Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Resurreciton Deviotion - John 20:1-8

John and Peter. John 20:1-8
NIV John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
It was dark and empty, a black hole in the earth. The tomb was empty. Jesus body had been there, yet now it was gone. The burial cloths were there and the head cloth, but the body was no where to be seen. John looked a Peter. Peter was standing with his head in his hands, weeping, and muttering some kind of curse on the High Priest’s goons. “… how could they do this!” he whispered. John’s head swam. He knew Jesus was dead. He saw Jesus’ cringes of pain when the soldiers drove the nails into his flesh. He heard the painful scream. His heart ached as his master gasped for breath when the cross was raised and set into place. He stood at the foot of the dying man, and knew that it was all over. Everything Jesus had done, every word he spoke, every sick body he healed, every tormented soul he had touched, they all hung there dying with him. Jesus knew it too. He could see the forsaken look in his eyes. Then, the execution abruptly ended. “It is finished!” Jesus gasped, and he was gone. It all ended so quickly. John was amazed at how quickly life left those who died. At one moment a living being, then next instant, like the blink of an eye, there was only a lifeless shell. The soldiers looked up, he had died much to soon for their taste. They preferred the punishments to last for days. Lingering death made lasting impressions. But, Jesus was dead all that remained was grief. For John the next days turned the grief to fear. Fear that the pain Jesus had suffered was going to come to him. Now after hearing of the empty tomb, he and Peter stood in the darkness of the tomb. Peter had collapsed to his knees. John struggled to make sense of it all, he searched his memory trying to remember what Jesus had said. He remembered how often he had spoken of death. He remembered how he had spoken of his own death. So much of what was spoken had happened, almost as if Jesus himself was directing it. The arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, and even his death, seemed to proceed from a plan. It came to him in an instant. He looked at the head cloth folded neatly, as if it was purposely placed to catch his attention. The empty tomb suddenly seemed important. It was suddenly more important than any other place he had ever been. Somehow, Jesus missing body was the key. The tomb was empty. The body was gone. Jesus had somehow taken the power away from death. Death was empty. He looked at Peter. Had he seen it too? But, Peter only sobbed the grief of crucifixion had returned to him. For John, the grief was gone. The fear he had felt only moments earlier evaporated. He felt as if Jesus himself were standing there with them again. “But, that can’t be, he’s dead.” He said to himself. Even as he spoke it, it seemed to John to be untrue. John reached out his hand and helped Peter from the floor. “It’s ok, Peter.” He said. Peter was heavy, resisting his help. Finally he stood and the two of them left together. As they left, John couldn’t help looking back. The tomb was empty. (John 1:1-5)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2005, John 11:47-57

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2005

John 11:47-53, ESV

Why did Jesus have to die? (From an outline by Rev. Thomas Manteufel, CJ Vol 31, 1)

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

“Papa,” the inquisitive young boy said to his father, as they paged through a picture book together, “why is that man bleeding? And what is he doing on that piece of wood?” (from a story by Søren Kierkegaard) He’s asking a good question. But he’s not the only one. Look at the beautiful stain glass window there. John the disciple of Jesus and Mary Jesus mother, stand close enough to be spattered with his blood. Can you see the question in their eyes? “Why do you have to die?” Peter said as much also when Jesus informed him of his upcoming suffering and death.

Jesus told Peter about his coming death in Jerusalem. Peter took Jesus aside and said, “This shall never happen to you!” he said, meaning, “Why would you have to die?” Jesus rebuked him in the strongest terms. Saying Peter’s words were the work of Satan. As for us, today we continue our push through the season of Lent. It’s a time when we focus specifically on the Crucified Christ. We have less than two weeks before we gather in the darkness of Good Friday and at the glow of a single candle ask that very question again. “Why did Jesus have to die?” It is an important question; some might argue the most important question that any person can ask. That’s because knowing the answer to that question and clinging to it in faith is the difference between life and death, the difference between spending eternity with God among the praises of His angels, or suffering for eternity in the presence of Satan and his demons.

The question of why Jesus must die, is also being discussed by Jesus’ enemies in the Gospel reading for today. The Sanhedrin, the church council, gathered to discuss “the problem of Jesus.”

“What are we to do?” They asked. “If we don’t do something it’s all going to end very badly. Everyone is going to believe in Jesus and the Romans will destroy us.” Their fears are based on unbelief and misunderstanding. They see Jesus as a threat to the nation and more specifically their political power. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. In their minds, Jesus had to die for the sake of the peace, to protect them from the realities of Roman occupation. There unbelief leads them to their plot. Jesus gave them many signs of who he was. He healed, preached and even raised the dead. They don’t see it. They refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is from God. St. Paul describes their unbelief in his letter to the Corinthians:

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8, ESV)

You might say that on the surface, Jesus had to die, because people plotted to kill him. But there is a deeper truth. It is spoken unknowingly by Caiaphas. He speaks better than he knows. He declares exactly why Jesus must die but he means it for his own purposes and his own benefit.

You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish. (49-50)

The Gospel writer John tells us that in spite of himself, Caiaphas speaks the truth for God. He unwittingly prophesies about Jesus. When Caiaphas speaks God is speaking, too, even though they are saying different things. Jesus indeed dies for the people. But it isn’t as the Chief Priest thinks, Jesus gives up his own life, I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:15b, ESV) Jesus is the man who gives His life for all people. He goes to the cross in their place. He suffers the punishment that sin deserves. And through His punishment and death all people have everything they need to avoid an eternity in hell.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

Martin Luther says it like this:

Our sins must be either upon our own necks or upon Christ. If they remain upon us, we are lost forever, but if they be upon Christ, we are saved.

…and St. Peter like this:

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, (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)

“Why did Jesus have to die?” He died to guarantee that you and I could live with God forever. He was “railroaded” into death by jealous human beings to be the unfailing source of forgiveness of sins that all people need, you and me, the boy and his father, and even the ones who made the plans that led to his death.

Caiaphas said that Jesus should die for the nation. Once again he understates the truth. According to St. John there is still more to Jesus death. As he tells us, Jesus died to gather into one the children of God. Caiaphas knew Jesus had to die, but he refuses to believe that Jesus’ death is for him. Knowing about Jesus death isn’t enough. Satan himself believes that Jesus died. Faith in Jesus is believing that he died for you. Faith in Jesus is trusting his death on the cross to remove your sin. Faith in Jesus is holding on to the promises of eternal life that Jesus earned for you on that cross. That’s what it means to be a child of God, having that kind of faith in Jesus. It is through that faith we are made one family in Christ.

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. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28, ESV)

Why did Jesus have to die? He died to gather his people into his family the church. Picture the scene in your mind. Jesus, dead on the cross, a soldier pushes a spear into his side to assure that he is dead. Out pours blood and water. When we gather here to worship, we begin in the name of God. The very same name is spoken over us and connected to us through water. We just heard Paul tell us that in Baptism we put on Christ. Jesus’ death brings us together. No matter who we are or where we come from Jesus’ death for our sin is our common ground. We say as much when we gather around the Lord’s altar to eat and drink the bread and wine that is his body and his blood. When we eat and drink we say that no matter what has happened between us, Jesus’ death forgives it all.

Maybe we take it for granted Sunday after Sunday. It is tempting after all to look past his death it to something else that seems to be more important. “I know Jesus died for me now tell me something I can use in my everyday life.” But there is nothing more important that I can tell you. As Paul said to the Corinthians we preach Christ crucified… to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:23,25, ESV)

Sin separates us from God; all sin is ultimately against him, a rejection of his ownership of us. But sin also affects our relationships with other people. You know how difficult it is to talk with people you’ve hurt. On her show, Oprah Winfrey brings together victims of violent crime and the ones who committed the crime. The pain is evident. The difficulty of the confrontation makes for dramatic television. The offenders seek forgiveness; the offended seek closure and restoration. But sin doesn’t have to be violent to cause separation, even the smallest sins causes disruption of our relationships. That’s the reality of every day of our lives. Our sins push people away. Their sins turn us away from them. The forgiveness we receive through faith in Jesus death ends our separation from God and one another. It makes us one in Jesus.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:1-7, ESV)

“Why is that man bleeding? What is he doing on that wood?” The boy asked his father. In the story the father has an answer for his son. Now you have an answer to. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 6th, 2005, Matthew 20:17-28

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 6th, 2005

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

Matthew 20:17-28

(Thank to Glen Nelson, CJ.31.1)

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

It’s easy to smile as you hear about the mother of James and John. And it’s not because we think we are better than she is, but we know exactly where she is coming from. What I means is that most of us have been right were she is doing exactly what she’s doing. And what is she doing? Well, she’s promoting her children. When you have children you want what’s best for them, at least what you think is best. It’s easy to find yourself giving a little nudge here and there with the “right people” in hope of making a difference for them. What John and James’ mother is doing isn’t very different at all from things that any parent has done. And her actions are not all that far removed from artwork plastered on the fridge, beaming with pride as a child stands to play a solo in the band concert, or coming to our feet when our child breaks into the paint and drops an important basket. All parents naturally want to see their children do well. That’s just a part of being a parent. And that seems to be what’s going on here, too. This woman wants her children, James and John, to be “set up,” to be in positions of power and prestige when Jesus “comes into his kingdom.”

Now while it’s only natural for her to want what’s best for her children, but there’s a problem with what’s going on here. What she wants, and what her sons want is honor and glory for themselves. They want to sit at Jesus right and left when he “becomes king.” They want to be in the positions of greatest power. They want to have the most influence. They think that if they have the special most important relationship with Jesus, they want to have the most reward. They must think that they deserve it, that they are Jesus’ favorite disciples. (They may even be his cousins.)

It’s very interesting that they ask Jesus for this ‘favor’ right after he has told them about why they are going to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. He said. But these three are more concerned about getting center stage for themselves. It’s as if the things Jesus said pass right through them, in one ear and out the other. They are occupied in their own pride and ambition. They want to be considered Jesus best. That means they want to be considered better than all the rest of the disciples. As you can imagine this didn’t sit very well with the other disciples. St. Matthew uses the word “indignant.” When they heard what was said they were “indignant” at the two brothers. That means they were angry at what they saw as inappropriate behavior. Really, what they were really upset about was that they didn’t think to ask Jesus first (or that they didn’t push their mothers to ask!) They are jealous of the positions that they think James and John might actually get. They all want what the two asked for. All in all, it’s a pretty ugly scene. In the fits of pride and anger everyone forgets what Jesus had just said. Everyone quite misunderstands Jesus and the real reason for the journey to Jerusalem that lies ahead.

Of course we’d like to think we are better than that. We can try to convince ourselves that we wouldn’t find ourselves in the disciple’s sandals on that ancient road to Jerusalem, misunderstanding Jesus, demanding recognition for ourselves. But we know different. You’ve seen pride’s ugly behavior in your life. You know how you first react, your inner feelings, when someone else receives recognition for doing something good. You wonder why people don’t see all that you do and recognize you. You long to stand on the Olympic platform receive all the praise. You know how your heart asks the question, “Why are they getting all the glory? Isn’t what I do around here just as important?” You know how hard it is to swallow your selfishness and congratulate the person and truly be happy for them. “I’m very happy for you,” you say aloud but your heart is crying, “Why do you get all the breaks.” And there we are sulking with the ten disciples, indignant at someone else. It’s the same ugly scene. It is the same ugliness that caused the disciples totally to miss what was about to happen. When it happens to us we miss Jesus and his work in our lives, too.

What Jesus told the disciples was the very opposite of what is going on in their hearts. The journey to Jerusalem is a journey to the cross. There is no selfishness in Jesus. His concern isn’t for himself and what would become of him, instead the disciples, and the whole world of other people, are foremost in his mind. He knows what has to be done for them. He knows what has to be done for you and me. And that’s the very thing the James and John don’t understand. “We want to be, one at your right and one at you left.” They want the power positions. They want to be recognized as Jesus right hand men. They want to be served. Jesus came to serve.

“You do not know what you are asking.” And indeed they don’t. The throne of Jesus kingdom isn’t what they think it is. Jesus doesn’t rule his kingdom sitting on a plush throne with a golden crown lined with minsk, and a royal robe of purple. If you think about it for just a moment you know it, too. In fact, we are here today (and every Sunday) to receive the benefits of Jesus kingdom. Jesus didn’t come to be served. He wasn’t thinking as the disciples were. He came to serve. He gives his whole life in service to you and me. But it’s more than just giving us food, clothing, shelter and family. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, ESV) Jesus serves us in the way we need it most. He hangs on the cross giving his life as a ransom for our sin. He builds his kingdom by bleeding and dying to restore our relationship with God. Forgiveness of sin is the basis for Jesus’ kingdom. And he earns that kingdom on the cross. So when James and John ask to be, one on the right and one on the left of Jesus they really don’t know what they are asking. Listen to Matthew’s description of Jesus throne, the place he actually defines what his kingdom is:

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. (Matthew 27:35-38, ESV)

You know that pride, that ugliness that we talked about. It’s there setting on Jesus throne with him. He serves you and me, and the disciples, and all people, nailed to a cross shaped throne dying a sinner’s death, our sinner’s death. In fact, all the sin that we so often let rule our lives is taken up by our cross shaped king. Jesus came to serve. His whole life is shaped by the cross were he takes our sin and our punishment and gives to us forgiveness and the promise of a new life in a kingdom not ruled by selfishness and hurtful pride.

And Jesus death didn’t end his service either. First of all, he’s not dead anymore. After three days in the grave he came alive again. He didn’t just serve us by dying; he serves us also by living again. He promises a new life and a new life that begins with the forgiveness of sins and the defeat of death. And it doesn’t even stop there. Jesus still serves. Today Jesus serves again. He brings his kingdom, the forgiveness of sins to you right here, right now. It is here in his Word, the good news about what he has done for you. It is spoken into your ears and your mind and into your heart. Jesus Word brings his kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, with it. And he serves again every time his body and blood are poured into you. His holy and precious blood, the body and blood that walked on earth, received the nails and thorns and the roman whip, and dripped on the ground at the cross, is present in bread and wine. Jesus comes there to bring his kingdom, too. He is physically present to give the forgiveness of sins just as he promises. We are served by Jesus. He gives us what we need.

John and James had it all wrong. But they got it right. They served other people with the Good News of the kingdom of Jesus. They even suffered for it. John lived in exile. James lost his head. Jesus said they’d drink the same cup, that’s what he was saying. Serving others in Jesus’ kingdom sometimes means suffering. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant. Jesus’ kingdom is about service. And so we serve, too. We make sure that people have what they need; clothing and food, shelter and heat. We serve other people because Jesus serves us. But never forget that Jesus kingdom is about more than food and shelter, it is most importantly about the forgiveness of sins. It’s about taking care of the ugliness that separates us from God. It’s about Jesus serving people with his life, death and resurrection. We serve people best when we give them what they need, food and clothing, but most of all Jesus. Amen.

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