Sunday, April 14, 2024

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

 

Easter 3

                                                                                      1 Pt 2:21-25

                                                                                      4/14/24

 

          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

                                                                                      4/7/24

 

          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.   

         

 

 

 

 

 

         

   

 

 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection - 1 Cor 15:1-11

 

Easter

                                                                                     1 Cor 15:1-11

                                                                                     3/31/24

 

          If you were going to create a religion that you wanted to spread in the first century world, Christianity would be the worst possible idea you could suggest.  Let’s start with the events of Good Friday.  On Good Friday, Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans. 

          Now the apostle Paul was clear that this was the heart of the Christian message.  He said earlier in this letter, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Jesus was a Jew who had died as a criminal at the hands of the Romans.  Not only had he died – he had been crucified.  He had been subjected to the most humiliating form of execution in the ancient world. Completely powerless, he had been put on display as he died a slow and agonizing death.  Crucifixion was considered such a terrible thing that it wasn’t spoken about in polite society.

          The claim of Christianity was that “Jesus is Lord.” Not surprisingly, this claim met with rejection and outright scorn.  Paul says in this letter, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

          Greeks considered it to be folly – to be moronic.  A crucified Jew as Lord was simply absurd.  Jews considered it to be a stumbling block – a scandal.  Christianity preached a crucified Christ.  Yet Judaism believed that the Christ was mighty, powerful, and victorious.  The death of Jesus was the ultimate proof that he was not the Christ. It demonstrated that he was in fact a false messiah rejected by God.  In fact, hung on a tree, one could conclude that he had been cursed by God.

          And then Christianity proclaimed that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.  This was the central event that vindicated Jesus’ and his death.  It meant that Jesus was the living Lord who had been exalted to God’s right hand and would return to carry out the final judgment on the Last Day.

          The problem was that resurrection of the body was something that only made sense to Judaism.  In the Gentile world – for the majority of people with whom Christians would interact – the idea of the resurrection was absurd.  The physical body was considered a bad thing.  It was described as a prison that a person’s soul needed to escape. The last thing Gentiles wanted or believed in was a resurrection of the body.  When Paul preached at the Areopagus in Athens, he was mocked when he mentioned the resurrection.

          Yet in spite of these obvious challenges, Christians proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We see this in our text this morning as Paul deals with the Corinthians.  We have our text because the apostle was addressing yet another of the problems at Corinth.

          Just after our text Paul asks, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”  The Corinthians had been influenced by their own cultural setting which rejected a physical resurrection. They seem to have concluded that they had already experienced the victory in Christ – one that was purely spiritual.  Earlier in this letter Paul said to them ironically: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!”

          In our text Paul returns the Corinthians to the Gospel.  He says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,

and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.”  The apostle sets forth a contrast.  If they hold fast to the word he preached, then they are being saved.  If they don’t, then their initial faith meant nothing.  They are lost.

          Paul begins by taking the Corinthians back to the basics.  He says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Paul takes them back to what had been handed on by the apostles – the tradition of the Church.

          The starting point was that Christ had died, and that he had died for a reason.  He had died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.  The apostle tells us that sin is the fundamental problem that confronts all people.  We were created in the image of God in order to live in fellowship with God.  But since the entrance of sin through Adam, this fellowship had been destroyed.  Paul told the Romans, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Instead of fellowship with God, our sin brings God’s judgment.  It brings physical death. And it brings the eternal spiritual death of damnation.

          However, in the fullness of time, God had sent his Son into the world.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he was true God and true man here with us.  God sent him to fulfill the Scriptures which described the answer to sin.  Jesus had died on the cross as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words about the suffering Servant: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 

          Jesus had taken our sins, and received God’s punishment for them in our place.  Isaiah said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  Paul summarized it this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

          Yet if Jesus had only died, that would have been the end of it. He would have been no different than Simon bar Kokhba. Simon was a messiah figure who lead a revolt against Rome during the period of 132-135 A.D.  In the end, the Romans killed him.  And that was that.  You’ve probably never heard of Simon bar Kokhba.  He had no followers that continued to proclaim him – who worshipped him.  He didn’t because he was dead – a false messiah who had led many people to their own deaths.

          But things were very different with Jesus. Yes, he had died on the cross. Yet in our text Paul goes on to state how he delivered to them … “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

          Jesus Christ did not remain dead.  Instead, on the third day he rose from the dead.  Paul goes on to provide a whole list of witnesses who saw the risen Lord.  First there was Peter, and then the reset of twelve apostles. Then Jesus had appeared to more than five hundred people at one time.  Most of those people were still alive and could confirm the experience.  Then Jesus appeared to his brother James, who had not been a believer during Jesus’ ministry.  Then he had appeared to all the apostles – all the believers who saw him and became witnesses.  Finally, he had appeared to Paul himself.

          The resurrection of Jesus had changed everything.  It showed that Jesus’ death was not a failure.  Instead, it was God’s great action to forgive sin.  The resurrection showed that Jesus was the living Lord over all. And his resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection of the Last Day – the Last Day had started on Easter.

          Jesus’ resurrection had changed everything, and it meant everything.  Right after our text, Paul lays out the implications of Jesus’ resurrection.  He says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  He says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Finally he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

          Paul is brutally clear about the implications if Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead. All of this – everything we do in the Church - is completely pointless. Yet in response to this thought Paul declares: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

          Paul and the apostles went forth to proclaim a message that sounded like it was guaranteed to fail. They proclaimed Christ crucified.  They proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection of the body.  They proclaimed a message that they knew would be rejected as absurd, moronic folly.  They struggled, and suffered, and died in order to proclaim this message throughout the Mediterranean world.

          They did this because they had met the risen Lord Jesus.  He had changed everything for them.  They now understood that because of Jesus’ death they had forgiveness and peace with God.  They also understood that Jesus’ resurrection was the defeat of death and beginning of their own resurrection.

          Paul says, “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.  Adam’s sin had brought death to all people.  Jesus Christ is the second Adam whose resurrection begins the resurrection for those who believe in Christ.  The apostle adds, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

          Through faith in the crucified Lord we have been justified.  We are forgiven and know that the verdict of the Last Day will be “not guilty.” Because of this we have peace.  Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

          Because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we know that death has been defeated.  Death cannot end our life with Christ.  Paul told the Philippians about death, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”  And in Christ’ resurrection at Easter we find the model and pattern of what our resurrection will be like.  Paul said that “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

          The Gospel is very simple.  Paul tells us that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.  Yet in this simple truth we receive forgiveness, peace with God, and the defeat of death.  We receive comfort in the present, and hope for the future that carries us on through difficulties. By this we are being saved, if we hold fast to God’s word that has been preached to us.