Saturday, April 22, 2006

Second Sunday After Easter, John 20:19-23, April 23, 2006

Second Sunday after Easter 2006
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (John 20:19-23, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
“Peace be with you.” It was the normal greeting that people shared with one another.  It was the everyday “hello” and “goodbye” the people spoke to one another without even thinking about what it meant.  Like we say, “How are you?” not really wanting to know.  But on the evening of that day that first day of the week, the first Sunday after the crucifixion, the first one after the disciples had heard the incredible, unbelievable news that Jesus had risen from the dead.  It was so much more than just that kind of simple greeting.  Those words coming from the lips of Jesus was everything to those men huddled together in the darkened upper room.
They were afraid of the Jews, the text says, and with good reason because the Jews that they were afraid of had the ear of the Romans.  After all they were able to convince the Romans to crucify an innocent man.  And the Romans never just stopped with the leader of a group they considered dangerous.  The fear the disciples felt was real, and overwhelming.  The Romans used crucifixion as a means of terror.  “Don’t do what this guy did or the same will happen to you.” Suffering men and women on crosses made great billboards for the will and power of Rome.  The disciples cowering in fear knew that first hand.  And they also knew by example what the Jews who hated Jesus were capable of doing.  They were afraid of the might be planned for them.  And so they locked the doors and hid.
But, there might be more to their fear than just the fear of being crucified like Jesus.  You see there was the betrayal to deal with.  When Jesus had needed them most they all fled like scared rabbits.  The one brief moment of defiance, the cutting off of a servant’s ear, was a lame excuse for a stand.  When it mattered most they didn’t say or do anything.  And Peter had the added pain of a public denial, “I don’t know the man!” he said with curses.  Even though Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, they were all guilty of betrayal in one degree or another.  And now… John and Peter had seen the grave empty.  Mary claimed to see Jesus alive.  It was difficult to believe.  But even more, don’t you think that they were afraid to face Jesus alive, because they had all failed him when He faced death.  
So there they were afraid in the upper room behind lock and key.  Their ears pursed for marching footsteps.  And they were afraid Jesus would come to visit them.
Jesus did come.  He stood among them appearing without the door even opening.  The disciples must have fled to the corners of the room wanting to escape the deserved wrath of God.  He would surely be angry at their betrayal and their denial.  Their sin was obvious and their punishment totally deserved.  But, Jesus did the unexpected.  “Peace be with you.”
That day, that greeting wasn’t the normal “hello” greeting between people.  It was in fact very abnormal and especially what the disciples weren’t expecting.  Of course there were doubts about the resurrection itself, but more so the doubts that Jesus could forgive them for their sin.  In their minds their sins were great, they’re denial complete.  They could have no part in Jesus anymore.  But Jesus shattered all their fears when he spoke to them “Peace.”
Peace.  To the disciples it meant more than the simple word peace means to us.  In Hebrew the word is Shalom.  Shalom is not just an absence of war.  Shalom is a word about relationships.  It speaks of wholeness, unity, and restoration.  It speaks of completeness, satisfaction, and safety.  In that one word Jesus spoke to all the fears of the men he stood before that day.  They had broken their relationship with him, they had denied and betrayed him.  They had forsaken him and left him for dead (they weren’t even there when his body was buried!).  But Jesus restored them, in a word.  “No matter what you have done, no matter how evil your thoughts, no matter how selfish, all is well, we are at peace.” It was good news for the disciples, in fact, the best news they had ever heard.  Jesus forgave them and restored his relationship to them.  They knew what they deserved from God for their betrayal.  They deserved the painful death that Jesus died.  They deserved the death that would have been theirs if they had not run in fear.  But in spite of what deserved, they were forgiven.  
Are you at peace with God? Maybe you don’t even remember being at war.  “I’m not as bad as other people are.  I go to church.  I give plenty of money.  I haven’t betrayed Jesus like Judas did.” If you think that you’d have done better in the garden than disciples did when they were faced with death or Jesus, I think you are deceiving yourself.  But the question isn’t really weather you are better than other people, the question is; are you good enough to live up to God’s standards? God doesn’t just require our best effort, either.  “I did the best I could do,” isn’t a defense for sin.  
And there is sin in your life.  There is sin in my life too.  No matter how perfect you try to be you know your failures.  “Honey did you forget to take out the trash again?” Your wife repeats with a little sharpness in her voice.  You didn’t really forget you were just watching the game, and you put it out of your head.  “You know better than that!” Your mother scolds.  “I don’t want to see you do that again.” “Dave, that proposal isn’t what I asked for at all.  Didn’t you listen to what I said?” “Weren’t you at the meeting?” “Do I have to check over everything you do?”  We fall short of our expectations all the time.  These are the experiences of sin in our lives.  We can’t help it.  We try.  But we fail.  
“Well, at least I don’t betray him, like the disciples did.” You say.  “Well, I just don’t know about all this living together stuff.” You neighbor asks.  “Things are different now then they used to be.  As long as they love each I guess it is ok.”  And you keep silent not wanting to cause a stir.  “All religions are the same,” you hear, “as long as we are sincere in what we believe.”  And the chance to witness to Jesus as the only Savior from sin slips away as you hold your tongue.  For fear of rejection, or ridicule, or loss of reputation, or even loss of friendship we don’t speak up when we should. At least the disciples were afraid of death.  What’s our excuse? We have none.
But again, we don’t have to deny Jesus or the truth of God’s Word to deserve death, all sin is a betrayal of God and his will for our lives.  If you doubt that, just look at what sin leaves in its wake.  Broken homes leave devastated children, parents don’t get divorced families do.  Unchecked anger leads to violence.  Lies lead to more lies and distrust.  Alcohol abuse brings death.  None of these things are what God wants for his human creatures.  It is very much like the destruction of a war.  All of it is the result of the denial of God.  All of it is the result of sin.  All of this is found right in your heart.  If you examine yourself with an unbiased eye you see it clearly.  You excuse it, minimize it, confine it to the back of your mind, but you know it’s there.  
“Peace be with you.” Jesus says.  And he is talking to you, “poor miserable sinners” all.  You who have sinned against him in “though, word, and deed, by what you have done, and what you have left undone.” “Peace be with you.” Jesus says.  “No matter what you have done, no matter how evil your thoughts, no matter how selfish, no matter how often you’ve fallen short of expectations, all is well, we are at peace.” That is the very reason Jesus walked the earth, to bring peace to you.  That is the very reason Jesus suffered the shame and scorn of the cross, to bring peace to you.  That is the very reason Jesus died the death that you deserved for denying him, to bring peace to you.  And most of all, that is the very reason Jesus Christ rose from the dead, to bring peace to you.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [Jesus] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before [God].  (Col 1:21-22 ESV) He has restored your relationship with God.  Peace is now where there once was hostility.  Punishment that was deserved has now been paid.  You are at peace with God.
What does it mean to be at peace with God? It means that no matter what, whenever you fail you have a place to go to find peace.  Whenever you find yourself cowering in the darkness for fear of the consequences of sin you can run to him instead.  Life can be hard when we fail.  But God gives peace even in the middle of the darkness of consequences.  Whenever you have hurt someone you can find the strength to make peace because God gives you peace. God first restores your relationship with him.  The peace he gives you is what you need restore your broken relationships.  God’s peace even covers our fear of speaking the truth in the face of charges of being intolerant.  God’s peace, the peace that Jesus pronounced to the disciples so long ago is for you, and your life every day.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “you are forgiven.” How often do you need to hear it? Me, I need it lots, because I am still a sinful and weak person.  I need to hear it hear every Sunday, in the words of forgiveness spoken for Jesus.  I need to hear it in the Lord’s Supper as often as it is available, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” I need to hear it from my family whenever I’ve hurt them.  And I need to hear it from you when I fail to live up to the responsibility of being your pastor.  
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “you are forgiven.” I want you to hear it often, because I know that you need to hear it too.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 15:19-28
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Death, the enemy defeated!
Grace and peace to you from our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
P: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Alleluia! It's Easter... It's the biggest church festival of the year. We get out the best! We pack the chancel with flowers, we pull out these beautiful banners, put on the white and gold paraments, of all the colors of the church year we use these the least, some churches have a set of Gold ones that they put out for only today. This is a day when we want to fill this church, this building, with as much sound as possible. We want it to spill out the windows and doors, we want it to be heard all the way to Sioux Falls... it's a day filled with Joy! Just look at the hymns we are singing today, have you ever counted the exclamation points in the Easter section of the hymnal, it seems like there is a few on every page. You have to admit... even a stranger would have to admit we make a big deal out of today.
So, what's the "big deal" all about? Of course today we celebrate The Resurrection. The day Jesus came out of the tomb alive again. The day the women came to the tomb and didn't find what they expected. Instead of a body... they found an angel sitting there. Really... what we are talking about here today is... the biggest issue that faces anyone. Really the big issue, the important issue... is death.
Well, Paul doesn't mince words... he calls death the enemy. “The last and most important enemy.” And it is a powerful enemy. It isn't what God intended for his creation. He made us to live forever. He made this earth to provide forever. In one of my favorite Pauline passages he describe the earth - the whole creation - groaning under the burden of the decay caused by sin. And the ultimate expression of that decay is death. It steals away what God created... young children, old men, mothers and fathers... it destroys relationships... husbands mourn their dead wives, parents mourn their dead children... it strikes fear in the heart of even the bravest warrior. Death is the enemy. It's an enemy that is out there... looking... for you!
Well, we don't like to think about that do we... especially on this day. There’s no better way to ruin a good party, then by talking about death. We even go out of our way to avoid it. When you drive by a cemetery do you look to the other side of the road? If I look away I won’t have to think about it. Isn't there and old traveling game when you pass a cemetery hold your breath until your past? The common thing today, you see it in movies, they talk about it on talk shows... the thing that's used to make death seem almost palatable is this... death is just the natural end of life... it's just the cycle that keeps things running... the renewing process of the earth. Dead things make food and room for the next generation. Well, my friends that just isn't the picture we get in the Bible at all. Death is not our friend. Death is not the natural expression of life. Death is the natural expression of... sin. Sin is against God. Sin destroys what God creates. God hates sin... and God even more than that God hates death.
It's important not to buy into the lie that death is a good thing. It's important not only because the bible says it, but also because it really takes away the importance of what Jesus did. Almost no other biblical idea is more under attack today than this one. You can see it in any television program. Handicapped people plead to be killed, because death is better than living in pain or being debilitated. Jack Kavorkian is held up as a hero who relieves people's suffering. It's better to kill babies then let them be brought up in homes where they aren't wanted. If death is portrayed as a friend; dear Christians; if death is natural... if death is friendly... then the death of Jesus is just another natural thing, another natural end to a natural life. But as surely as I am standing here before right now; the death of Jesus Christ, true-man true-God, was the most unnatural occurrence that has ever happened in all of human history.
Well, so if that's really what today is all about, if we're really here today to talk about death... what are all the Alleluias for? If death is the topic of the day why so... well... joyful? Well... it's because the Resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. Jesus resurrection is victory. It's victory over the enemy... victory over the strongest enemy. The enemy that swallows up everyone... is swallowed up itself. The Apostle shouted it in his letter to the Corinthians. "Death is swallowed up in victory! Where, O death, is your victory?" he says almost mockingly. Death has no victory with Christ. It's gone because Jesus Christ won victory by rising from the dead. And even more important... Jesus victory over death is ours. It's already true right now for you. That's what that wooden box there is all about. When you were brought to that font, when water is poured on you, when the word is spoken over you... there was a death. It is God's promise that when all of that happened to you there, you are united to Christ in his death. That means you are also united to him in his resurrection. So Christ's resurrection is your resurrection! "...don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (Rom 6:3-5 NIV)
So when we shout "Christ is risen!" We are shouting out a promise. “Bill” is risen! John is risen! _____ is Risen! Mason is Risen!! Alleluia! We say in the creed, "I believe in the resurrection of the dead." We believe that we will be raised. God sets things back to the way he intended them to be. He makes it so that human beings can live forever! When we say "I believe..." we are talking about ourselves. I believe in my own resurrection because of Jesus. And we are talking about all those who have gone before us (and after us) in faith. Our parents, our friends, our children... all those who have faith in Jesus Christ will be raised again to live forever.
Not only that, but the enemy is no longer a fearful enemy. Not only has Christ's death taken away its power, it has changed death forever. Now death becomes the beginning of a new life. For Christians, even though death isn't quite a victory for us, it is an end to the troubles and pain of this world. Even though we hate death (and we should hate it) we can rejoice when a Christian dies. Especially when death brings an end to suffering. We don't rejoice in death. We don’t rejoice in the consequences of sin. We rejoice in the victory Jesus has won. We rejoice in the victory he gives to us through Baptism. When we die it isn't the end. It isn't the last word. The last word is Jesus; Jesus whose resurrection guarantees our resurrection; Jesus who will come again and raise all the dead to life; life that goes on for ever and ever.
It's Easter. What's all the shouting about? The shouting is a victory yell. Death has been undone. Death is powerless over us. Death has met its match in Jesus Christ. And the shouting is about resurrection. Alleluia! Jesus is risen from the dead. Alleluia! Jesus resurrection is yours. Amen.
P: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
C: He is risen, Indeed, Alleluia!
The peace of God which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the risen Christ. Amen.

Sunrise Service - Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
April 16, 2006
St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-26
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Easter Sunday at last! We begin with and repeat that wonderful Easter greeting. We gather at the point of the sunrise. We dress in bright clothing... fill the church with flowers... plan to be with family... and repeat the Easter greeting again... Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Today is the easiest theme to figure out. It's Joy! Even at 6:30 in the morning. And we have this great text today, one that we are very familiar with. It's one of my favorite Easter songs (it's not even really and Easter song!) We sing in that Hymn “I know that my redeemer lives!” That's the same thing when we say when we say Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Now the really amazing thing about those words is they weren't first spoken on Easter. They were spoken under very much different circumstances. They come from the middle of the book of Job. Now you remember Job. He's the guy that lost everything. Satan went to God and asked. “Hey, have you seen that guy Job down there?” God answered that He had. “Well, he's doing pretty well isn't he? He's a great guy doing everything right, huh?” God agreed. “He wouldn't be so high and mighty if he weren't so rich. If he had some trouble in his life he'd be first in line to tell You to take a flying leap.” God listened. “I've got a deal for you,” Satan continued, “you let me take away some of that stuff and we'll just see how good he really is.” God allowed it. “Only,” God commanded, “don't touch him.” And so the accuser did just as God said. And in a matter of a few moments Job lost everything, one of his servants came to tell him that his oxen and donkeys had been stolen by marauding hordes and his servants were all killed. Before he even finished speaking another breathless servant came and reported the same for his camels. Before he was finished another came with the worst news yet. His children were all killed by a freak twister. But even in the face of all that loss, Job's faith didn't waver. He blessed God in spite of all that had happened to him. Now Satan wasn't satisfied so he went back to God. “Well?” God asked. “That's nothing.” the devil replied. “He's still got his health. If you took that away he'd crumble into a pile of doubt and despair.” “Ok,” God answered. “But don't kill him.” And so Satan let him have it. Job was covered with sores from head to foot. He was miserable. He itched so mercilessly that he had to use pieces of broken pottery to find relief. And still Job didn't give up. When his wife told him to curse God and die, he refused. When his friends said he must have insulted God do deserve such punishment, Job didn't budge. He insisted that he was clean. Now collectively we know all about this kind of stuff. It happens to us all the time. Our hearts ache when we lose loved ones to death. Our lives loose meaning when we can't work anymore. Moving away from home for the first time is an adventure but the broken home ties are hard to live with. The possibility of failure in school seems to loom over our heads all the time. Sickness makes it impossible to do what we want to do. Anytime we set out to start anything we know full well we may not finish. The shadow of death covers everything we do. So we understand what Job was going through. Well, at least a part of it. It just that he got it all at once. Most of the time we just aren't as patent a Job. I know that I am not. In fact, there are times when I fell like curling up in a little ball in the closet. You've been there, too. You've felt a bit of what Job felt. Wondering why God allowed all this to happen. The answer? I don't know. Job never knew either. He had doubts, too. He asked God to tell him what he'd done to deserve all this trouble. God didn't answer. Job's wife and friends gathered around him and spoke what they thought was comfort and instead made things worse.
And that brings us to these two verses that Job speaks. Out of the depth of his despair, when there was nothing left to hang on to, Job gives us a glimpse of what's in his heart. And that glimpse is a glimpse of faith. It is such a powerful confession of faith that it has inspired God's faithful people for generations. Yet it is a very simple confession too. I know that my Redeemer lives. What a line packed with meaning. There in the ashes of his life, Job proclaims that God will deliver him. God himself with save him. You see, that word Redeemer is packed full of meaning. He was using a specific word there that referenced a member of your family who would come to your rescue when you were in trouble. Your Kinsman-Redeemer was to speak up for you in court should you need a defense. If you lost your land, your Kinsman-Redeemer was required to buy it back to keep it in the family. If you lost you freedom to slavery your Kinsman-Redeemer was required to buy you back. If you lost your life, your Kinsman-Redeemer was required to marry your wife and have your children to carry on your name. Now Job had lost everything. He had no relatives left to act as Kinsman-Redeemer. And yet he says that his redeemer lives. Besides when God is the one whose allowed all the trouble you have to come into your life who can speak in your defense to God except God himself.
Do you see the remarkable thing that Job is saying here. The flesh and blood man, Job, is declaring that he believes God will come to his defense as a flesh and blood relative... a kinsman. One like himself. He will see him, Job goes on. my eyes will behold him... with these very eyes he says. A real, physical Savior to redeem him from the trouble that God has caused him. One to stand in his defense in God's courtroom. Satan may accuse Job of being a phony, but Job believe God will come in person to his defense. What a statement of faith. God did restore everything to Job. But the words that Job spoke don't really come to a complete meaning until a few thousand years later.
I know that my Redeemer Lives! That's what we are talking about today. That's why all the joy. We've got problems everyday, they don't go away just because we have a spring holiday. Sin darkens our lives from the inside out. In spite of how we think about ourselves our troubles are really self inflicted. We live broken lives that hurt those we love the most. Sickness lurks around every corner as a reminder that our real enemy is coming for us very soon. Death has our number. No matter how good we think we are we all face the reality of lying in a grave. Life's end is sooner than we think, and it seems so permanent from our perspective. We need a Kinsman-Redeemer. One who can do something about the trouble in our lives. One who can take care of that great trouble that we face. Someone who can take the sting out of death. We need the Kinsman-Redeemer Job was talking about. We need God-in-the-flesh to take care of a God sized problem. We need God-in-the-flesh to destroy death for us.
And so He did. Not so long ago we marveled at a God-in-the-flesh wiggling infant in a manger. It's easy to forget, as we stare in wonder, that He was born for a purpose. And that purpose was to die. But still Jesus was born God in human form. He's Job's Kinsman-Redeemer. He's our Kinsman-Redeemer, one of us, our relative, flesh and blood, a whole complete human being... yet more than human, God also. He stood on the earth, just as Job said he would. He walked on it. He slept on it. And He bled and died on it. That's the Kinsman-Redeemer part. Jesus stood before the authorities and faced the death penalty. In fact He stood before God and faced the sin penalty. He pleaded our case in this way, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” “I'll take it instead.” And He did. On the cross He carried the very heavy load of our sin. His death in place of ours.
I know that my redeemer lives! Here's the most important part. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! He's not still dead. His lifeless body lying in the grave didn't stay there. He died our death and He rises our resurrection, too! He's bigger than death. He's a Kinsman-Redeemer like no other. One who can do whatever He wants. And what He wants is described by Job very clearly.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Jesus didn't die for Himself. He died for us. He didn't rise from the dead for Himself either. He rose for us. That's what Job was talking about. Seeing God, in the flesh, in a resurrected body. New and clean and fresh without the trouble that comes with our sinful lives.
At the second service today, we'll talk about our connection to this great victory over death. We'll start it all out by speaking God's Word written by St. Paul. (Words which, by the way, we begin every funeral.)
Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him, through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have new life. If we have been united with Him in His death, We will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection.
I know that my redeemer lives! And He promises that even though I will die, He will raise me to new life again. And in Job's words, I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. When we are raised from the dead and stand face to face with our Crucified and Risen Lord, all our earthly troubles will melt away into nothingness. These problems that cause us so much trouble now will seem as if they are nothing. You see, all that stuff that we think is so important doesn't really mean a thing, compared to the Redeeming Love of our Kinsman-Redeemer Jesus. The love that caused him to suffer and die for our sin. And a love that is so great that he rose again from our grave to live and breath again. And He lives right now. I know that my redeemer lives! Right now he's alive. Right now he's speaking about me to God the father, defending me. Forgiving my sins... Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 2, 2006

Lent 5, April 2, 2006
St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, that's an interesting reading isn't it. It talks about Jesus the source of salvation for all who obey him. So I guess all we have to do to be saved is obey him. Well that shouldn't be too hard for us. After all we are here today aren't we. It's those out there who aren't keeping the commandments that have the problem. We do pretty well, I think. We park here on Sunday, we pay our dues to keep the church up and running. When something needs to be done here in this building we do it. That sounds exactly like that reading, doesn't it. We obey Jesus so we can be saved right? That's pretty good news, isn't it.
Let's look at the ten commandments. I'll bet we can find that we keep each one pretty well. Well mostly anyway. You shall have no other Gods before me. You haven't got a shrine to Vishna set up in your garden do you ____? You haven't sacrificed any of your children to Molech lately have you ____? Right? Good. I think we got that one in the bag. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Right. Well, that's pretty easy to keep. Just gotta bite my tongue when the hammer hits my finger. I can do that... I think. Remember the Sabbath day... Check. church, as I said, commandment kept. Not too bad off in the obey category are we. Out of these first three I think we can say we keep them most of the time. We obey. Right. And this passage says that Jesus is the source of salvation for those who obey. Let's go on. Honor your father and mother. Ok, that one can be tricky sometimes but you gotta admit we usually do the right thing by them when we get older. You shall not kill. Well, it's a good thing pheasants and deer don't count but only people. I haven't shot my spouse in the back. No problem with this one. You shall not commit adultery. The older you get the easier this one is. After all older folks never think about sex. God's gotta be pretty happy with us on this one, isn't he? How many of you out there have been married more than 10 years? 20? 30? 40? Yeah! Good job. We've really got that commandment handled. You shall not steal. The police haven't been at my door for theft. None of you've knocked off the corner pantry, yet right? ...Bearing false witness. That means we don't lie. You haven't told any big ones lately have you? The little white ones are called “white” for a reason. Lies have to hurt someone before they count don't they? And finally those last two. You shall not covet.... I'm not exactly sure what coveting means, but I do know my neighbor doesn't deserve half the stuff that he's got. He never worked a hard day's work in his life. I'd be so much happier if some of his junk was mine. Nothing wrong with that. Since I deserve it. So that's the ten. And on the whole I'd have to say that when the scales of justice are set out with the good stuff we do on the one hand and the few little problems we have the “the Ten” we do pretty well. And even if there's a few things on the down side we're sure a far sight better than lots of folks are. Especially those who never darken the door of a church. So we're in like flint. Jesus gives us salvation because we obey. Right? Well isn't that what the passage says?
Maybe we'd better take a closer look at what Jesus says. Look here in Matthew 5:19-20
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I don't like the sound of that.... and listen to this!
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
That can't be good. I may not have killed anyone, but I think I was mad this morning trying to get my family out the door to church.
I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Ouch! That's pretty strict isn't it? Who can keep that commandment. You'd have to be dead! And look , Jesus goes on here pretty extensively. And none of it sounds good at all. Divorce... breaking promises... payback... Jesus hits them all, or should I say hit me and you with them right between the eyes. And then he caps it all of with this zinger.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Did you hear that? Perfect! If we expect Jesus give us salvation because we've obeyed him, we have to be perfect. Well, that's not going to happen. I'll never be perfect. You'll never be perfect. No one is perfect... not your grandparents, not your parents, not your children. So where does that leave us when we hear a passage like this one. [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. That's not good news at all, in fact, it's terrible news, there's no way we can be saved that way.
But that's what it says, isn't it? Well... maybe not. Let's look again.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications... he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
...he became the source of eternal salvation. It's not that he gives eternal salvation only to those who obey him. That's just what we think. That's what we want it to be. We'd rather paddle our own canoe. We'd rather have something to do with our salvation. We want to get some of the credit for saving ourselves. We'd rather be our own source of power. Instead it says that Jesus is the source. That means that salvation comes from him. He is the source. He obeyed the Father perfectly. All those little ways we talked about how we break the commandments? Not Him! Ever. He earned salvation perfectly. When Jesus says You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. He's talking about something that only he can do, something only he did! That's why He is the source! You get everything you need for salvation from him.
Just think about the parable of the sheep and the goats. Remember, Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. And then he tells the sheep of all the great stuff God counts to their credit.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
And how do they react? “When? We didn't know we did that stuff for you?” St. Paul answers the question.
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 3:26-27, ESV)
Perfect Jesus is the source of all your good works. When you were baptized he was put on you. You were given his perfect life. He fed the hungry. He clothed the naked. He visited strangers. He is the source of all of your good works. It's a gift from him through the work of the Holy Spirit given to you when the name of God was spoken over you in Baptism. And the Holy Spirit through that Word of God gave you faith.
And what's more, now the stuff you do every day God actually sees as good works. That's because the sin that tags along with everything we do is taken away by Jesus. You know what I'm talking about. We haven't killed anyone but we certainly have been angry with them. We haven't had an affair with our neighbor's wife but... yea you know. So he gives you his good and perfect life, so that in God's eyes you can be perfect, and then he takes the sin that dirties up everything you do and he kills it. He kills it on the cross.
Here we are right back to the cross again. It just seems like we can't have a single day in church with out ending up here. And that's good. Because here is where Jesus finished all that he needed to do to be the source of your salvation. Here is where he perfectly completed what God asked him to do. Here is were we see that he not only fed and clothed and watered people who needed it but gave his very life for them. He went above and beyond the call of duty... for you. He is the source of your eternal salvation.
And... he's the source of your good works. Since your sin is nailed to that cross the normal stuff you do every day, taking care of your kids, paying the bills, cheering up a friend who is down in the dumps, making an extra straight furrow in the field, etc... all of it is good stuff, counted by God as obeying Him.
Hey, the bible passage is right! We do obey, and Jesus is the source of our salvation. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Families Under the Cross - Growing In Faith Together

Deut. 11:16-21, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Luke 10:38-42
From a Sermon by Rev. Robert Mann
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God created human beings to grow. We all grow. How many of you are the same size you were when you were born? Some of you may wish that you were a few sizes smaller. Well, our waistline aside, that's the way God created human beings. We grow. We grow in body. We grow in mind. We grow in spirit. We know that our bodies need food to keep growing. We know that our mind needs education to keep growing. We should also know that our spirit needs it's nourishment, too. The good thing is, compared to the rest of the world, food for us is cheap and education is provided for everyone. And even more wonderfully than all that God has given us this wonderful place to come and receive all the food we need for our spiritual growth. He provides His Word that nourishes us through our ears, and the Lord's Supper, that nourishes us through our mouths. Here as we gather in the name of Our Lord, He provides what we need to have to grow in our spirit. That's why we talk about getting the kids in church, because this is where God makes and keeps is promises that we will grow in spirit as families under the cross.
This idea of growing together in faith is what the readings tonight are all focused on. Teach them [these words] to your children. (Deut 11) continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed (2 Tim 2) Mary sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching... They are all examples of what we are talking about tonight. Growing together in faith.
In His Word, God tells us that it is necessary for our faith to grow. St. Peter says it very clearly, But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV) It's a challenge to do that in our church family, isn't it. We don't always feel like we are growing in faith together. We might be growing in conflict. We might be growing in busy-ness. We might be growing in being apart. That doesn't seem to leave much time for growing together in faith, does it?
Think about the account that St. Luke brings us, Mary, sitting listening to Jesus and Martha working hard to prepare the meal. Jesus complements Mary and chastises Martha. But how often have we sided with Martha. She's getting done what needs to be done. She's preparing the meal that everyone needs, she's cleaning the church, and taking care of the parsonage. These things need to be done. The school has to be supported. My kids activities are essential to their being able to get on and out of here when they graduate from school. Someone has to be responsible. It's easy to think that Jesus is a little bit hard on Martha. Maybe He just doesn't really understand what needs to be done. After all, things are a lot different then they were when Jesus was around. We just don't have the time to sit at Jesus feet anymore. Martha's hard work is more like what we are doing. When we were growing up church was a priority. Parents didn't have to tell their kids to go to church, everyone knew it was expected. Now school activities have us burning the candle at more than both ends. We've got to keep the community things going and other folks don't seem to be interested. I'm not sure Jesus understands what kind of a life we are leading. Home time is scarce. Dinner at the family table just doesn't happen much anymore. When our days end late, it's very hard to find the time to do anything with our families, let alone devotions and prayer. We just want to collapse in front of the TV or in bed.
And talk about the stuff that's out there that we are exposed to. Parents and grandparents today have got a lot more worries than in the old days. Computers and television might be good in themselves but what about what they tell us, day in and day out. MTV is very good at its goal of influencing an new generation. It's easy just to throw up our hands and say it's useless. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the negative aspects of the culture around us. Not to mention that not just our children are effected. It doesn't take very long to hear people you grew up with saying things like, “Well we all believe the same things, now don't we. Now that's your truth. That may be true for you but it's not true for me. Jesus is your way to heaven, I have my own way.” You don't have to go very far to find Christians who try to reconcile creation and evolution, by throwing out what the bible clearly says is true and trying to reconcile millions of years into six days. And then we hear St. Peter's admonition, and Paul's command, and Moses speaking it very clearly. And we just want to ask... “How are we supposed to do that!”
It's a challenge today for Families Under the Cross to grow together in Faith. But God's Word tells us how it can happen, and how it does happen.
"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Moses words here are talking about what happens every day, in every life. As we leave the house, when we return, when we are sitting in front of the television, when we are traveling to school and work. It is our job, not just as parents, but as grandparents, brothers, sisters, and children to talk about God's Word; to apply it to what's happening around us all the time. Everyday life happens, God's Word fits in right where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.
All God is telling us is that everything we do teaches... and not just our children and grandchildren are watching us. If we act one way in church and a different way at home, people around us, especially children, see it and they learn. If we talk one way to the pastor and another way to our neighbor it teaches something else. If we tell people they should go to church and give the idea (by word or actions) that they should do it as something they owe to God, or something that they owe to us we've been setting the wrong example. We shouldn't expect people to have a good opinion about our church when what we talk about all the time is the problems that we've had here. One wise old pastor asked, “Who do you expect to say good things about your church? People who go to other churches? If you don't, no one will.” And we don't teach what we believe when we refuse to forgive people who have hurt us. That speaks more volumes about what we believe than what we say. People around us, especially our children, know what the Lord's Prayer says and they know what it means. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We show that we believe in Christ's forgiveness for us when we give it away, especially to those who hurt us, even those who don't deserve it.
Setting examples of faith in every day life, isn't easy. There is so much going on that pushes us in the opposite direction. But we can't blame it all out the influence of the culture. Our biggest problems in not being a good example to our families comes from inside. No matter how hard we try we will always fall short of God expectation for life in our families. We're always going to get caught not “living up” to what we confess and believe. We're going to miss lots of perfectly teachable moments. And how many of us are guilty of telling ourselves it's someone else's job to do not mine. “If the parents won't bring the kids to church, I can't do anything about that.” Well, that's that old ugly evil inside of all of us poking his fingers into our lives. That's sin making its presence felt again. That's the thing that threatens to push all of us away from God completely. In spite of how much we want our sinful nature to be gone, it's a struggle we'll have every day of our lives. That's what growing in faith is all about. When we hear God's Word preached as is should be our sinful nature is hit with the law, again. We learn, again, about how helpless we are to help ourselves. And we also hear of God's great rescue for us. When we sit at Jesus feet, He tells us of His great love for us. We see our sin clearly, and we see the cross clearly too. When St. Paul says we have been crucified with Christ, he's talking about our sinful nature. Jesus has put it to death in His death. Sin doesn't hold the power in our lives, Jesus does. St. Paul was talking about this when he said that Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Growing in Faith means seeing Jesus on the cross as the only answer to our sin. Growing in faith together means gathering as families, and as a church family at the foot of the cross to receive the forgiveness that God gives through faith in Jesus, on the cross. Our faith won't grow unless it is fed by God's promise of forgiveness and life through Jesus. When we hear those promises in His Word we are made wise, we grow together in faith.
It's God's Word that tells us that we can and do receive forgiveness for our sins and failures. Especially those sins that effect our family, both our church family and our home family. Jesus died on the cross to forgive you for the lousy example you set. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sin of staying away from church, and not taking advantage of the opportunities to study His Word. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sin of not saying good things about this church. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sin of letting the negative things in our culture stand without saying that that's not how God would have us live. That's what living under the cross means, being forgiven when we sin, forgiven when we fail, forgiven because of Jesus death on the cross for us. Through Jesus, God accepts us just as we are, sins and all, saint and sinner. He takes those sins and washes them away in the water of Baptism.
When we hear about our sin and our Savior in this way it makes us want to hear more... and that's exactly what growing in faith is. When we know what Jesus has done for us, and how great His forgiveness is, we what other people to know it, too. There is no greater joy than pointing people to Jesus and telling them that He hung on the cross to take away their sin. There is no greater joy than to point children to Jesus as their Savior and Friend. That's what Families Under the Cross do, too. As we live out our everyday lives, as “life happens” all around us we have chances to point each other to Jesus. We we take the time to sit at Jesus feet in here we see how His cross makes a difference out there. When the TV offers us one way to live that challenges what God's Word says, we can point to it and say, “What do you think God would say about that?” When the computer brings that not-so-good stuff into our homes we can challenge it together because we have God's Word close to our hearts. When the culture tells you and your family that God's ways are “old fashioned” and even offensive, we can support each other with the wisdom of living by God's Word, instead. And most importantly, when we do cave in to any of it (and we all do at one time or another), we are equipped in our families through growing together in God's Word, to offer God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Living in the forgiveness of Christ as Families Under the Cross makes it possible us to pick up the pieces and go on.
That's what Growing together under the cross brings. It's not that when we go to church life is going to be easier. I don't expect the cultural pressure is going to get any less. I don't expect God is going to make the earth rotate slower so we can have more time at home or even more time studying His Word. And Satan is working full time to find new ways to wreck peoples lives. He's going to find new ways to influence our children and try turn them away from Jesus. That's why we need to continue to take every opportunity we have to hear the Good News of Jesus' forgiveness. That's why we need to hold each other accountable for bringing the children back to church. Because that where we get the nourishment our spirit needs to grow. When we grow together in faith, through God's Word we are equipped to live life in this world, as Families Under the Cross. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.