Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rom.3.19-28; Festival of the Reformation; October 25, 2015;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

{Previously Reformation, October 26, 2008}

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Ro 3:19-28, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We don’t see it very much these days… It really seems to be a picture from the past… I mean this picture of a young man (like Martin Luther) struggling to be good enough so that God won’t send him to hell. In fact, we all may look at that picture and think that it’s rather old fashioned. We may ask ourselves why anyone would ever be afraid of such a thing. Certainly few of us have had any fear about that kind of thing. We are an enlightened mature society. Religion is about love. If it’s about god at all it’s a god whose great love for people would never allow him to send anyone to punishment forever. It is often expressed in phrases like this: “The god I know would never punish people that way.” Or “How can a loving god deal out eternal punishment?”

I mean, if hell isn’t a reality for people then the question of being good enough to avoid it is really a non-issue. Isn’t it? It all kind of makes the Reformation that began with the struggle of a young German monk over sin and hell, a moot point. After all Luther’s struggle was against God, wasn’t it. He looked at himself and saw an imperfect person who didn’t “love God with his whole heart and soul and mind.” He looked at God and saw a judge who demanded perfection, not just in the way things were done, but in the motive and the thought too! His thorough study of scripture led him to the unmistakable conclusion that he was hell bound. That was then, this is now. The whole fear-of-hell thing seems like a leftover from a previous time when people thought differently.

The way it is now, the way we actually prefer to look at the world, and life, and God is completely different. We’ve made up a god of our own that doesn’t match with what the Bible tells us. Our new god is a doting grandfather that gives us whatever we need and want, and he simply ignores our shortcomings and failures. It could even be said that he doesn’t really even care that people don’t believe in him or even out and out reject him. “They’re only human,” He coos, “and nobody is perfect.” This god looks lovingly at struggling humanity and with a twinkle in his eye says, “They try so hard… that’ll be good enough.” It’s the picture of god giving an “A+” for effort, regardless of the results and regardless of the motives that lie behind the actions. He gives people a purpose in their lives and rewards them as long as we live in that purpose.

It’s no wonder people don’t fear the consequences of their sin anymore. The god we’ve invented acts and sounds just like one of us. He sweeps sin under the carpet just like we like to do. That’s just the way we live, as if sin wasn’t a problem, sweeping it quietly under the carpet. Letting it stand where we find it.

Just think a moment about these issues since 1973 in just the United States alone we have killed well over 40 million helpless children through abortion. (Note these stats include all abortions for any reason, even those where the child has already died.) It’s a staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies that end in murder. And don’t forget that you and I actually pay for three out of every 10.

We’ve defined marriage to be anything we want it to be. Men and men; women and woman; Adult and child; why not a man; a girl and two dogs and a donkey. It’s not just that, we participate in the degrading of the institution. How about how this issue hits closer to home. We all have it in our families. You know that that 90% of young couples (both Christian and non-Christian) live together before marriage. They ignore the stats that show those who do have an 80% higher risk of divorce. We ignore that God calls this a sin that affects the whole body of Christ.

God, the true God, speaks clearly about these issues. Killing humans beings at any stage of development is murder. He says sex outside of marriage is wrong, that means it is wrong for couples to live together before they are married, no matter how good the reasons seem. Test yourself on these issues: How many people know you are Pro-Life? Do you consider unborn children when you stand in the ballot box? How many young couples have you told that living together before they are married is wrong? We spend a lot of time and effort saying that God’s will for our lives is whatever we want it to be. And that God’s standards for living are quite flexible, more like suggestions that can be set aside when they are inconvenient or don’t match up with our “feel good” philosophy of life.

Luther’s struggle was about the difference between God and human beings. God is holy. People are not. God is perfect. People are not. God knows everything. God is able to look into the very depth of the human heart. When Martin looked honestly into his own what he saw there frightened him. It frightened him because he didn’t find an inner core of good. He saw an inner core of evil and darkness and hatred of other people and even of God. And when he realized that God saw that same heart, he knew that he was lost. With the law comes the knowledge of sin. St. Paul said to him. It was just like Jesus said, For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:19, ESV) Martin Luther discovered that was accountable to God not just for his outward acts but also for what was in his heart. God said it also in the Old Testament. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sa 16:7, ESV)

That’s the real problem isn’t it? It’s what’s in here that we can’t get rid of. We can only ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. Or invent a god that doesn’t care about sin, a god of our own making that hides his eyes to what we know is there. Because the real God, the one we learn about in His Word does care about sin. That same Word tells us all the truth we already know: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. No amount of keeping the law is going to fix what’s in here. The more we try to do what is right the more we see how we don’t do it perfectly, “with our whole heart.”

But it is precisely because the true God cares about sin that we are here today. It is because God really does love human beings beyond our understanding that He doesn’t just sweep sin under the carpet. He sees what sin does to us, how it tears our relationships apart, how it makes a mess of everything we try to do. And he knows above all how we are powerless to do anything about it. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That’s what the law makes very plain to us. But God goes beyond that he also says that we are justified by his grace as a gift… Well, it would have to be a gift wouldn’t it? We can’t scrub it clean, we can’t work it out on our own, and we can’t end sin in our hearts by any other way. We need a righteousness that we don’t have. Righteousness is exactly what God has. It is what God is. In fact the best definition of righteousness is Jesus.

St. Paul used that unusual word propitiation. He wrote the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood. What he is really talking about is a peace offering. When a wife is angry at her husband he scrambles to find a florist and shows up at the door with a big batch of flowers. That’s propitiation. And Jesus is just that, a perfectly righteous peace offering to God. Jesus offers himself to God as the object of God’s just anger over sin. He suffers the punishment that all human beings deserve because of the sin in their hearts. In Jesus heart, even though he fully human, there wasn’t any of the blackness that is in yours and mine. He didn’t make excuses for not following God’s law. Not only did he not sin, he confronted sin everywhere he went. He called sin, sin and pointed out its consequences. He didn’t struggle against God’s will for His life, even when it led him to a brutal execution. You see, everything He did was perfect, and not just in the things he did, but the motives and the thoughts, too! That’s because Jesus was not just good guy, he was human but he was also God, perfect and holy… You might say Jesus is the very heart of God’s.

Now when we compare Jesus heart to ours we know that what we need is His…

It’s the most amazing thing… it’s really beyond our understanding… it’s so utterly different than anything our experience can understand… But Jesus is exactly what God gives to us. Our sinful prideful mind and heart immediately jump to the conclusion that we must have earned it, somehow. “I must have done something good!” But the God’s law is right there to show us that there is nothing we can do. Its real purpose is to show us our sin, because we will not believe in Jesus, we can’t have true faith, until the law shuts us up, and puts anything we would do out of the picture. We get this wonderful totally free gift of Jesus righteousness, God’s perfection, by faith. What Paul means by that is seeing that Jesus righteousness is now yours. In Paul’s words: we receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

That’s where that young monk’s struggle ended… in faith. When Martin Luther saw that the righteousness that he needed was his as God’s free gift he did what faith does. Be believed… he received… he hoped… and he lived in faith every day of his life from that moment on.

My dear Christians friends, it is just so for you and me. The very same gift is ours. We can’t earn it, we can work our way to deserve it. It is a gift. It is the most amazing thing in the whole world. Our sin, both the things we do, and the things we think and feel, that blackness and evil in the deepest part of our heart is covered up by righteousness of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. We do what faith does… We believe… we receive… we hope… and we live in faith every day, from this very moment on. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mark.4.35-41; The Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2015;


(Also: Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2009; Mark 4:35-41)

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We know storms. Today’s readings are all full of storms.

In Job, God speaks to Job out of a storm (some translations call it a whirlwind). Up until this point in the book, Job has wanted to confront God for the trouble he’s having. You remember about Job, how he lost everything, his wealth, his family, and his health. His friends sit around him and tell him that all of things that are happening to him are some kind of punishment for sin, if not outright sin, than some hidden sin Job isn’t aware of. But Job insists that there’s nothing that he’s done, he doesn’t deserve the storm of trouble that’s happening to him. He complains that if he could just plead his case before God, he’d get answers. Our reading is the beginning of God’s response to Job “out of the whirlwind.” Finally, in the middle of Job’s stormy life, God speaks to Job. Only it’s not the response Job is expecting. It’s not an answer we’d be happy with either. “Who are you to question me?” God says, “Where you around when I created everything? I’m the one who made everything. Were you there when I created everything?”

God puts Job in his place. It’s just not the kind of answer we think we want from God. There’s not compassion or comfort there. It’s just as if he drives another nail in Job’s coffin. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions about why he is suffering. God doesn’t justify his actions or pacify. And Job bows in humility and fear, his storms are not calmed by God (yet!).

In the Gospel lesson, which is actually the text for our meditation, the storm is a little different.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41, ESV)

This storm is no less real than the storm faced by Job, and no less real than the storms that we face every spring, real storms, with real consequences. For the disciples they are afraid of drowning in the lake. If you’ve ever been out on a choppy lake during a storm you know the fear. As the waves grow and begin to splash over the sides of the boat you imagine the boat disappearing under the dark green foamy water. What will you do? Swim, how will you know which way to go, how will you keep afloat with the rain and wind. The fear is real. The disciples were afraid… for their lives. What a contrast to Jesus sleeping in the boat! Here he is sleeping soundly in a boat that’s filling with water and about to sink. And finally the disciples can’t bear the fear any more. And Jesus lying on the cushion sound asleep exasperated the whole experience. They were facing death and Jesus doesn’t seem to care! So they wake him up. “How could you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you care if we drown? There’s real danger here and you’re just sleeping your life away, and ours!” Jesus doesn’t answer their question but speaks directly to the water. “Quiet! Be still!” I imagine him looking also at the disciples as if to say “you too!” The wind and the waves react instantly. As soon as Jesus speaks the wind is silent and the waves calm. It’s a great contrast from complete storm to complete stillness, in an instant. Opposite of the great contrast that is seen in Jesus; great calm while sleeping to calming the storm. I wonder, do you see the connection to the reading from Job?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:8-11, ESV)

Jesus mastery of nature is striking in the way He commands the waves and they obey. Just look at the disciples surprising response. They don’t lose their fear its focus only changes. And they ask the important question. “Who is this? Who is this that sleeps one moment and controls the storm in the next?” It is a question of faith and fear. “Why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks them. After all the disciples had witnessed, it appeared that they still didn’t know who he was. And yet right there in that boat they had all they needed to see. Jesus was sleeping, clearly a human being who needed sleep. He ate and slept, and drank and walked, and talked with them every day. He is as human as they were. And also he controlled the waves as easily as they threw their fishing net into the water. He was the one who set the boundary for the waves. Jesus is God; God speaking from the midst of the storm just like he did for Job.

You see, this text isn’t about how Jesus calms the storms of our life. As much as we want it to be true, God never promises that faith in him means that we won’t suffer from bad things in our lives. Look at Job. He suffered a great deal, but never found out why he suffered. He never knew the purpose. Job was a man of great faith. We often think about his patience but really it’s all about his faith… that is letting God be God and never knowing why he suffered through the storm. This text is about God being God; it’s about Jesus Christ being truly God, and Jesus Christ being truly man. And how God reconciled the real cause of storms in the world by sending Jesus his son, in human flesh. The storms of this world, tornados and social problems, earthquakes and broken families are our own fault. Sin is at the root. Sin causes pain and separation. Sin causes death. To be in sin, which all of us are, is to have a stormy relationship with God, instead of a perfect one. And that stormy relationship means that we don’t deserve anything from God, especially his protection, and presence in the storms we create. But he came anyway, in Jesus Christ. Jesus calms the storm between God and man, by taking the punishment instead of us. He brings God to us by suffering and dying and rising again.

That is what our faith is all about. 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. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, ESV) That’s the content of our faith. That’s the important thing about what we believe. Christianity is specifically about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. The fact that he came to earth God and Man to live a perfect life for you and me, suffer and die on the cross for human sin. To reconcile us to God by paying the punishment of sin, suffering hell on the cross for us. But when the storms of life gather around us we forget who Jesus is. Well maybe we don’t actually forget but we act as if it doesn’t matter who he is. And that’s what also places us there in the boat with the disciples, being afraid of the storm. Our storm may not be the spinning cloud that passes through town, but what about the turmoil in our family that seems to be tearing it apart? No matter how hard you try you can’t seem to put it back together. You’re afraid you’ll never again have a whole family. What about the disease that won’t let go of you, and threatens to take away everything you have. Or the heart problem, or stroke, or illness that strikes without warning. Or the storm of being so busy that you can’t stop even to breath for fear of missing something important. You see all those storms leave us afraid and we shout out, “God don’t you care what’s happening to me, I’m afraid, and you don’t seem to be doing anything!” Just like the disciples we’ve forgotten who God really is. We forget that he’s in the midst of the storm. We forget about Jesus and what he promises us.

But Jesus knows about our storms because he isn’t a God who stands back and hurls lightning bolts at us from heaven. He is a God who became a man and lived among us. Right here in the midst of our storms, in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our pain. Jesus Christ knows what it means to suffer through them. He suffered, just like we do and more. He knows the storm of separation caused by death. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He knows the storm caused by illness. He walked among the crowds that pressed in on him for healing. He had compassion on them, but he didn’t heal them all. No matter what’s troubling you Jesus Christ knows your storm. He can and does take care of us. He is God. He is the very same God who created everything. He is the God who set the boundaries for the sea and formed the mountains with his very words. He is in control of everything, from the smallest flapping of the butterfly’s wing, to the formation of clouds and the waves that lap against the seashore. That’s Jesus standing in the boat with the disciples calming the storm around them, speaking in the midst of the whirlwind.

But he doesn’t always calm the storm. Job had to suffer for a very long time. You and I have storms that never seem to end. What is Jesus doing about that? Well, he hasn’t left us alone to deal with the storms of life, even if he doesn’t just make them go away. Jesus Christ the God-Man who died, and rose again for us has provided us with special gifts to help us weather the storm. These are things that he gives us freely and abundantly. And he gives them to you right here.

Right here in this place he speaks his word to you. Storm or calm, week after week, month after month, year after year, His very words of comfort and strength are given to you. What does he say to you? He gives you promises. Promises that he will always be with you, you are not alone in the storm. You don’t have to leave your bed and crawl in with mom and dad, when the thunder rolls; Jesus is with you wherever you are. The disciples were in the boat with Jesus; the storm was nothing to worry about. Over and over again Jesus makes that promise to you. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV)

God doesn’t promise no storms or burdens but he promises that he’ll help you bear it. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV)

These are the kind of promises of God makes to you, given in his word. And don’t forget that those promises are true for you because he has claimed you to be his own. Look at the font here. Here God reaches out and grabs you in your storm. Here he makes you his child. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

That promise to be with us is no more sure and certain for us than it is here at this altar. Here he comes to us in his very body and blood. In the midst of our storm we can take hold of Jesus Christ himself, as we hold out our hand and make for him “the very throne of God!” We handle him, touch him and see him… and he gives us strength in this food to stand in the storm, but not strength to stand on our own, strength to stand because he gives is promise and keeps his promises.

Will the storms all go away? Will Jesus always stand up and “rebuke” the demons that threaten us? Nope. Life is still full of stormy days. Look what that storm did for the disciples. They got a lesson about turning to Jesus. They needed to be reminded who he is. That’s what the storms do for us too. They remind us that we can’t go it alone. They remind us that God is in control of everything. They remind us that we need to depend on him more and more every day. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Psalm 139: 1-12; Pentecost, May 31, 2009; Pentecost, May 25, 2015;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, IA

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I’m sure many of you have heard this story: A farmer went into his banker and said to him that he had good news and bad news. “First the bad. I can’t make the mortgage payment, and I can’t pay back my operating loan this year. We couldn’t get the crop planted because of the weather, so I won’t be making any payments on my equipment either. In fact, I’m going to pack it all in and just turn the farm over to you.” After a prolonged silence the banker asked, “What’s the good news?” The farmer smiled, “I’m still going to bank with you.”

Good News and Bad News. We get used to hearing things that are good news and bad news. Of course in real life we don’t want to hear the bad news, only the good. And here we are pew sitting Easter is still fresh on our minds. Isn’t this the time when we expect to hear about “Good News?” The purple of advent is gone, the fasting, the sorry feelings for what Jesus had to go through on our behalf. Let’s hear some more Good News about Jesus being alive! OK!

Well, that’s not just Good News that Christ has risen, that’s Best of the Best News. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and hell. Every time we shout it we proclaim the victory won by Jesus. The victory that is our by faith in what He has done. It’s Good News…

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12, ESV)

My question to you today is: Is that psalm Good News or Bad News?

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! (Psalm 139:1, ESV)

Well, of course it’s not always good to have God know everything about everything about me. It almost feels like an invasion of privacy. Think about it, God searching me and knowing me! If God’s knows me, I can’t hide in the crowd. I can’t blend in to the wallflowers. He knows who I am and there’s no getting away. That’s Bad News, isn’t it? Or is it Good News? He knows me. He knows who I am, I’m not just a number in the crowd. He knows me for me. Come to think about it that means when Jesus hung on the cross, when He died for the sins of the world, he because he was God, he knew me there too! When He rose from the dead as the first fruits of those who believe, he knew me then too! Because he searches me and knows me, he knows how much I needed a Savior, and when he bled and died on the cross he did it for me. And he rose again from death, and when I shout “He is Risen!” I’m shouting it for me because God knows me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139:2, ESV)

God knows when I sit and when I rise, that pretty much covers all my waking hours: At work, at play, at home, at church, as a matter of fact this sounds a lot like church, sitting and rising. Right here and now God knows my thoughts from afar. I don’t think that’s Good News at all. He looks inside here, inside my head, and knows what I’m thinking. Well, at times it’s rather empty, but at times it’s full of awful things. When I sit by people that I don’t like, God knows what I’m thinking… God knows what I’m thinking; he knows my thoughts from afar. He doesn’t have to be here and see the disgust on my face when I sit and wish that certain people would just go away. I’d rather not have God know about that… But God knows my thoughts… He knows my struggle every day to do what’s right. I know I should be welcoming to everyone. I know that Jesus promise of forgiveness is for everyone. He knows that I know what I should do and yet I don’t do it. He knows my thoughts, how much help I need, so when He promises to help it’s not an empty offer. He is the one who can help me make a change in my attitude, and change my thoughts, because he knows what they are. That is Good News.

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:3, ESV)

God watches over my going out and my lying down: in my house, outside of my house; in the garage, taking a nap on the couch, or late nights in front of the glow of the tube, God is familiar with all my ways. He’s familiar… does familiarity breeds contempt? My ways are not God’s ways. It’s not Good News that God is familiar with what I do every day. Mostly because I’m not sure he’d be happy with some of the things I do. I don’t want my family to know all my ways. I have private moments that I thought were just mine, but God says he’s familiar… with my personal failures, my personal struggles with recurring sins, my personal demons, all the things that I hide from everyone. He knows them all… that’s Bad News, and yet, it’s Good News, isn’t it. If he’s familiar with it, he knows how much those things hurt me. If he’s familiar he knows how unhappy I am when I do them. The bible says that Jesus was tempted every way just as we are, that means he knows how difficult the struggle is. If he knows about them there’s no reason to not talk to him about them. No reason not to confess them to him. He’s familiar, he’s not going to be surprised at my confession, in fact when I say I have sinned in thought word and deed, he’s familiar with what I’m talking about. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s his promise. He is faithful. He is familiar. He is forgiving. He forgives me.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4, ESV)

There are times when I wish I knew what was on my tongue before I spoke. More often than not, my words cut. More times than I care to admit my tongue is my most versatile weapon, and it works with more precision than any satellite-guided bomb. Worst of all my tongue is connected to my heart. When I say the things I wish I didn’t say, I do mean them, even if I don’t mean them later. My tongue reveals the blackness that I know is in my heart. And God knows it’s there, too. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. And what about those words that I don’t say? Those hurtful, spiteful words that I somehow manage to keep from rolling off my tongue. If he knows the ones I say before I say them then he knows the ones that I bite off in my mouth. Even though it was good not to say them, it’s bad that I even thought them. And God knows them all. He knows them because he doesn’t judge the words of my mouth. God judges by the heart, and mine is full of sin. He knows the words because he knows the heart. Out of the heart comes all sort of evil, Jesus says. St. Paul says to let the words of Christ dwell richly in your heart. If his words are there then His words will come off your tongue. Just look at today as an example: God knew I’d be singing the words of the hymn we just sang even before we sang them, even before I pick it for us to sing!

So, the tongue that hurts is also the tongue that repeats Good News. The tongue that cuts can also be the tongue that speaks of the forgiveness won for corrupt hearts. Jesus Christ knows, He knows what I’m going to say. He can and will cause his words to come out of me, instead of my own.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:5-12, ESV)

The psalm speaks of God’s pursuit. Everywhere I go He is there. He’s like a bloodhound on the trail. I can’t climb a tree, or into a hole. He knows me. I can’t hide from Him. He knows my thoughts, the evil that fills my brain. He knows the things I do, weather in secret or in public. The things I do that are selfish, or hateful, or for spite. He knows my heart and the evil words I will speak. For all of that He should pursue me for punishment. The wages of sin is death, He says. I deserve death, for my thoughts words and deed. And I can hide none of them from God. The “Bad News” is that I am guilty and God knows it.

But the Good News is: That instead of pursuing me, God pursues someone else. It’s funny, in a way, because even though I am evil and deserve punishment, God punishes him even though He is Good. Jesus Christ fell under the relentless pursuit of God punishment. He suffered and died for my sins. AS Jesus bled and died on the cross, God heaped on him the punishment for my hidden thoughts, my evil actions, and my sinful heart. And when Jesus said, “It is finished!” the punishment for them all went away with His death. He rose again for me, to give life to me instead of the death I deserved. That is Great, Good News.

The funny thing is that if we think again of the psalm we don’t have to worry about the “Bad News” any more. We can think of the Good News of the Psalm instead. He searches me and knows me he knows all my needs and takes care of me. No intrusion on my privacy only the searching of a loving caring God. He only wants the best for me. Because of Jesus he knows my sitting and my rising and my thoughts from afar. He knows me so well that nothing can separate me from his love. I am always on his mind. And He knows and hears me even before I speak. Before I even know my needs myself, before I can even speak them God knows about them and has already answered my prayers.

So the Psalm that would be Bad News / Good News is really not Bad News at all. It’s Good News about my relationship with God, because of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 17, 2015;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:1–11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Life changes in an instant. A flash of lightning, a tornado siren, an ambulance ride. Everything that was in front of you instantly vanishes. Everything that seemed so firmly set on a foundation is changed and shaky. This is life in our fallen world.

But today we celebrate and observe the Ascension of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, we can take to heart His Word of promise. There is nothing in this world that will be able to separate us from His pierced and loving hands.

The disciples were in their last earthly moments with their Savior. They know who he is. They know what he has done. They know why he has done it. They have seen his love, compassion, forgiveness, healing and anger. They have been with him through it all, in spite of denying and abandoning him. Even though they didn’t stick with him, he stuck with them. He forgave them and restored them. He even appeared to them and gave them words that helped them be steadfast— “שלום עליך.” “Peace be with you.” This is what Christ came to give us and even more…to reconcile us to God.

The ascension is Jesus crowning in glory. His returning to the Father with the job done, finished. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father. It is no set place in heaven, but God power to do what God intends and promises. He intercedes for us. This is why our prayers are heard before God. Jesus hears them. This is why we can be sure that all that happens is in our best interest, even painful things. Jesus, our Savior and Advocate is in control of all things.

And he did not leave the disciples alone, or us either. He sent the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate that sending next week at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence among us. The Holy Spirit is God in, and with us, for us. He comes to us in Word, and Water, Bread and Wine. We are washed in the water, connected to Jesus. We have God with us in the Holy Spirit. He keeps us looking at Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness.

But instead of looking to Jesus, we look to our own welfare. We want things, and stuff, and money. We strive but seldom get what we strive for. When we suffer we turn in on ourselves and mourn the loss of things we think we deserve.

Think of the farmer who plants the field. He looks ahead at a fixed point, not a moving one. He doesn’t look back. If he doesn’t he won’t get straight rows. If the point is fixed you will reach it, but if it is a moving target you will never get it. That is why it is so important to look up to see what is ahead.

Jesus told the disciples to do that. He tells us to do that. Keep your eyes on Jesus, no matter what. But we turn back on what was, rather than what IS…often we look down rather than up. We always think we know better. We always try to help God out. We even try to figure out a way without letting the Savior lead and guide us.

Jesus’ ascension is important because of what it reminds us. It is the day when he took back all that was his, all his power, all his glory, all his everything that belonged to him, that he set aside when he took on human flesh.

Remember! Even though everything in this world will be taken away from us and or left behind when we die; we need not be consumed with worry. Jesus calls us to look up to him and put our hope and trust in him alone. Jesus is able and he will, supply all of our needs. He is faithful!

Life can be full of trouble and worry. It would be even worse if didn’t know that God was in control, working out His plan for the nations and us His baptized children.  Instead, He has told us that when these things begin to take place, to “lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Listen to Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Our help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth. Though all these be shaken. We have the promises of the crucified one, the ascended one. He sits at God’s right hand able to everything that is necessary.

So we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is coming back soon. Amen.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

1 John 4:1-11; The Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 3, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:1–11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

It is a difficult thing, to love one another. Ernest Hemmingway once said, "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." The thing is, love is self-giving, self-sacrificing, and we are not. We think like Hemmingway, we are the intelligent people and everyone else is the fools. In fact (and I think it is true now more than ever), we are thoroughly narcissistic. That means lovers of the self. Listen to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):

· grandiose sense of self-importance

· fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or love

· believes they are so special and unique that no one else can fully understand

· enjoys excessive admiration

· a sense of entitlement and does this go back to the cheese

· little empathy

· takes advantage of others to promote their own desires

· envious of others and believes others are envious of them

· arrogant behavior and attitude

It’s right there. You and me. We the church, the thinking goes in the exhibit those traits. Well maybe not to the point of Disorder but certainly to the point of sin. When God says “Love”. We say “not him” or “not her” or “not them.” We stand with Hemmingway above the fools God calls us to love. We pretend well. We make a great showing. But love, real biblical love, just isn’t always there. “Love one another” is one of those all-inclusive commands. It’s mostly easy to love a spouse, a child, a parent, even a good neighbor, but what we truly love more than all, is ourselves. And loving God, well that just doesn’t happen.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; (Isaiah 53:6a, ESV)

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10–12, ESV)

Psychology and Theology agree. People are self-lovers. We are just too busy loving ourselves. It is a sign of the times.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, ESV)

And there is no use denying it. You see these in other people but some of those traits listed there are you. Don’t worry, I include myself in the list, too. You and I are people to be avoided. The worrisome point is not you and me avoiding each other. The worrisome part is that God should avoid us. It is what we deserve from him. He says “love” and we can’t do it. Lighting should strike us dead where we stand. Our smoking soul should fly straight to hell, “do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

Standing in the shame of our own sin, we can only hide from God’s anger. We cannot love the angry just judge. We are Adam and Eve, hiding in the bushes, covering our nakedness. Not reaching out to God. Not showing love to God. But God reaches out to us. “Where are you?” he says to Adam and Eve and you and me. He knows. We are hiding in our own sin and selfishness. It is right then that God promises to love us in a way that is very different than the love that we know, the love that we have, the love of the world.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9–11, ESV)

God’s love is sending his only Son into the world to bring us forgiveness of sins. Even our narcissism. We don’t love God as we should. He loves us by being the sacrifice, the punishment, the propitiation for our sins. And it isn’t just our sins. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again for the sins of the whole world.

And there is nothing for us to do. God’s love isn’t because we deserve it or love him. God’s love is because Jesus deserves it and loves us. There is no command in this good news. Jesus does what needs to be done for us, without our doing anything. C.F.W.Walther writes:

The Gospel issues no orders. Rather, it changes people. It plants love into their heart and makes them capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy? C.F.W. Walther Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, CPH 2010, p. 20

When other people love us, it changes us. I think about that movie, “As Good as It Gets” with Jack Nicholson. He is changed by the woman. “You make me want to be a better man.” Love changes him from a cranky old man to something better. It has happened to you. Love of another person makes all the difference in your life. Now God’s love for you is even stronger. God’s love for you is even more powerful. God’s love for you is shown in Jesus hanging dead on the cross and knowing that it should be you.

And there’s the encouragement to live better, and love better.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Look, it starts by calling us “beloved” that is “Loved by God”. We love because he first loved us. We love in practical ways. Mowing our neighbor’s lawn. Visiting a sick friend in the hospital. Offering a ride. Providing for our family. And our neighbor isn’t just your pew neighbor. It’s your family neighbor, house neighbor, your work neighbor, and your city neighbor. And there’s more. The love that God gives flows out in forgiveness. We are forgiven on the cross. Our neighbors are forgiven on the cross. When we are sinned against we have the great privilege of proclaiming that forgiveness to the very same one who hurt us. And when we sin against our neighbors, through our lack of love for the, we can confess and ask for forgiveness. That gives them the opportunity to show love, too.

It all begins with God, in Jesus Christ. The one who live, died and rose again for you. The one who first and most loved you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 19, 2015;

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 19, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

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.”” (Luke 24:36–49, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples are frightened, and who wouldn’t be. A dead man is standing in front of them very much alive. The rumors, that he had risen, that they were just talking about are confirmed true. None-the-less they react to Jesus with fear. “He must be a ghost!” They think. Jesus proves otherwise. He shows them his scars, and eats a piece of fish. Flesh-and-blood Jesus has returned from the dead and appeared to them.

And he brings peace. Now, don’t suppose that this greeting “Peace be with you” is just a simple hello. It is not a formality. When Jesus speaks you actually receive what he says. Jesus’ words bring a blessing. “Peace” is it. Here he means that human beings have been reconciled with God through his life, death and resurrection. Forgiveness of human sin is a reality, “Peace” has come. The proof of what he says is him, standing right there in his living, breathing, flesh, and blood.

In the Gospel of John when the disciples had gathered with Jesus for the Passover, on the night when he was betrayed, before his death, Jesus talks about this very moment.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you I you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:25–29, ESV)

It is the fulfillment of angel song.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV)

This is the end-game that Jesus is born to do. He is sent by God the Father to make “Peace” happen. And it all exists right there in Jesus’ words. “Peace be with you.”

And Jesus’ Word is what this is all about. He is not content with bringing this peace to the disciples. He is all about bringing peace to every corner of the world. He lays it out for them. The bible is about him. It is the record of God’s peace come to the world, laid down in ink before he walked in human flesh. Point after point, the Word of God the disciples knew, was shown to be true and accurate, well beyond coincidence. It lays out what must happen, what did happen, so that Jesus could stand before them, once dead, but now alive, and declare God’s Peace.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are key. They are, in fact, the center point of the Christian faith. Without a dead Jesus on the cross, and a live Jesus standing before witnesses, there is no faith to be had. It is what St. Paul means when he says “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV) He is echoing Jesus. Sermons are about Jesus. His suffering and death and repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Our translation this morning doesn’t say it quite strong enough. It says:

and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47, ESV)

“Proclaimed” doesn’t completely capture what Jesus is saying. He’s talking about preaching. It’s the same word that Paul uses: “We preach Christ crucified”, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached”.

In the name of Jesus, pastors are to preach Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried and raised again. They are to preach repentance, that is the law that convicts people of their sin and need for forgiveness. And then offer Jesus’ peace, his forgiveness of sin, won by all that he does on the cross. Jesus is plainly telling pastors what they are to do. Jesus is plainly telling churches what they should demand from their pastors. The Lutheran Confessions, the writings that tell us what it means to be Lutheran, talk about what a pastor is:

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake. (AC: I, art. iv–AC: I, art. V)[1]

Jesus knows what you need. He is after all the Word of God. Preaching is about what you need, repentance and forgiveness. So, repent sinner! God wants you to know your position before him. His word tells you that all sin is against him and sin is fatal. Ezekiel 18:20a (ESV) “The soul who sins shall die.” We acknowledge it in our confession at the beginning of most of our worship services.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Peace be with you!

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

That’s God’s peace to you. You are forgiven. You have been promised eternal life and resurrection of your body after death. The disciples are witnesses. What they heard and saw they passed down to you through the church and faithful pastors. It is all God’s gracious gift to you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 32–33). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 12, 2015;

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 12, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:1–2:2, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The apostle John doesn’t want you to have any doubts about what he is saying. Jesus was a real, live, breathing, talking, walking person. He and the other disciples heard, saw and touched him. He wasn’t a phantom, spirit being, or ghost, but instead a flesh and blood man. And at the same time this Word of Life was eternal God from the beginning. He was “made manifest” that means fully shown, heard, seen and touched in real life. John sets himself as a witness, along with the other disciples (“we” he says). It rings back to the Gospel of John. Words that we heard read just last week. John describes the blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ side as the spear pierces his heart.

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:35, ESV)

It is the truth of Jesus brought to you in eyewitness testimony. You see, we don’t look inside of ourselves to find the truth about God’s love for us. We don’t look for some “burning in the heart” or to some vague feeling of “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart” to be proof of Jesus’ forgiveness for us. That’s not Christianity, that’s a pagan religion called Gnosticism. That’s not Christianity that’s a false Christianity called Mormonism. Our proof of faith doesn’t come because we feel it to be true, but instead because reliable witnesses heard, saw, and touched Jesus. Real, reliable witnesses, heard him teach about himself. He said in no uncertain terms that he was God, himself in human flesh. Jesus enemies heard it and killed him for it. The charge they held up as the one deserving death was blasphemy. Saying things about himself and God that weren’t true. They knew exactly what Jesus claimed to be. The church leaders couldn’t have God running around in human flesh calling them sinners.

And notice how we confess our faith. The confessions of the church fall right in line with what John is saying here. There’s not a “feeling” expressed in them, only historical verifiable facts. Just listen to the verbs.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

See how it is set in real human time, “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. Martin Luther explains our faith this way:

By the grace of God I have learned not to turn my eyes away from that Person who was born to Mary, and not to seek or acknowledge another god. One’s eyes must be fixed on that Person who was born of the Virgin Mary. Where the Son of God is, there Christ is; where Christ is, there the Father is (AE 30:223).[1]

The one born is the one who was crucified. The one who was crucified is the one who rose from the dead. The one who rose from the dead is the one who promises resurrection to you. If Jesus isn’t a living breathing, dead and raised person, neither will you be. It is as simple as that. No other religion has such a physical, reliable, and verifiable hope, based on a physical, reliable, and verifiable person. John wants you to see Jesus as he saw him, because that is real faith in a real Jesus. We cling to the promises of Jesus. We cling to a Jesus crucified, dead and buried and raised again on the third day. We stand together confessing those truths and that is our fellowship. It is a fellowship with John, all those who heard, saw, and touched Jesus, and all those who together confess faith in that real Jesus. It is fellowship finally with God himself. That fellowship is only possible because of the forgiveness that Jesus gives you through faith in his death and resurrection. It is a putting away of sin, that creates a relationship, fellowship between you and God. And that fellowship is only as real as Jesus is real.

But John isn’t done. The reality of Jesus has effects in your real life. If Jesus is real, if his death and resurrection are real, if you are really forgiven, and you have a real fellowship with God, then things will happen in your real life. John wants you to be mindful of your sin as you live every day. He talks about living in the light. He means knowing the truth about yourself, sinner that you are. If you deny your own sin, you deny your need for Jesus. It isn’t difficult to see your sin. You have its effects around you. Poor heath, poor relationships, poor attention to God’s Word, poor care for your neighbors in need, poor selflessness, these are all signs of your sin. These are all signs of your broken relationship that is, lack of fellowship with God. But living in the light also means living in light of what the real Jesus has done. You acknowledge your sin that is, confess your need for forgiveness, because God forgives through Jesus. God is faithful and just, he forgives the sins of those who have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for their sin. Your sin and mine have been put to death on the cross. We are promised resurrection to new life in Jesus resurrection. But it is only real for you, if it is real in history. If you deny your sin, you deny God’s work in Jesus, you deny God, calling him and his Word lies.

But they are not lies. Our sin is real and our Savior is real. We live in the light of Jesus, avoiding sin because it is God’s will for our lives. We hate sin, even as we can’t avoid it. We don’t want to sin, but we do. And so John gives us the good news. We have an advocate with the Father. And it isn’t some phantom, spirit person or ghost. It is a real, flesh and blood, human being, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. He is one who has lived as we live. He is one who faced death as we will. He is one who promises a promise based in his victory over death. He is one who promises forgiveness through his real life, death and resurrection. A promise of life without the threats of eternal punishment. A promise of fellowship with God, the Father. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 2172). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.