Saturday, May 31, 2014

1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11; Seventh Sunday after Easter; June 1, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11 ESV)

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

Today’s sermon is about the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But deliver us from evil. This text from St. Peter’s letter talks about just that. Turn to your hymnal on page 303. Go about halfway down the page and let’s read it together.

The Seventh Petition

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

Deliver us from evil. I like that part rescue us from every evil of body and soul… Martin Luther just had a way of saying things that rings true. When we pray this prayer, deliver us from evil we are asking a great big things from God, and there is nothing wrong with that, in fact that is exactly what God wants us to do… ask for big things. And there is hardly anything bigger that to be delivered from evil. Now in fact when Jesus gave the prayer to his disciples He said it a bit different. What he said is often lost in translation, although some versions of the Our Father reflect it. He said, deliver us from the Evil one. And that’s how we get from the Lord’s Prayer to our text for today. Deliver us from evil is all about Satan and his work in the world.

St. Peter paints a frightening picture. Satan prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour. He is out there, sneaking around waiting to pounce. Picture in your mind the lion hidden in the tall grass with unsuspecting gazelle grazing peacefully nearby. If the gazelle knew the lion was there it would have found somewhere else to eat. Instead, it eats its last meal without knowing the danger. The cat moves quietly and slowly on padded feet. It is patient even though it is hungry. Every tendon in its body is tense ready for action. Suddenly the gazelle senses something is wrong. It raises its head to look about sniffing the air for a scent of danger. It leans back on its haunches to spring away. Suddenly, out of the shadows of the grass the lion springs into action. Long sharp claws sink into the animals back as the full weight of the great cat brings it to the ground. Then the crushing jaws clamp onto the gazelle’s throat cutting off the oxygen it needs to live. Its death is certain and swift. The cat’s hunger is satisfied.

The warning is to be taken seriously. Satan wants nothing more than to kill you, to devour you, for you to spend eternity in hell. These days it isn’t popular to talk about Satan as a real being. In fact, in our minds we probably don’t even think he’s real. That’s the warning exactly. Satan does his best work in the shadows. He hides behind the actions of people we love. He skulks around whispering thoughts into our ears that sound so reasonable. His lies sound so truthful and reasonable. We want to believe they are true. And he even presents them in such a reasonable manner. “There are many ways to God, as long as you are sincere,” is one of his favorite lines. But it directly contradicts Jesus’ own Words,

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)

That’s Satan sneaking up, hidden by the reasonableness of the tall grass. He is ready to pounce. He wants only to satisfy his own hunger for your death. We graze ever closer to his hunting ground thinking we are safe, thinking that we have nothing to fear, until he sinks his claws into us and suffocates the life out of us with his lies. And we are helpless to resist.

In the Large Catechism Luther puts it very plainly.

Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer,3 he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He breaks many a man’s neck and drives others to insanity; some he drowns, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes[1]

And so St. Peter tells us to resist him, firm in faith. He’s telling us that when Satan strikes we have no defense but faith.

But here’s the thing we should come to grips with. Faith isn’t a quality that allows us to stand up to Satan and defeat him. Faith is trust in the promises of God. True faith, doesn’t look inside ourselves for something to use against Satan, for some inner strength to resist. True faith trusts that no matter what happens God is in control, even though Satan seems to be in charge. True faith trusts that no matter what happens God is allowing it for our benefit.

Go back to the first part of the text. He says; don’t be surprised if the fiery trial comes. It comes to test you. It comes to strengthen your faith. It is nothing strange for Christians to suffer.

But often that’s not what we want to hear. We want God, our god, to deliver us from all that we see as all evil. We don’t want to suffer. We want to live our life in comfort, far away from the trouble that other people go through. But this isn’t the faith that Peter is talking about is it? The faith he’s talking about is trusting in God’s promises in spite of what it looks like is happening. St. Peter says it this way in his letter:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

That’s right before he tells us that Satan is out there prowling around to devour us. He’s saying that God uses fiery trials in our lives. And that suffering has a purpose. God will use any means necessary to bring you to the realization that you are helpless to save yourself, even Satan who is out there wanting to destroy you. Humble yourself means the same thing as standing firm in faith. Submit to God’s will. Look for God in the suffering. Look for God in the pain. Look for God to reveal Himself. God shows Himself to you when you are helpless when you are at the point where you can do nothing else but to cast all your anxieties on Him.

How about an example: The example is this: Jesus lying on the ground in the garden of Gethsemane the night He was betrayed praying:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV)

Jesus could have used these words, Deliver us from evil. They say and mean the same thing. And yet Jesus wasn’t delivered from the cross. He suffered there. Satan unfolded all his might to destroy Him. Satan pounced on Jesus and suffocated the life out of Him. He mocked Jesus through the lips of the thieves on the crosses beside Him. He died there. This thing isn’t the great evil that it appears to be. Even though the actions of all those around Jesus, the betrayal, the nailing, the mocking, and the piercing, were all great evil, God allowed them all and made it all our greatest good. Jesus suffering and death there brings new life and salvation to you and me. Satan does his worst to Jesus, but Jesus wins anyway. Death turns to life. Jesus opens the grave and lives again.

The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

At the right hand of God means Jesus rules over all things. He is in control. Jesus Christ has control over even Satan. Satan can only do what God allows him to do. He may attack you, but God turns his attack into your good.

And that brings us full circle back to the beginning of the text.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)

Satan is after you. He wants you dead and suffering in hell for all time. But God is in control. He loves you too much to allow Satan to destroy you. That means that when you suffer at Satan’s hand, God is doing something good in your life. That means that no matter how it looks, no matter how it hurts, when you have to cast your anxieties on Him, you can rejoice. He cares for you. He will deliver you from evil. Amen.

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

3 John 8:44.

[1]Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (435). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

1 Peter 3:18-22; The Sixth Sunday of Easter; May 25, 2014;

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

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV)

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

“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s a saying we’ve probably all learned in school. And we probably all would agree. We’ve seen people in power. We know how they get there. And is seems that the more power someone has the more they want. Worst of all the longer someone stays “in power” the more likely they are to be corrupted by it. The more likely they are to do something self-centered and self-indulgent. We all want power don’t we? Whether it is power to tell our boss that the project that is being done is stupid, or the power to make it rain on our own beans. We’d like the power to change the way our children act, or even the power to bring ‘peace’ to the world. But we know how we use power when we do get it. As someone once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Today we are going to look at God’s power; especially God’s power in Jesus Christ. God’s power is different from the power we are used to. In fact, God’s power looks like weakness to the world.

If there is one thing that we can say about Americans, it’s that we really appreciate power. Just look at our army. It is the most powerful military force ever assembled. We are proud of the men and women who make it what it is. We are proud of their ability to do whatever is needed for our safety. We also appreciate financial power (maybe even more that military power!). Every year we look over the top ten richest people in the world and envy those who are there (probably wanting just a tiny fraction of their wealth!) And there is power in numbers…

King David was a powerful man also. Even though he was surrounded by hostile nations, he became a very powerful king. Even if you don’t remember much about the stories of the bible, you probably remember King David. We usually remember him for his power. The truth of the matter is that David wasn’t chosen to be the king of Israel because he was a powerful man. In fact, he was a lowly shepherd boy. He was the youngest son in a large family with a bunch of stronger older brothers. When the brothers of Jesse lined up to be considered by Samuel, David wasn’t even a contender. God had already chosen David. He was the very unlikely choice, the one no one else would consider. David was the king of Jesse’s Stem.

Jesus Christ is called the “rod of Jesse.” That’s a reminder that He too wasn’t the obvious choice for the Messiah. He wasn’t born the way kings should be born. His family didn’t have any power. Joseph, Jesus stepfather, was a regular blue-collar worker. He didn’t rule with an iron hand from a jewel-encrusted throne. Instead, His reign is from a cross. Instead of the kind of power people expect in a king, Jesus power is shown to us by His suffering and death. Jesus was selected by God for a specific task, just as David was. That’s why we call him the rod of Jesse, instead of the rod of David. Clement of Rome, one of the churches early preachers said it this way:

The scepter of the majesty of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared not with pomp of pride or arrogance, though well he might, but in humility (Clement of Rome, 16.2).

God’s power doesn’t work the way we expect power to work. It doesn’t even work the way we experience power, armies, money, or prestige. God’s power does something the world’s power can never do; it destroyed our greatest enemy, Death.

Worldly power, in reality, doesn’t get us too much that is of any real value. Think about the rogue nations of the world. They strut around showing force trying to project power. What has their show of power really do? Threats of war; People starving because the rulers of the country spend so much on the military. Greater division among the countries of the world. All that show of power doesn’t really gain anything. Worldly power rarely makes things better.

King David learned that lesson the hard way. He let his power go to his head. He thought he was above the law. Even though God said that David was a “man after God’s own heart” David let the temptation of power control him. He used his position to sleep with another man’s wife and then had her husband killed to cover up his sin. David’s heart was stained with sin, just like you and me. There was lots of good that he did as king; he worshipped God faithfully; and built a strong kingdom for his people. But just like any human, power corrupts. Really, in David’s case, just as it would be for any of us, power goes to our hearts when we are able to act on the sin that lives there. David misused even the power given to him by God’s choice, the power given to him for God’s purposes.

Is there anyone who could really use God’s power for only good? It is only God who can do it selflessly. Jesus Christ is the true Key of David. He succeeds where David fails. If we had God’s power, what would we have done with it? There’s a movie called “Bruce Almighty” with Jim Carey. That’s exactly what Bruce finds out when he gets to play God for a time. The power corrupts him. You and I would do the same. We’d take revenge on our enemies. We’d work out things to benefit only ourselves. But that is not Jesus. He even allowed himself to be put to death. We would have called down the angels to save us. But Jesus did not.

He used God’s power perfectly. He used God’s power in peace. He used God’s power in love. That’s why He has now “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God” according to St. Peter. And he goes on to write “angels, authorities, and powers [have] been subjected to Him.” That means that heaven is now open to Him and it is open to us. Every one of us! Jesus is the perfect key of David. He used God’s power to open heaven to us and undo the power of death for us. In his cross, Jesus Christ brings to us the forgiveness we need for sinful use of power.

So we thank God for Jesus Christ; the Rod of Jesse and the Key of David. He used God’s power for us. He defeated death for us and opened up for heaven’s door. Amen.

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

John 14:1-14; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 18, 2014;


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

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:1–14, ESV)

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

In this congregation, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, we talk about Jesus. Some folks may accuse us of being a little bit narrow minded, or narrow focused, that’s okay because we know why we are here. It really is summed up in what Jesus says in our text for today, especially verse six.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV)

Now this text is one of the most beautiful statements of the Good News of Jesus that there is. And what’s more, these words come from Jesus himself. He’s packed a lot in those two little sentences. Unfortunately, these words have been very often misused by Christians.

The Lutheran Church is always been about, [droning voice] in his 26th evening on May 1st, 1885 Rev. Dr. C. F. W. Walther stated in Thesis XV: "In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance." Now it should be noted that this thesis rightly follows Thesis V which was part of his 9th evening lecture of November 21, 1884 during which Dr. Walther stated that the grossest confounding of Law and Gospel occurs when Christ is represented as a new Lawgiver and the Gospel is turned into a doctrine of meritorious works. Got it? Yes? No?

Ok maybe not. Let’s try it another way. Imagine that I have stick… no let’s not imagine let’s look at this stick. This stick is a John 14:6 stick. What does it look like? A sword. See it has a handle, that’s called the hilt, and a blade, and on the blade is written the reference to the bible passage “I am the way the truth and the life…”

Now how would you use this sword? Well, let’s imagine now that you have a whole pen full of chickens, hundreds of them. You job is to get the chickens into the chicken house through a small opening in the side. So you take this sword here and you wave it around at them and try to get them to go in. You can swing the thing at them, and shout the words of John 14:6 at them. You can even beat them with it. Of course, you know what’s going to happen. Chick Run! Mayhem and panic! You’ll chase those chickens around that pen all day with your sword and you’ll never get them to go through the door.

Now this is church, and you know that in church we aren’t worried about chickens. What we’re really talking about is people. We’re not trying to get people into a chicken house, but into the place that God has prepared, an eternal home with God forever. God’s desire is for all people to be with him now and forever. God wants you and me and all those billons of people scattered across our planet to be with Him now in His church, and forever in heaven.

That’s what Jesus is talking about in the text. He says that he is the way to God. He is the way that people like you and me, and all people everywhere can get from here in this sinful, broken world into God’s eternal and prefect world. Our problem is (everyone’s problem is) that we when we are born our relationship with God isn’t a very good one. In fact, according to the bible we are God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). We are born in the sin of our parents. It’s called original sin. Do you remember how we talked about that in class? Original sin is “not living in a perfect relationship with God.” That’s how we are born. Sinful people apart from a relationship with God. Jesus came to earth as a human being to restore our relationship with God. He came to be the Way to God. He 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.

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus talks about it, too. “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the Way were I am going" (John 14:3-4).

You know the way. You have known it for many years. It’s been taught to you over and over again. Our Confirmation students confessed “the Way” publically just last week. Jesus has been the way for you ever since you came to faith in Jesus. God gave you the gift of faith through the work of the Holy Spirit at this font or at another one. And he works through the Word spoken here to keep you in the way. But I want to be very frank with you. God has promised never to leave you. But you can walk away from him very easily. The place where your faith grows is here, in worship. You actually face that very issue every Sunday morning. If this is where your faith grows, you need to be here, every Sunday. It’s hard to get it done. You’ve so much against you. You wouldn’t have to get up early on Sunday of the church. There is an increasing number of Sunday morning activities that seem to be much more important. Society laughs at you for making church important, especially when it’s an “old-fashioned church” like ours. One that tells you what’s right and wrong that contradicts what is being taught in school. Every Sunday you miss, is easier to miss the next. God wants you to be here every Sunday. I want you to be here every Sunday. The voices that tell you not to be here every Sunday, or the voices that tell you that you don’t belong here, are speaking from Satan. He’s the one who wants you in Hell. The Good News is the news you’ve already heard. It’s what you’ve been taught, that Jesus is the only way to the Father, that there is no way to heaven except through Jesus. It’s Good News. Good News for you and for me because we don’t have to worry about what we have to do to get right with God. We don’t have to worry about what we have to do to restore our relationship with Him. God has done it all for us in Jesus. He’s made the way for us already. And through baptism, he made it our way.

Now think about this sword again. You haven’t been chased with this sword, poked and prodded, or forced to believe in Jesus. The way to heaven isn’t through the sword of John 14:6 it isn’t the law to beat you over the head. The way to heaven is the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus. You see if you turn the sword upside down, you’ll see that it’s also a cross. Jesus made the way for you to get to heaven and be with God forever through his death on the cross.

The thing is it’s very easy to get it all turned around again. That’s because there’s a whole world out there that’s trying to tell you exactly the opposite. The minute you step outside these walls, you’re bombarded with the idea that there are many paths to God and that any one is as good as any other. You’ll be told that if you’ll just allow for the idea that there are many valid expressions of faith you can believe anything you want. If you don’t you are unloving and intolerant. And what’s more, you’ll even hear the same thing said in the name of God in churches that claim to be part of the Christian church. “We’ve got to be careful not to offend people.”

The reason is that people don’t want God’s way of salvation. They want to make their own way. One of my Seminary professors once said that the essence of sin is that we want to kill God and take his place. We want to be in control and take the credit for our own achievements. Really, it makes the most sense to us. Our way of thinking about God is the same way we think about every other part of our life. Every day we have to earn our way along in life. It only makes sense that we should have to earn our way to God, too.

God’s Way of salvation goes against everything we think and feel. God’s Way of salvation takes our efforts completely out of the picture. And that’s why it’s such Good News. God’s Way of salvation is the only way that we can be sure. It’s not found in our weak will and our imperfect good works. The Way to God is through Jesus. He had a perfect will. He always did what God the Father asked of Him, even when it meant death on the cross. Jesus whole life was full of perfect good works, too. His relationship with God is perfect, so when he died to take away our sins, He was raised to life again. Because you are a Baptized Child of God, Jesus perfect life, death and resurrection are yours. In other words, you have a perfect relationship with God through Jesus. Did you hear how it’s all God’s work in Jesus? Did you hear how you and I don’t have any part in our salvation? That’s the Good News. That’s the wonderful gift of faith. And that’s the hardest thing for us to accept, and why it’s so important that we hear the Good News over and over again. It goes against our nature.

That’s why God has given us this place to gather. He knows how hard it is for us to hold on. That’s exactly why he gives us his Word that he promise will work in our hearts. That’s why he attaches His Word to water in baptism. He does it so that we can see what it means to have our sins washed away. That’s why Jesus comes to us in his very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. He connects to us through the forgiveness that comes though the same body and blood that hung on the cross for you.

That’s what you’ll promise today. To hold on to Jesus and all that he did for you in faith. It’s just a promise to open up your arms, mouth, and heart and receive the gifts that he gives here. Jesus has already done everything you need. Hold on to him in faith. Amen.

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

John.10.1-10; The Fourth Sunday of Easter; May 11, 2014;

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

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:1–10, ESV)

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

Who’s your shepherd? Maybe that seems like an odd question. But I think it’s a fair one. Who’s your shepherd? We have after all designated a whole Sunday service to the “Good Shepherd.” So when I ask, “who’s your Shepherd,” you may quickly reply, “Well Pastor, that’s obvious, The Lord is my Shepherd! Just end the sermon right now and let’s all go home.” The Lord is my Shepherd, is indeed the answer to the question, but maybe we should think about it just a little bit more before we go home to lunch in the oven.

Who’s your Shepherd? It is an important question. It’s important because the Lord isn’t the only shepherd out there. The Lord seems to have lots of competition, especially these days, especially these very busy days. Maybe even though you say The Lord is my Shepherd, you are really listening to one of the others. Maybe you’re straying from the Good Shepherd’s flock. Maybe one of these competing shepherds, maybe one of those false shepherds, is leading you. In fact, it would be surprising if they didn’t have some influence over your life, because there are a great many false shepherds vying for your attention. They are out there, calling to you, wanting you to follow them. And what’s more they don’t “come through the gate” Jesus says, they climb in some other way. We may not even recognize that they are there.

There is o command ne “shepherd” that is calling out for us to follow, one that’s obvious and overt. He calls out to us 24 hours a day. We, in fact, have invited him in to our homes and our pockets and given him a place of prominence. No other “shepherd” has more influence on us than the daily bombardment of the screen. There’s Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon prime video, over the air television, and cable TV. It isn’t that the technology is evil. It isn’t that we become vegetables by sitting in front of the tube (although that is a real problem). The problem we are talking about this morning is the constant repetition of themes and images that come to fill our thoughts and minds. So many of those messages are in direct contrast to the “paths of righteousness” that the Good Shepherd would lead us on. So much of what this “shepherd” has to say is hidden in and among messages that seem to be so good. No “shepherd” is better at playing on our sympathy than this one. But he comes in the back way. We take him out of our pocket and put him in front of our eyes whenever we have nothing else to do. He deceives us by telling us that what the whole world thinks is more important than what God, the creator of the world, thinks. This shepherd comes to steal away, and to kill you, and you, are a captive audience.

The “Good Shepherd” isn’t like that. As Jesus says, he comes in the gate. He calls out to his sheep, by name. They know him and follow him. The “Good Shepherd” can be trusted and followed. He knows the right way. He leads his sheep on the well-worn paths of righteousness. The path of righteousness is the good way to go. It leads to a fullness of life; a way of life that preserves and protects, instead of kills and destroys. Other “shepherds” don’t lead that way.

There are many “shepherds” also who tell us that the way is wide and easy. They tell us that many roads lead to the same place. It really doesn’t matter which way you choose, as long as you are sincere. Religion, says this “shepherd,” is for personal comfort; for personal growth in times of trouble; or even for personal wealth and happiness. It’s easy to follow this “shepherd,” too. When he calls out to be followed, he only asks that you recognize that “the truth relative” and “what’s true for you isn’t true for everyone.”

But, the “Good Shepherd” isn’t like that. He says there is only one ‘right’ path to follow. “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except by me.” (John 14:6 NIV) There is only one way. The “Good Shepherd” leads in that way. His way leads through the green pastures, and beside the quiet waters, and only the way that he leads ends at the banquet table in the House of God.

There is another shepherd that calls out to you to follow him… and that shepherd has more influence over you than all the others do. He is the shepherd that lurks in your very own heart. He’s the part of you that wants nothing to do with God or the Good Shepherd. He wants to be his own shepherd. He wants to be in control of his own life, and live it his own way. “I can make that decision on my own. I don’t need God’s guidance. God can’t really mean that this thing that feels so good is sinful. I can do what ever I want; the commandments don’t apply to me. Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” Unfortunately, this shepherd can’t be separated from us. He’s a part of our being. And none of us, who are alive, lives without him. It’s perfectly natural for us to want follow him. We call it “looking out for number one,” or “Taking care of myself, first.” But, you see, the sheep can’t lead themselves. The sheep don’t know which way to go. Every sheep is right in his own thinking and the flock gets scattered, then none of them make the journey safely. When we follow ourselves as our shepherd, again the way leads to death.

Again, that isn’t the way of the Good Shepherd. He gathers his sheep together and leads them. He knows the sheep want to go their own way, but he corrects them. He calls out to them to keep the flock together. He walks in front of them to show the way.

There is no picture, no image, which is burned into our minds that is stronger than that of Jesus the Good Shepherd. It’s there in the stained glass window. We find it in countless paintings and multitudes of art. I’ll bet most of you have it somewhere in your home. We can understand this image. That’s probably why the 23rd Psalm is the favorite bible passage of so many people. When Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd we know what he means.

Who’s your shepherd? It isn’t the shepherd that calls to you from your computer screen your pocket, calling you to believe lies. It isn’t the shepherd that tells you there are many paths that all lead to the same place. It isn’t even the shepherd you harbor in your own heart. No, none of these are the Good Shepherd. Your shepherd is the Good Shepherd.

The Lord, Jesus Christ, is your shepherd. You are his sheep. He knows you very well. He calls you by name. He has marked you as his own with the very still waters of baptism.

You shall not want. He supplies you with all that you need for the journey through life. He guides you. He leads you. He protects you.

He makes you lie down in green pastures. He leads you beside still waters. He restores your soul. Sometimes you need to be made to rest. The Good Shepherd knows that too. The pastures that he leads you to are full of green, green grass. There are restful and there are quiet waters there. You are well rested when it’s time for the journey to continue.

He guides you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He guides you in the way of truth. That’s the best way to go. It is the way that makes life full and complete. He does it, not because you are a special sheep, but because he is the “Good Shepherd.”

Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil, for he is with you; the journey is a very dangerous journey. Danger is all around. But there is no reason to fear. The Good Shepherd is with you. In fact, the Good Shepherd has already died for you. Jesus has already walked through the shadow of death, he was crucified, died, and was buried. But, he didn’t stay in the shadow; he walked out the other side and was raised from death to life. He promises to walk with you, to lead you through death, too. You don’t need to be afraid because you will also walk from death to life.

His rod and his staff, they comfort you. Even if you begin stray, even when you begin listen to other shepherds, Your Good Shepherd is there to bring you back. He uses his rod to drive the other shepherds away. He uses his staff to hook you and keep you close to himself, close at hand, where you can listen to him, see him, and follow him.

He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. He anoints your head with oil; your cup overflows. You are his honored guest. Your enemies, those false shepherds, are not able to influence you. The blessings of Your Good Shepherd overflow.

Surely goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life, On this journey, with your Good Shepherd, His goodness and love follow you. They pursue you and make the journey rich and full of wonder.

and you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. When the journey is over, when the destination is reached, it is only the beginning; because your Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is leading you home, to the place that he has prepared for you. There everything you experienced on the journey, the goodness and mercy, the overflowing banquet, the comfort, his presence, and the abundance of his blessings, will never end.

So we come back to the question that we began with, who’s your shepherd? He’s the one you listen to. He’s the one who leads you. He’s Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

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

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Luke.24.13-35; The Third Sunday of Easter; May 4, 2014;


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

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:13–35, ESV)

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

This last week for preschool chapel we talked about this account of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The teachers put a path of footprints from the back of the church winding around all the way up to the front. The whole class followed the footprints and we stopped at several points to talk about Jesus along the way. I think it’s wonderfully amazing how Jesus is so much at the heart and center of this particular text. These two disciples have left Jerusalem, the very place Jesus said he would meet them, and were walking away to Emmaus. They were talking about, “all these things that happened.” That means Jesus death, and the rumors of his resurrection. And Jesus appeared to them. But they didn’t know who he was, because that’s the way Jesus wanted it to be. “What are you talking about? As you’re walking away from Jerusalem.” And the two disciples were dumbfounded that someone would not know what was going on. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know these things that have happened in these days?” The truth is Jesus knows more about what has happened than these disciples. But they are about to find out. “What things?” says Jesus. It’s about one of the most ironic statements in the Bible. “We had high hopes for Jesus of Nazareth. But, he was crucified dead and buried. Some women we know told us that he has risen from the dead. But none of this makes any sense to us.” “Don’t you know your Bible?” Jesus chides. “Doesn’t it say in the prophets that these things are necessary to happen? Doesn’t it say that the Christ should suffer all these things?” Then Jesus conducts a Bible class on the road. Jesus walks through the Bible with his disciples as he walks with them on the road to Emmaus. From beginning to end, he shows them how the Scriptures are all about him. He interprets the texts of God’s word for them, showing how he is the center of it all. They invite him to eat with them. And he reveals to them who he is in the breaking of bread. Just as they see it, Jesus in the Scriptures, Jesus seated with them in their meal, Jesus teaching them on the road to Emmaus, he leaves them that thought. They later told the other disciples that their hearts burned within them while Jesus talked to them on the road. When Jesus told them that he was the center of Scripture the meaning and purpose of the Bible was “opened to them.”

I want to go back to the path of footprints winding around the sanctuary. It was a little journey with Jesus. We would walk for a way, pick up one of the footprints and read about what Jesus was doing or saying. Then move a little further and do it again. Jesus was the center of our little journey. We got up to the front of the church. It was the upper room. We talked about Jesus being the most important thing. We talked about Jesus dying on the cross to forgive our sins.

The Emmaus disciples ran back to the upper room. They couldn’t wait to tell the other disciples that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They wanted to explain how Jesus opened Scriptures to them. They couldn’t wait to explain how Jesus resurrection proves that the main thing Jesus had come to do through his life, death, and resurrection is bring the forgiveness of sins. After all, it was all there in the Scriptures. Just as Jesus appeared to them in the breaking of bread, just as his presence was made clear at the end of their walk to Emmaus, Jesus was made clear to them as the center of the Bible.

So what does this mean for you and me? It means it whenever we read or study the Scriptures we ought to be looking for Jesus. The whole Bible is about him. Our sinful tendency is to look at the Bible and make it about us. We read the Bible stories and we want the application to be what were supposed to do, who we are supposed to be, how we are to make ourselves right with God. And although we can get helpful insight on living from God’s word, as Jesus told the disciples on the Emmaus Road, the Scriptures are opened to us when we see Jesus in the text. We understand Scripture clearly only when we see the main purpose. Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinful people.

Our journey through life is to be a journey with Jesus, footprints from here, through death, to life forever with him. The only way for us to walk with Jesus is to see him in the place that he comes to us. That is the Holy Scriptures. His Word is Jesus at work. And, just so you know, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are simply God’s Word connected to physical elements, water and bread and wine. There is no place else to find Jesus working. We should not look for him in feelings in our hearts, or the dreams of little children. It is in Word and Sacrament where Jesus comes to us.

So the Bible is always about Jesus. And maybe we should have a few examples of looking for him there. What about Philippians 4:13. This could be an important verse for someone here today.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13, ESV)

Now you might think that St. Paul is giving some great advice. That he’s giving hope to someone who might be getting confirmed, about how their whole future is opened to them. That they can do anything that they set their minds to doing. But that’s not exactly what he’s saying. He is in fact talking about his life of suffering. What he means is that when our minds are focused on who Jesus is and what he has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection, we can live through the trials of life knowing that we have life forever with him. Knowing that nothing that happens to us, that seems evil, is punishment from God but rather a way for God to remind us how much we need Jesus.

Or how about Isaiah 43:1?

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1b, ESV)

There is indeed great reason to fear in this world that we live in. Christian persecution is greater now than it has ever been. If you care to look, every day brings news of our brothers and sisters in faith who die rather than deny their Savior. Christians in Africa are being crucified. In the Middle East, they are regularly beheaded. The culture all around us is increasingly hostile to the message of Jesus. When we dare to say what is right and wrong according to God’s Word we are held up for ridicule. In fact, to stand firm on what God says is a dangerous place to stand. But we stand there because it is the only place for us to stand. God gives us his name in Holy Baptism. It is the name of Jesus, and it carries everything that Jesus did. The name of Jesus placed on you, gives you the forgiveness he won on the cross. All of this makes you God’s very own child. Persecution, trouble, hardship, and even death are only things that will bring you closer to Jesus. There is no reason to fear you have God’s faithful promise of life forever.

And finally Joshua 24:15.

But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15b, ESV)

Now this one certainly sounds like something we do, serving the Lord. We ought to understand what serving the Lord means. First of all Joshua is confessing faith in God who saved them from slavery in Egypt. He says, even if other families turn to other gods he will remain true to the one who saved him. Joshua’s response is to God’s salvation. As for me and my house, we will serve the God who saves us. The word Lord in this passage is all capital letters. And it really is God’s name, Yahweh. And it is the name that means, “I AM.” “I AM” is the name that God gave the Israelites to know who was saving them from slavery. This same God sends Jesus to save us from our slavery to sin. He is the God who comes in human flesh in Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our forgiveness. To serve this God is to recognize first what he has done for us on the cross. In service of the Lord in a family first begins with bringing that family to hear God’s word. And therefore teaching them of God salvation through Jesus Christ.

So on the road to Emmaus; we learn how to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. God gives to us Holy Scripture that points us to Jesus. That’s what our faith journey is. A life lived in the forgiveness won by Jesus on the cross. Amen.

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