits in yourself for a length of time, it is a sign that Baptism has taken effect in you. If it should happen that you go amiss in one or two things, which would be called falling and stumbling, you may take comfort in grace and forgiveness; yet not in such a way that you would remain lying in it or continue and keep saying: “What can I do about it? I cannot get rid of it. Anyway, all is grace and forgiveness,” etc. He will not tolerate that, for thereby you only anger God and go farther and farther from grace until you lose it entirely and finally fall under punishment, even into the accursed sin whereby you despise and slander Baptism and grace, as do the devil’s factions.

Consider your own life, therefore, and see how it accords with Baptism, and know that even though you have been called and placed into the kingdom of grace and made a partaker through Christ of all that Christians have, yet if you always remain as before, it cannot be beneficial to you, since you are not honoring your Baptism or keeping it pure. While you might be called a Christian, you have let go of Christ, sin is your lord, you are serving the devil, and you have no more than the name and appearance of Christianity by which you deceive yourself and do yourself harm. As I said before, He not only gave this Baptism and Sacrament for the purpose of forgiving and washing away sin by it but also wishes thereby to purge every day whatever sin still remains, and blot it out completely, so that we become quite a different kind and manner of people, inclined and equipped for every good work. Where it has been rightly received, sin will surely be found to decrease and diminish daily. Where it is not, the opposite appears, so that, while you may have put on the wedding garment, there is filth under it with which you soil it and forfeit its beauty.

If we want to have this glorious grace, it is necessary that we adorn Baptism and hold it high as a noble, beautiful jewel. This “adornment” is our living a life above reproach. Thus St. Paul teaches (Titus 2 [:10]) servants and [those in] other estates to live in such a way as to adorn the salutary doctrine in all things. How? By being obedient, not dealing dishonestly, not working mischief, etc. This is the beautiful wreath which adorns Baptism, gives it a good reputation and acclaim before everyone, and testifies to us that we have received it fruitfully and are true Christians. By contrast, whoever does not live in his estate as he ought dishonors and disgraces both his own doctrine and his Baptism, and bears witness against himself that he is unworthy of grace and is no more than a blot and stain upon Christians, as Peter ([2] Peter 2 [:20]) calls such people.

Therefore, let us earnestly and diligently seek to be found among those who also embellish and adorn this high treasure of ours with their life and conduct, that we may joyfully boast in these before God and all the world and not be ashamed. Then we will not end up like the others who have lost Baptism. All that they taught and did, or still teach and live, has become futile—indeed, damning to them—and now they are seven times worse off than before [Luke 11:26]. Because they have abandoned this treasure, it is their fitting punishment that they are now hopelessly deceived by all kinds of false doctrine; because they did not pay heed to doing true good works to the glory of Baptism, they must now be driven and afflicted with false good works and do all that the devil wants through his deceivers. The same can happen to us also if we are not concerned and vigilant to avoid losing this precious treasure of the Word and blessed Baptism. He who gave it can also have it taken away again, even as the devil seeks and endeavors to do with all diligence. Let that be enough as a brief admonition for ourselves, for we must use preaching both to refute false doctrine and to rebuke sin, so that both doctrine and life may proceed correctly and so abide. Amen.

A Sermon on Holy Baptism by Martin Luther (1534). Translated by Christopher Boyd Brown and Matthew Carver, in Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-1539). Edited by Benjamin Mayes (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018), pgs. 55-59. Originally printed in AE 57:141-189, from WA 37:627-72.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist.  St. Mark was the author of the second Gospel.  Also known as John Mark, he was originally from Jerusalem where the house of his mother was a center of the early church (Acts 12:12).  Paul and Barnabas brought Mark to Antioch (Acts 12:25) and he accompanied them on the first missionary journey.  Mark left them during the journey (Acts 13:13) and later Mark was the cause of the parting that occurred between Paul and Barnabas when Paul wanted to take Mark along on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:37-40).  Later, Paul and Mark were reconciled and Mark assisted Paul (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Mark also later worked with Peter (1 Peter 5:13).  Tradition indicates that Mark helped to found the church in Egypt (Alexandria) and that he was martyred there.

Scripture reading:
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:5-18)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark.  Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God,  now and forever.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Easter Wednesday

Today is Easter Wednesday as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  The Gospel lesson for today is John 21:1-14.

Scripture reading:
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.