Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter - Misericordias Domini - 1 Pet 2:21-25

                                                                                                Easter 3
                                                                                                1 Pet 2:21-25

            In Margaret Fishback’s poem “Footprints” the speaker begins by saying, “One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.  Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to me and one to my Lord.”
            However, the speaker soon notices that in those times of life that had been most difficult there was only one set of footprints.  And so the question is asked, “I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”  Yet the Lord responds that he loves the person and will never leave him or her.  And then he adds, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” It’s a comforting image, and a reminder that our Lord is indeed always with us as he cares for us.
            Today’s text also talks about Jesus’ footsteps.  But if you are looking for a tender encouraging word, you are in the wrong place.  In bold and unmistakable terms, the apostle sets forth what Jesus Christ has done for us.   Yet in doing so, he expresses clearly what this means for the way we live our lives.
            Peter begins our text by saying, “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.”  The apostle says “for this you have been called.”  If we want to know that “this” is, we have look at the previous verses.  There Peter wrote, “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.”
            Peter says that it is a gracious thing when, because of our faith in God, we are willing to do good and suffer unjustly because of it.  To do good and endure suffering because of it is a gracious thing in God’s eyes.  Now this is probably not what we want to hear.  First of all, we don’t want suffering of any kind.  And if suffering is bad enough when it happens, it seems even worse when we experience it unjustly. Doing what is right – doing what is God pleasing – and then receiving harm because of it raises challenging questions about where God is in all of this.  It makes us wonder about whether God really does love and care for us.
            But in our text, Peter gives us a completely different perspective.  He says specifically that we have been called to these kinds of experiences.  The apostle declares that is it inherent in the life of a Christian. And the reason for this is to be found in Jesus Christ himself.  He writes: “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.”
            According to Peter, the suffering of Jesus Christ provides an example for us as we follow in his steps.  There is only one set of footprints here. They belong to Jesus.  And there is only one because we are following in Jesus’ steps as we share in his suffering.
            Peter tells us how Jesus’ steps have given us forgiveness before God.  Drawing on the language of Isaiah chapter 53 that we heard as the Old Testament lesson on Good Friday, Peter writes: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.”  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ was the sinless One.  He was not conceived in sin as we were, and he committed no sin during his life. 
            Jesus lived perfectly according to the Father’s will. This was true not just of life in general, but especially in carrying out the saving mission he had been entrusted.  Living as the sinless one carrying out God’s will meant that Jesus stood out. Sinners don’t want to be around those who are living God’s will, because such lives are a nagging reminder of the fact that they are sinners.  Those who are living in the way of the world may react with derision, but this is simply the response to the work of the Law that is revealing their own sin.
            Jesus did receive the anger of sinners, and he did suffer because of it.  Yet Peter tells us, “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.”  Our Lord did not respond in anger.  He did not threaten others.  Instead, he entrusted himself to God the Father who judges justly.  He trusted that the Father, who is the holy God, would judge justly.  Certainly, God the Father will punish all those who reject Christ and speak ill of him.  But Christ had entered the world in order to make it possible for sinners to stand before God and be declared just.
            Peter writes, “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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree.  He took our sins as his own, in order to suffer God’s punishment against them.
            St. Peter refers to “the tree.”  This is a common way that the book of Acts also uses to refer to the cross.  However it is far more than a poetic reference.  Instead, behind the language of “tree” is a reminder that God cursed Christ. Deuteronomy chapter 21 says, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 
his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” In the first century A.D. this statement was applied directly to those who had been crucified.
            Jesus died on the cross as he received God’s punishment against our sins.  He was cursed by God – cut off from God’s people in our place.  In our text Peter says, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  The forgiveness of sins allows us to live in relationship with God again.  It gives us the righteous standing we need before God. But the mere removal of offenses is not enough to cause us to return the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.  It is not enough to enable us to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
            And that is why we rejoice in celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.  Peter began 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,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
            You have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is not only the Lord who was crucified for you.  He is also the Lord who was raised from the dead for you.  He has given us the living hope of his own resurrection.  This is not just hope, but it is hope that is alive and true because Jesus lives.
            Jesus lives, and he has given this life to us.  Peter says in this letter that, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Through water and the word of Holy Baptism you were born again. As Peter declares, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
            By doing this, our Lord has given us a new status. And so Peter says,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.”
            This is what God has done for you in Christ. This is what God has made you to be. This is what Peter means when he says in our text, “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.”  By the work of the Spirit we die to sin as we call it what it is and refuse to live in those ways.  Peter says in this chapter, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” And at the same time we live to righteousness – we live in ways that please God and are true to his will.  Peter went on to add, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
            We have been called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. This means that as those who have been born again we die to sin and live to righteousness. We lives as the forgiven people of God who have been freed from sin so that we can live in ways that please God and are true to his will.
            To walk in our Lord’s footsteps will mean receiving the world’s hatred, contempt and derision because those who are in step with the Lord Jesus will be out of step with the world.  Yet like our Lord we continue to entrust ourselves to God the Father who judges justly.  We do this because Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree in order give us forgiveness.  We do this because we have been born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Mark's thoughts: New evidence of Illinois religious discrimination

Evidence shared by the Rev. Timothy Scharr, President of the Southern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod demonstrates that Gov. Pritzker’s decision not to include church services among “essential activities” was an intentional act of discrimination.  President Scharr, along with the presidents of the Central Illinois District (the Rev. Mark Miller) and Northern Illinois District (the Rev. Dr. Allan Buss) of the LCMS sent the following letter to Gov. Pritzker in April arguing that churches should be included among “essential activities.” Their reasonable and well stated request was ignored.

17 April 2020

The Honorable J.B. Pritzker, Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL  62706

Dear Governor Pritzker,

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen and returning Lord!

The nearly 500 congregations of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod within Illinois pray for you and all magistrates regularly. We pray that the Lord may grant you good health, wisdom and discernment especially as you guide our state in this time of COVID-19. We further pray for all medical personnel, researchers and first responders who serve unselfishly.

Recognizing the danger we face, and the need to mitigate the spread of this virus, our churches, schools and people are following the guidelines issued by the State of Illinois. We have abided by these recommendations even during the most sacred week of the Christian Church Year. What troubled us from the very beginning was the exclusion of the Church and her ministry from the list of essential activities. We are more than a food pantry or transient assistance service. We prepare people to live now and for the life of the world to come.

Christians are among the best citizens in any jurisdiction. We are eager to do what is right and contribute our energies, resources and labor for the common good. Lutherans are unique in that we recognize what is called, the “Two Kingdoms.” We believe that God has established two “kingdoms” here on earth. One is the “kingdom of the left” and the creation of earthly government and good order. This allows us to live in peace and safety. The second is the “kingdom of the right” and the establishment of the Church. This “kingdom” exists alongside the earthly government. Its concerns, however, are eternal and include such things as proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through Jesus Christ. Both kingdoms coexist and carry out their God-given responsibilities.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution recognizes the importance of religion and its free exercise within our nation. Indeed the first European settlers came to our shores seeking freedom to worship as their conscience dictated. Our German forefathers came nearly two centuries ago seeking the same freedom of religion. We cherish this freedom and are seeking to be able to worship as we believe is true and proper. We are asking you to declare religious services as “essential” within the State of Illinois. Christians have a two thousand year history of caring for their neighbor and responding positively in times of plague and pestilence. It was Christians who were responsible for the establishment of hospitals in Western Civilization. This connection remains to the present day as the names of many hospitals bear witness.

People are fearful, hurting and living in isolation. The Church brings comfort and strength in Jesus Christ through God’s Word and Sacraments. As unemployment rises the stress of making ends meet becomes a heavy burden. Stimulus packages help but they are not a substitute for paychecks. People need assurance that the Lord will see them through this present time. Hope is one of the major benefits derived from public worship. It reinforces the sense of community and neighbor helping neighbor.

Our pastors are eager to serve their communities. They are willing to follow social distancing and other guidelines established by the State and Center for Disease Control. We are concerned about the elderly and those with underlying illnesses that may compound  by the Corona virus should they contract it. We believe it is healthier to isolate the most vulnerable among us and allow the vast majority of healthy, lower risk individuals to live as normal of lives as possible.

We pray that you will favorably receive our petition and declare religious services as essential in the State of Illinois. Thank you for your consideration. Our prayers remain with you.


Rev. Dr. Allan Buss, President
Northern Illinois District - LCMS

Rev. Mark Miller, President
Central Illinois District - LCMS

Rev. Timothy Scharr, President
Southern Illinois District - LCMS

Mark's thoughts: Time for actions to say that church services are essential in Illinois

Yesterday Illinois Gov Pritzker extended the stay at home order to May 30. Although some modifications were announced such as allowing some business and state parks to reopen, noticeable in its absence was any mention of churches.  Consistent with the original stay at home order issued on March 20, church services continue to be excluded from “essential businesses and operations” that are permitted.

I was supportive of obeying this direction when it first came out.  I was not pleased by the fact that church services were classified as “non-essential.”  However in the context of concerns about the spread of the contagious Covid-19, the order seemed to be directed at protecting public health and not at restricting the proclamation of God’s Word.  On March 20 I wrote to the members of Good Shepherd and said:
This is a matter of the Fourth Commandment and Romans 13 in which we obey those in the vocation of civil government. Because this order has the goal of promoting the health and well being of the residents of the state, and is not intended to restrict the proclamation of the Gospel, it is something that we can faithfully obey.
However, a month later several factors lead me now to conclude that as a Christian I can no longer accept this prohibition of church services. First, the order is based on a distinction between what is “essential” and “not essential.”  Having seen this in actual practice for a month I have learned that alcohol stores, adult marijuana dispenseries, and home improvement stores like Menards and Home Depot are considered essential, while the Divine Service at Church is not.  In Marion, these businesses and many others such as Krogers, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree, etc. continue to operate with limited adjustments related to spacing and the number of people in the store. If all of these different businesses can operate with appropriate adjustments, why can’t the church? There is a reward vs. risk calculation made in going to any of these businesses.  Shouldn’t we as Christians be allowed to make the same assessment about receiving the Means of Grace? Why can the state of Illinois tell us that we can’t, when it is allowed in all of these other settings?  Other states, such as Indiana, have included religious gatherings among essential activities that are permitted.  The fact that Illinois has not, while allowing other activities such as alcohol stores, adult marijuana dispenseries, and home improvement stores, is an example of religious discrimination.

The second reason is that Marion is not Chicago.  As of today, out of the 36,934 confirmed cases in Illinois and 1,688 deaths, there have been 17 cases in Williamson county and 0 deaths. As State Senator Fowler has correctly observed, there is simply not the same threat in our area of southern Illinois and it does not makes sense that our activity should be guided by a decision made based upon the situation in Chicago and its suburbs. This is not a responsible use of authority by the state.

A church practice currently used by many congregations that limits services to ten people, spaces people out in the sanctuary, and sanitizes after each service meets the same necessary level of accommodation for the sake of safety. As Lutherans, we believe that reception of the Means of Grace is essential for the life of faith.  The true body and blood of Jesus Christ holds a unique place among the Means of Grace in our piety as it is the high point of the Divine Service.  We confess that “the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses” (Large Catechism, 5.24-26).  We believe that the Sacrament is not merely an aid in the “spiritual” but also in the physical: “We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine that aids you and gives life in both soul and body.  For where the soul is healed, the body is helped as well” (5.68)   

I believe churches were correct to abide by the Illinois order when it first came out.  Now that we have seen how things actually work, and that upcoming adjustments do not include church activities, the discriminatory character is clear.  The time has come for the churches in Illinois to demonstrate by their actions that the church services are essential.  Church service are not less essential than the many things that are still allowed, and we can make adjustments to meet the needs of safety.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Commemoration of Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian

Today we remember and give thanks for Anselm of Canterbury. Born in Italy in 1033, Anselm is most closely associated with England, where he served as Archbishop of Canterbury for many years. A brilliant scholar and writer, Anselm used his political skills with the British kings on behalf of the established Christian church, affirming that it is the leadership of the church and not the state which has the responsibility of establishing structure and maintaining order among the clergy. Anselm is especially remembered for his classic book, Why God Became Man, which taught that the reason for the incarnation was that Jesus, the Son of God, would suffer and die in place of sinners.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, you give the gift of teachers to your Church.  We praise you for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Anselm, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

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

                                                                                                Easter 2
                                                                                                Jn 20:19-31

            Perhaps you heard in the news about the Nigerian prince who died recently.  It’s a very sad story.  He had millions of dollars, but no heirs.  And so he tried to help out random strangers.  He sent out emails to people offering them money, if they would just provide their bank account information and pay a transaction fee. But sadly, no one would take him up on the offer. Apparently no one believed him, because the news seemed too good to be true.
            Of course there is no Nigerian prince like this, and the description is a spoof of the “Nigerian prince” email scam in which criminals try to get bank account information and money out of people who are tempted with the possibility of easy money. We have learned to ignore anything like this because if it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
            In the Gospel lesson today, the risen Lord Jesus appears to the disciples apart from Thomas. When they report this too him, he refuses to believe it because it seems too good to be true. But while this text has saddled the apostle with the moniker “doubting Thomas,” the focus on Thomas fails to take account of the way the disciples themselves have already reacted in the exact same way.
            Our text begins by telling us that on the evening of Easter, the disciples were gathered with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.  On the surface this does not seem unreasonable.  After all, the Jewish religious leadership had engineered the death of Jesus on Friday.  It was certainly possible that they weren’t done, and would be looking to wipe out Jesus’ followers as well.
            But in order to think about things in this way, we have to ignore what has happened in the previous verses – in the Gospel reading we heard on Easter. There the risen Lord revealed himself to Mary Magdalene and said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The John tells us, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’--and that he had said these things to her.”
            Mary Magdelene has announced that she has seen the risen Lord Jesus. She even delivers words from Jesus to them.  And yet, on the evening of Easter we find them in a locked room because they are fearful of the Jews.  They have been told that their Lord is alive – that he has risen from the dead – and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference.
            The fact that the messenger was Mary Magdalene – a woman – may have had something to do with it.  In the Jewish culture of the first century, a woman could not serve as a legal witness. They were looked down upon.  The fact that women are presented as the first witnesses to the resurrection in the Gospels certainly is a mark of their authenticity and truthfulness.  No one would have made up women as the first witnesses.  It makes no sense if you are trying to convince a Jewish population.  Instead, we find that it was a truth that simply could not be avoided.  In various ways the women were the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, and so that is what the Gospels report.
            The disciples had been told that Jesus had risen from the dead. But they were in a locked room because of fear. Maybe they didn’t believe the news because it came from a woman. Maybe they just thought it was too good to be true.  Whatever the cause, hearing about the resurrection had not made a difference.  They sat there in fear.
            And then Jesus Christ changed all that.  Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  The marks on his body from the crucifixion served as the proof that the Jesus standing before them was the same person they had seen die on the cross.
            We are told, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”  Our translation probably understates this.  The Greek word can also be translated as “rejoice.”  I am glad when Amy finds steak on sale for us to grill.  I rejoiced when the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in more than a hundred years. The disciples rejoiced because their Lord who had been crucified was now alive.  He had risen from the dead.
            Once again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.” This was not a wish. It was a declaration of fact. Jesus – crucified and now risen from the dead – stood before them.  On the night of his betrayal Jesus had said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”  Now Jesus stood before them after he had conquered death. Death no longer gets the final word and so Jesus has given us peace.
            And he has given us peace through the forgiveness of sins.  Our Lord said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then he 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.”  Jesus died on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Now he has sent those authorized to speak forgiveness in his stead and place.  He just did that at the beginning of this service. And because it is the crucified but risen One who speaks through his called servants, we know that his words do what they say.  They free us from all sins, and allow us to stand before God as those who are holy in his eyes – as those who are saints.
            We learn that for some reason, Thomas was not with them on the evening of the first Easter. The other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord.” Thomas replied with his now well known words: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
            Thomas didn’t believe the other disciples when they said, “We have seen the Lord.”  Of course, the disciples themselves had not reacted in faith when Mary Magdalene said the act same thing to them: “I have seen the Lord.”  And this leads us to consider our response to the resurrection.  Do we act like people who know that death has been defeated by the risen Lord?  Do we react to the experiences of life with confidence and trust, or with uncertainty and worry?  Do our lives show that they are guided by the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead?
            Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them.  Again the risen Lord appeared in the midst of a locked room.  Once again Jesus declared, “Peace be with you.”  The prior reaction by Thomas did not change what Jesus had won by his death and resurrection.  It did not change what he had to give.  Jesus had won peace.  Jesus gave peace. All that was needed to receive it was faith.
            Jesus called Thomas to a firm faith by saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  No doubt, a week earlier Thomas had failed when he refused to believe the witness of the other disciples.  His refusal has forever labeled him “doubting Thomas.” But at this moment, he is the first person in the Gospel John to get it exactly right.
            John began the Gospel by telling us about the Son of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then he tells us about the incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  We learn in the prologue that Jesus is the God-man – God in the flesh.  But we wait and wait for someone in the Gospel to confess that Jesus is God. And finally, when we hear the confession, it is from the lips of Thomas.  In Thomas we see that past failures do not have to place us forever on outside of faithful Christian life.  Instead Jesus continues to call us with this Gospel and invites us to confess him as our Lord and God.  He calls us to this faith by which he gives us the forgiveness of sins and peace.
            We recognize that we cannot have the same experience as Thomas and the other disciples.  Yet in our text today we are assured that we are not thereby cut off from faith and its blessings.  After Thomas’ confession Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
            First, Jesus says those who have not seen and believed are blessed.  It was not necessary to be there in order to receive the blessing of forgiveness and peace with God.  Instead, this is received by all who believe in Jesus – by all who confess that Jesus is their Lord and their God.
            And second, the end of our text tells us that we have been provided the means that lead to faith and preserve us as believers.  John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
            In the Gospel we behold the signs that call forth faith. As we will hear in the coming weeks, these words of the Gospel are not just words written by John, but they are Spirit given words by which the Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us. They are the Spirit of Christ revealing Jesus our Lord and God to us.
            It is the testimony of God himself, for as John says in our epistle lesson today, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 
            By this witness – by this testimony – Jesus our Lord and God calls us to be his own.  He calls us to faith and sustains in this faith.  He gives us the forgiveness and peace, because sin and death have been defeated.  As John says in the epistle lesson this morning, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”



Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Easter Tuesday

Today is Easter Tuesday as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  The Gospel lesson for today is Luke 24:36-49:

Scripture reading:
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, through the resurrection of Your Son You have secured peace for our troubled consciences. Grant us this peace evermore that trusting in the merit of Your Son we may come at last to the perfect peace of heaven; though the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter Monday

Today is Easter Monday as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  The Gospel lesson for today is Luke 24:13-35:

Scripture reading:
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they  stood still, looking sad.Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Collect of the Day:
O God, in the paschal feast You restore all creation. Continue to send Your heavenly gifts upon Your people that they may walk in perfect freedom and receive eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord - Isa 25:6-9

                                                                                    Isa 25:6-9

            The schools are closed.  The restaurants can only serve carry out and delivery.  Many businesses are closed, or are only having employees work from home.  People have been furloughed and now find themselves unemployed.  The state of Illinois has told the population to shelter in place, and so churches can’t meet for services.
            It’s nothing like anything we have seen in our lifetime. We may call it “social distancing.”  We may say it has been caused by the Covid 19 pandemic.  But really, it has been caused by death.  That’s what is at work here. No one wants to get a really bad case of the flu. But that’s not why people are fearful of getting Covid 19.  They are fearful because the virus has the potential to put you on a ventilator in the ICU, and kill you. And while there are groups of people who are more at risk than others, even if you are not in those groups you don’t really know how things are going to turn out if you get the virus.
            It is the fear of death that is driving this convulsion that has upended normal daily life.  And remember, from the perspective of world history, Covid 19 is nothing.  The bubonic plague of Justinian in the sixth century killed an estimated 25 million people.  The Spanish flu of 1918 killed around 50 million people – more than all the military and civilian deaths of World War I combined. And the grand daddy of them all, the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century, killed around 50 million people in Europe – some 60% of the population.  It killed up to 200 million total in Europe, Africa and Asia.
            These pandemic events of death stand out in history. But death does its thing year in and year out in ways that we consider “normal”: In the US each year 647,000 people die from heart disease; 600,000 die from cancer; 169,000 in accidents; 160,000 from chronic respiratory conditions; 146,000 from strokes and 121,000 from Alzheimers. And I haven’t yet mentioned the number one killer: 860,000 babies are killed by abortion each year. Yes indeed, as Isaiah says in our text today, death is the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
            However, in our Old Testament lesson for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Isaiah speaks of a time when God will swallow up death forever.  Instead of death, the celebration of a great feast will occur. On this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the knowledge that this day has already begun.
            In the previous chapters of Isaiah, the prophet has been speaking about judgment that God is going to bring upon the foreign nations who threaten and harm Israel and Judah.  The book of Isaiah never lets us forget that while Yahweh had called the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be his people, he is still the almighty God who is the Creator of all things.  His attention is also directed toward all other people both in the hope of salvation and in the judgment of their sin.  God’s intentions include, as well, the welfare of creation itself.
            While the earlier chapters had spoken about God’s judgment against individual nations, chapter 24 had summed this up by talking about Yahweh’s judgment on the whole earth. The prophet says, “Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.” The reason he will do this is clear.  Isaiah writes, “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”
            Now remember, the prophet is speaking about all people, not just Israel and Judah.  And this is a reminder that as the Creator, God has ordered his creation to work in certain ways.  He has determined what is right and what is wrong. The truth of this determination is not relative.  It is absolute, because the Creator has established them. And when the creature – when man violates this ordering – this is sin against the holy God.
            It is this sin that brings death. God commanded Adam in the Garden of Eden, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Adam and Eve disobeyed – they sinned – and found out that God was deadly serious about what he had said.  As the apostle Paul told the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.”
            Unless Christ returns first, you will die because you are sinners.  We don’t know when it will happen. We don’t know what the cause will be. But it will happen because you are sinners in thought, word, and deed.
            However, in chapter 25 Isaiah shifts to praising God for the salvation that he is going to bring.   He says, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”  We are reminded that God’s plan of salvation was not done on a whim.  Instead it was his plan worked out according to his timing.
            And then Isaiah declares, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
            Yahweh promises a sumptuous feast of celebration on this mountain – on Mt. Zion where Jerusalem and the temple were located.  Isaiah had spoken about this at the beginning of his prophecy when he wrote, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” This would be the time when, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
            In the Old Testament, Zion and the temple that stood on it were about the located presence of God with his people. Israel knew where God was present for them. This was a type that pointed forward to the way God would bring salvation.  Indeed, God’s plans formed of old were faithful and sure.  In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  In the Christmas Gospel lesson John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”  He uses language from the Old Testament to tell us that all which had been true of the temple and tabernacle was fulfilled in the incarnation of the Son of God.
            And so, when Jesus opponents asked for a sign he answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews were confused. 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.”
            On Good Friday we heard Isaiah speak about how God would work through the suffering of the Servant to win forgiveness for us.  Jesus Christ died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice, and then they buried his dead body in a tomb.
            But on the morning of Easter when the women went to the tomb they did not find the body of Jesus.  Instead, as the banner behind me declares, they found angels who said to them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
            Jesus Christ died, and then by his resurrection he defeated death.  Where Adam’s sin brought death into the world, Jesus Christ’s resurrection has begun the bodily life that cannot die.  Paul told the Corinthians, For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
            The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that death has been defeated.  Yes, people die. But for those who are in Christ, death cannot separate them from him.  They already have eternal life with God, and death cannot change this fact.  Jesus said, “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.”  We have been born again of water and Spirit to a life that will never end, and not even physical death can change this.
            And while death may claim our bodies for a time, it does not have permanent possession.  It cannot because Jesus Christ has already risen from the dead.  In him the resurrection of the Last Day has already started. And so the Scriptures often describe the death of a Christian as sleep.  For after all, people who fall asleep, wake up. And because of Jesus, bodies that have died will live again. They will “wake up” when the risen and ascended Lord returns in glory on the Last Day and transforms our mortal bodies to be like his eternal, resurrection body.
            On that day, as Isaiah says in our text, he will swallow “the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.”  Instead of tears there will be joy. With Isaiah we will say, O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”
            Make no mistake, until that day, death is still the enemy.  Death was not God’s intention for his creation. Death has been produced by sin, and so it continues to be the source of grief due to the loss it causes.  But death is a defeated enemy. It was defeated on Easter when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Because of Jesus, our life with God continues after death – we already have eternal life now. And when the Lord Jesus returns in glory he will swallow up death forever when he raises us from the dead with bodies like his that can never die again.  On that day we will say: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."