Friday, April 27, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2007. Rev 7:9-17, April 29, 2007

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After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)

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

Well, today is one of those special Sunday’s of the church year. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday.” For lots of folks it’s one of their favorite Sundays. One of the reasons is because we have the image of the Good Shepherd burned into our minds from the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

That’s what that sheep in the cartoon in your bulletin likes too!

His name is Rick.“You know the best part about having a Good Shepherd?” “Being a sheep!” That’s just like you and me we want to be sheep of a Good Shepherd. We are sheep of the Good Shepherd.

That’s what the reading from Revelation is about, being sheep of the Good Shepherd. You might wonder exactly how that reading ties into our theme, so I’ll tell you. But first, we need to set the stage, we need to understand what’s going on here and the reason St. John wrote the Apocalypse in the first place. John, the author of the book of Revelation, is most likely the disciple John who lived and heard Jesus preach and teach during his earthly ministry. John wrote this book to seven congregations in Asia Minor. It was a difficult time for the church. Persecution was everywhere. Those congregations were undergoing a very great time of tribulation. It was a time that it was dangerous to be a Christian. Most Christians knew friends or family who had been martyred, that had died for confessing the Christian faith. John himself had been sent into exile on the island of Patmos, for preaching. Our reading here in Chapter Seven tells us of a part of a vision that John had while he was alone on the island. In this vision, he saw a gathering of these thousands upon thousands standing before the throne of God in robes of white. These gathered before Jesus are the church. Those who have died in the faith and are standing before our Lord, worshiping him for all that he has done for them. There’s a hymn that I should have chosen for today called Behold the Host Arrayed in White. It comes right from this part of Revelation and paints a beautiful picture of these Saints.

Behold the host arrayed in white Like thousand snow clad mountains bright. They stand with palms And singing psalms Before the throne of light. These are the saints who kept God’s Word; They are honored of the Lord. He is their prince Who drowned their sins, So they were cleansed, restored. They now serve God both day and night; They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring When they all sing With angels shining bright.

Now the reason that John told God’s people about this vision is the same reason that we take great comfort from this text. John was giving comfort to the people of God about those they knew who had died. Today as we remember the Good Shepherd it would be good to know what that means for our loved ones who are gathered among that vast array described by John. It would be good if we thought for just a moment about what it means for us.

John tells us that he saw a great multitude, that no one could count, from every tribe and nation of all languages and tribes, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They are dressed in white robes, they’re waving palm branches, and shouting, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne… and to the Lamb! That’s an important point I’m going to come back to in a moment. But John didn’t just see these people there, he saw “all the angels” too. And they were standing around the throne and they worshiped God by falling on their faces. Amen. They said, Blessing and glory and wisdom and honor and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen! (Sounds like a song we sang just a few moments ago!).

Now when John was watching all this going on, an angel says to him, So, do you know who all these people are? Do you get what’s going on here?

John took the safe answer and said, You know who they are, you tell me.

These people are before the throne of God because they are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb’s blood has made them clean. And that’s why they are worshipping him. He has done everything necessary to take care of them. Just look. They never hunger anymore, they’re never thirsty. There are never any tears here. The Lamb, the one they are all staring at is their Shepherd.

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

What’s the comfort that John brings to God’s people with this vision? Think about it for yourself. When was your last funeral? Who do you miss that has passed from you into death? John is describing what’s going on right now with all those who died in faith in the work of Jesus. If you want to know what it’s like after death all you have to do is read here. We say that we just don’t know what it’s like for those who have died, and in a really big way that’s true except for this passage here. Right here in this text John is telling us what Bill, Philip, Freddy, Bertha, Rudy, Leona, and Marcella are doing. He’s telling us what all those other loved ones of yours are doing too.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Did you hear it? Jesus the Good Shepherd had taken away all their struggle and pain. He’s wiped every tear from their eyes. He is now supplying them with everything they need, just as he did for them before death, just as he will do for all eternity and just as he is doing for you and me now. Right now all those loved ones of ours who have died in the faith wouldn’t come back to us for anything. They have Jesus. They have everything they need. That’s the real joy and comfort that St. John is giving us today. Those who die with faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, have passed through death into eternal life.

Let’s think about it with this story: I got this story from Pastor Will Weedon in Hamil Illinois.

Now this is a real story even though it sounds like it’s not. Once upon a time there was a wolf who lived in a cave. And this wolf had it pretty easy. Whenever he was hungry he would just go out his door and there grazing right by his door were sheep. He would eat as many as he wanted to, to satisfy his hunger. One after another, day after day, the more he ate the fatter he got and the fatter he got the more he ate. It was an unending cycle. And the sheep knew, each and every one of them, that one day the wolf would come out of his cave and eat them. Now one day he woke up and went out of his cave to eat again. And right there on his doorstep was the biggest fattest sheep he had ever seen. He couldn’t believe the nerve of that sheep to be grazing right there on his doorstep, so he let out a big howl, that the sheep promptly ignored. So he ran right up to the sheep and he blasted him with his breath right in the face. And his breath smelled bad, in fact the wolf himself smelled bad, because this wolf had a name and his name is death. So the wolf tried to frighten the sheep and he said, “don’t you know who I am?” The sheep answered “yes, I know who you are.” “Well, aren’t you afraid of me?” And the sheep looked at him and blinked and said, “…of you? You’ve got to be kidding.” Now this made the wolf really angry. “That does it,” the wolf said, “I’m going to kill you, and it’s going to be slow and painful and it ’s going to be awful and it’s going to hurt a lot.” And the sheep answered, “I know.” Now the other sheep had gathered around to see what was going on, because nothing like this had ever happened before. No sheep had ever spoken to the wolf in that way. Maybe they thought it would be different this time. But when the wolf pounced it wasn’t any different. So the sheep scattered. And just like he promised the wolf made it slow and painful and awful. When it was done belched out his victory to the other sheep who had stopped to look on again. And they scattered even further. Then he went back to his den. “Wow!” he said to himself, “that was the best lamb chops I’ve ever had.” And in fact he thought it was quite strange that that one sheep had almost satisfied him and he didn’t even feel hungry. And he went to bed. But when he got up in the morning he wasn’t feeling himself. He had a small stomach ache. Now all through the day it began to grow worse and worse and he began to wonder about that sheep he ate. Could it have been poisoned? He began to howl and complain so loudly that the sheep came to the door to see what was going on. In the middle of the next night the wolf couldn’t take it anymore, because inside of as something alive. And it was poking and prodding from the inside. Then all of the sudden a ripping sound and his belly was ripped open, death stomach was torn wide open, and out stepped someone that looked like a shepherd. Now the shepherd walked around the den and he laughed and he laughed and he said to the wolf, “Well my old foe, do you recognize me?” The wolf recognized the voice it was the sheep that he ate three days before. “You!” he said, “How could it be?” “You kept your promise to me, you made my death painful and slow and awful, but what are you going to do about me now? You’ve got a hole in you belly that’s never going to heal. You go ahead and eat my sheep. I promise, I’ll lead them right out of your belly just as I myself have come out of your belly. That hole you have is forever.” Now the shepherd went out the door and he gathered all the sheep together. And he said, “Look, he’s going to be coming out in a few days and he’s going to be just as hungry as ever. And yes he’s going to eat you. But look, he’s got a hole in his belly and I’ll lead you through it just as I went through it. That’s the Good Shepherd who is the Lamb. He’s the one who laid down his very life for the sheep. And the sheep remember that even though death comes for them, he has a hole in his belly.

The vision that John gives us is of those who have been lead through the hole in death’s belly. It’s the best thing about having a Good Shepherd. He’s poked a hole in death so that we pass through it into life instead of death. That’s the comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the In the Gospel lesson for today the Good Shepherd himself said it like this.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life…

If we put it in words of the story, I will lead them through the hole in death’s belly…

and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.


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

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Third Sunday of Easter 3, April 22, 2007, John 21:1-14

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14, ESV)

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

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

You know, lot’s of times when I read about the disciples in these accounts, I get to feeling sorry for them. I mean, often in these lessons they come off pretty much like failures. How many times have we heard of how they didn’t do what Jesus wanted? How often have we heard about how they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying or what he was doing? Like when they misunderstood what Jesus meant when he said that Lazarus had “fallen asleep.” (John 11:1ff) They were walking along the road and they received word that Lazarus was sick. Jesus waited three after hearing before going to him. “It’s time to go, Lazarus, our friend, has fallen asleep.”

“Lord, if he sleeps he’ll get better!” the disciples answered.

“No guys,” Jesus answered, “you’ve missed the point again. When I said he was sleeping, I meant that he is dead.” I have this image in my mind of the twelve standing around with a puzzled look on their faces. “Lazarus is dead.” Jesus finally says in response.

“Oh!” they answer, “I guess we missed that.” Oops, another mistake.

It has always amazed me that the gospels, even though they were mostly written by the disciples, they often aren’t very flattering for the authors. They failed often and they failed big, especially when Jesus was in the most danger. As Jesus waits in the garden for the betrayer, they fail to stay awake. When the guards show up to arrest him, they fail again. All Peter can do is cut off the servant’s ear. (John 18:10) Not only has he failed to protect his master, he’s a failure at wielding a sword, too! He didn’t do what he should have done and what he does is all wrong. “Put away your sword.” Jesus says. All the disciples run away in fear, and let Jesus be taken.

And again in the court yard outside of Jesus trial Peter fails when he is accused of being Jesus disciple. “I told you before, curse you, I don’t know that man! He’s nothing to me! Now leave me alone!” And then faced with that failure he ran out and wept bitterly. (John 18:15-18; 25-27)

Now later after Jesus has been crucified, they gather together in a darkened room, huddled together afraid, for three days. And even when Jesus appeared to them, they had their doubts. Thomas speaks for all of them when he says, “Unless I see him, and touch him. I refuse to believe!” They had all failed to remember what Jesus said to them, they had all failed to believe in Jesus.

And that brings us to the account for today. After so many failures… so many misunderstandings, and now they are about to fail again. We’ve heard about their failures as disciples, now we hear how they can’t even seem to go back to their old lives, “that night they caught nothing.” Looks like failure again. There they are in the boat, even after Jesus has risen from the dead, failing again. They couldn’t do what Jesus wanted, and they couldn’t go back to their old life. There they sat early in the morning looking at their empty nets wondering if they ever would ever again be successful at anything.

“Boys,” came a voice from the shore, “Have you tried the other side of the boat?” Now, I don’t know of many professional fishermen who will take instructions from a stranger on how to fish. But the disciples did on that morning. Maybe it was the sense of failure that led them. Maybe they didn’t have the energy to dispute it, but they took the criticism. And when they did… 153 large fish jumped into the net. John was the first to realize that it was Jesus. “It’s the Lord!” he said. Peter put John’s words into action, and leapt into the water to make the hundred yard swim to shore. Jesus had turned their failure into success. He gives them what they needed. Fish in their nets, and once they get to shore he feeds them breakfast.

Are we failures too? We don’t like to think of ourselves that way. But I think that if we look honestly at ourselves we can see that we are. Actually, we can’t help but be failures. That’s our sinful human nature. We try to make progress against it but no matter how hard we try we fail again. For instance we know the resurrected Jesus, but there are many times in our life that what we know about Jesus just doesn’t seem to make any difference in how we live. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor” There are many times when we don’t even seem to love our family. How easy is it to hurt our parents, or our children, or even our spouse? Our hurtful words aren’t often blasted over the news, but we often take out our frustrations on those who are closest to us. And just sometimes we do it because we mean to do it. We are just like the twelve we fail, we fail to love.

How often have we stood in Peter’s sandals, denying Jesus? Maybe we don’t outright say that we don’t know him, but what about when we act as if being a Christian doesn’t mean anything, or when we make light of our faith. What about speaking up against those things we know the God’s Word tells us are wrong. What about being tolerant of open sin? When ever we pretend that sin isn’t sin, or try to carve out exceptions for ourselves and others we are participating in that sin ourselves. When we participate in open sin either directly or in a failure to confront our brothers and sisters who are in it, we deny Jesus’ sacrifice for sin. We know the failure of Peter very well.

And as far as being successful fishermen… we fail there too. We know who the absent members of our church are, and yet we let year after year go by without a word, without an invitation. We know there are folks who don’t go to any church and we do nothing. We know friends and family who out right deny the faith and we say nothing. We think that the church is only a place for those who have their lives straightened out, those who have money to give, and those who have good reputations. Jesus died for sinners. We are to be about giving that message to everyone.

The truth of the matter is, the disciples were failures, and we are failures, poor miserable failures… poor miserable sinners. That’s the real problem isn’t it? Our sins threatened to separate us from the God who created us. Our sins are the real problem. In the eyes of a God who demands perfection, we are utter failures because we aren’t perfect. No matter how hard we try we can’t be perfect.

But, Jesus is perfect. It is perfect Jesus that gives us success. When the disciples listened to advice from the shore they knew it was Jesus because they had success. They ended up with a net so full that it should have broken; it was too large to fit in the boat. It wasn’t only success it was SUCCESS! It wasn’t just a good day fishing; it was an amazing day fishing. Imagine the best fishing story you’ve ever heard. And it was because of Jesus. They couldn’t wait to get to shore. And Jesus was there waiting to feed them.

That’s what Jesus does. He forgives failures. I’m not talking about a plastic Jesus on the dashboard to bring good luck. He’s not the kind of God that helps you to win the lottery. He’s the kind of God that lives in you through his Holy Spirit and show you how to do the right thing. He prompts you to show the love of Jesus in the community through what you do and say. He makes a success out of you, even when you fail.

What Jesus Christ has done makes a difference for your failures. In his great love he paid the ultimate price for your failures. He suffered pain and death. He hung on the cross and endured the punishment that we failures deserved. Even though he was treated as a failure, he changed that awful event into success. On Easter morning some 2000 years ago, he turned what seemed like the failure of his death in to the success of life. The tomb was opened and he breathed again. He lived and walked, smiled and laughed again. He met with his disciple, he met them on the road, he met them in the darkened room, and he met them on the shore of the lake. He was alive. Death had failed! Jesus succeeded!

But, the most important thing to remember is that Jesus success wasn’t just his success. Everything Jesus did, his whole life, his whole horrible death, he whole glorious, successful, resurrection; everything he did, he did for you! He gives that success to you in Holy Baptism. There he washed you clean of your sin and your failures. There he gave you his success; His perfect life, His self-giving death, and even His glorious resurrection. He covered you with the perfect robe of his perfect life. Now when God looks at you He sees Jesus. In God’s eyes you are a perfect success.

We really do know all this. Most of us have been hearing it all our lives. It is rather funny though that as much as we know it to be true we don’t really fell that much like a success. There are those days when we just can’t seem to get it right. There are those days when the love we should have just isn’t there. There are days when we don’t really want to risk exposing ourselves as a Christian. There are days when we just want people we think don’t who don’t fit here in this church just to stay out. That’s the sinful nature, dragging us to failure again. That’s the failure in us trying to take control again. That’s when it’s important to remember the success that Jesus has won for us. That’s when it’s important to remember when our heads got wet. That’s when we turn to Jesus and say, “You have forgiven me. I am yours. Jesus, help me!” And our loving and gracious Lord says, “I’ve died for your failure already. I took them all to the cross. You don’t have to live with it any more. My success is yours.” And then sometimes we can love as Jesus would have us love, even when the people around us aren’t very lovable. Then we can set aside our prejudice, even when I don’t feel like it. And sometimes we even find ourselves speaking words about Jesus, even when we’re afraid. And sometimes we can even ask people to come to church that we really don’t even want to sit by. It isn’t because of us, because our failure only gets us empty nets, just like the disciples. It’s all because of Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to bring success as only He can do.

The disciples enjoyed breakfast that early morning. Jesus brought them success in their fishing. For them there would be many more failures. But Jesus would turn them also into successes. Through His Word preached, through His Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, given, Jesus used those fishing failures to build His church. There were bigger nets to drag ashore, more fish to count. They weren’t fish from the sea; they were people that God, in Jesus, died to save. They were failures like you and me that Jesus died to save. Amen.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2007

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Second Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2007, John 20:19-31

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19On 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." 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld." 24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-3,ESV)

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

It's a week after Easter. We are still joyful, basking in the glow of that wonderful day. The lilies aren’t here, but they are still bright. We're still singing Easter hymns (and we will for several more weeks!). Joy is still the overriding theme of our worship. But is very clear from our text that that is not the mood of the disciples on that first Easter (at least not yet). It was third day after Jesus had been crucified. Mary had run to them saying that she had "seen the Lord." But, instead of being joyful, they were afraid, they don’t believe what Mary says, “You are speaking like a crazy woman!” The news was too much to believe. Suddenly, unexplainably, miraculously Jesus passed through the walls and the locked doors stood among them. "Peace be with you. Shalom 'Alekem." (v. 26) The simple and common greeting may have gone over the Disciples heads, if Jesus was just your normal, everyday visitor. But it was anything but a simple and common greeting coming from the risen Jesus Christ. After all, before his suffering and death, "peace" is what he said he would bring them.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' (John 14:27-28a, ESV)

And maybe they didn't quite see it just yet. But the peace that Jesus brings them was the direct result of the "It is finished" he spoke on the cross. The peace Jesus brings, he brings through his suffering and death. It is the peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that comes from sins forgiven. It is the peace that comes from sinful people being reconciled to God. "God and sinners reconciled." (The Lutheran Hymnal, 94)We sing in the well know Christmas hymn, but it would be a good hymn for today, too.

The disciples had their doubts. They didn’t believe what Mary Magdalene had told them. But now Jesus stood among them. He relieves their fear and doubt and ends their unbelief by showing them the wounds from his crucifixion. Only he would have those specific wounds in his hands and side. See, don't doubt that it is me! Don’t doubt that I am alive. I'm the very same one whom you saw crucified, dead and buried. This translation says they were glad (v. 20) when they saw him. Maybe that's a little understating it. They were overjoyed. Just as Jesus promised, their sorrow was turned into joy. Their fear and unbelief was turned to belief. His love for them, and for us, is unmistakable. It's proved by the nail marks. It's proved by the spear that pierced his heart. It was proved by his death. It is proved by his victory over death and the grave. This is the way that God shows his love for the world; that he gave his one and only son to die in our place, and to rise again from death, for us.

That is the joy that the ancient church celebrated. It was tradition in worship to say the words Maranatha! It means Come Lord now. You can almost see them saying it even many years later with a pregnant pause in the expectation of Jesus appearing again, just as he did that day. That joy is also our joy as we gather in his name, and in the shadow of his promise. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you. (Matt 18:20) Right here in the midst of our doubts (yes we do have them!) Right here in the midst of our sorrow and pain. Right here in the midst of our illness and fear. Right here in the midst of our despair and guilt. Right here in the midst of our insecurity and worry. He comes here, sight unseen, to bring us the peace of sins forgiven. He comes to bring us the joy of God and sinners reconciled. Did I say, "Sight unseen?" Well, that's not exactly right is it? When we gather together in his name, we are the Body of Christ. As I was sent, so I am sending you. (John 20:21, ESV) In our sorrow and our pain we bring Jesus message of peace to each other. In the midst of our illness and fear, we bring Jesus message of peace. In the midst of our guild and despair we bring Jesus message of peace. And it is a message that we have not just for those gathered in this room, but a message of peace for the whole world.

The disciples didn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead at first. Thomas didn’t believe either. He wasn’t there to witness Jesus appearance. We don’t know why he wasn’t there, but when the others tell him what they had seen, he refuses to believe, without proof. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. (John 20:25, ESV) It would be easy to get down on Thomas. But really he was only asking for what the others had already seen. They had disbelieved just as much as he did. Jesus changed their unbelief to belief by an appearance, and he does the same for Thomas. A week later, on Sunday again, Jesus appeared to the disciples in that same locked room. Peace be with you! he said to them. And then specifically to Thomas, Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbeliever, but believe! (John 20:27, ESV) These amazing words of Jesus show us that even though he wasn’t there, Jesus knew what Thomas had said. He provides the proof that Thomas demands. We don’t know if Thomas actually took Jesus up on his challenge, but it seems that the sight of Jesus alone was enough for him. My Lord and My God! (John 20:28, ESV) He says. It is a personal confession of faith that comes from the lips of the most skeptical disciple. They are directed to Jesus in such a way that they confess exactly what Thomas now believes. Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. Jesus is God. Jesus is his Savior.

You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29, ESV) Jesus confirms Thomas’ strong statement of faith. His unbelief is swept away by the reality of the presence of the risen Lord.

It is easy to have doubts about our faith. Just look at the disciples. They just didn’t believe that Jesus could have possibly risen from the dead. They were afraid and locked themselves behind closed doors. Thomas was separated from them when Jesus came. He just wanted to see for himself. He wanted the big miracle. Even after they had seen Jesus they had doubts about what they were to do, and how they were to do it.

We are tempted to think that we would have a stronger faith if Jesus would just appear right here in front of us, just as he did for them. And even if he doesn’t appear in person what if he would just appear in other big ways. When we are sick and suffering we just want him to heal us. I once heard about a woman at the funeral of a strong Christian friend who died of cancer. “Wouldn’t it have been a powerful witness if God would have just healed her cancer?” Forgetting what a powerful witness the woman was in her acceptance of God’s will and her coming death. It is doubt that makes us want God to work the way we want him to work. It is doubt that says that we shouldn’t have to struggle in life. It is doubt that says we shouldn’t have to suffer. Doubt is the opposite of trust.

And that’s why we gather here in this place. Not because we trust perfectly, but because we don’t trust perfectly; because sometimes we just don’t believe what Jesus says. It’s the Risen Christ who sets aside our unbelief by coming to us. He shows himself to us in his Word. The whole bible is about Jesus. That’s what St. John means when he says, These things are written that you may believe. (John 20:31, ESV) When we hear it spoken to us Christ comes to us and strengthens our faith. When you hear the wonderful words of Jesus, “Peace be with you!” you know that your sins are forgiven, and your doubt is chased away by Jesus presence in His Word.

Jesus also shows himself to us in bread and wine. In some churches the communion wafers have an imprint of Jesus on the cross right on them. Ours have a little cross. That reminds us that Jesus comes to us in his very body and very blood, right there in the palm of our hand. It’s the same Christ there that stood before Thomas and said touch me and see. Right there in Holy Communion Jesus says to you touch me and see; take and eat this is my body; take and drink this is my blood. (Matt 26:26-29, ESV) He shows himself to us in another way; the Body of Christ is seated all around you in your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a brothers and sisters confessing a common faith. That’s what it means that we’ve joined this church. We believe, teach and confess the truths of scripture according to the Lutheran Confessions and that other churches don’t have the whole truth. Just as the father sent me, so I am sending you. Jesus sends us to each other. He sends us to our neighbors to confess the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. Look and see Jesus in the concern and love that he shows you through your friends, neighbors and relatives here. As we live and work and play together we show that Christ is indeed among us.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29, ESV) That’s me and you. We don’t have the benefit of seeing the Risen Lord in his glorified body like Thomas did, standing before us. But He is here none-the-less, and we are blessed. We are blessed because we have all that we need, in His Word and Sacraments. We have a way that we can be sure that he is with us and all that he has done is for us individually. All that we need is provided by God himself and that is what makes it sure. After all if it were dependent on anything in us it would only be full of doubt.

But this text is about faith that cancels doubt. These are written that you may believe, he says, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing in him you may have life in his name. (John 20:31, ESV) That’s the Peace that Jesus brings to us. Peace that cancels our unbelief and our doubt. Amen.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Testing Podcasting of Audio Sermons

I'm testing this method of podcasting an audio version of my sermons each week. Please let me know what you think, if you have any trouble, etc...

Here's the first edition for Last Sunday, April 8, the Resurrection of Our Lord, Luke 24:1-12
Download the MP3 here
Goto the PodCast page here

Play it by clicking here

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Festival of the Resurrection, April 8, 2007, Luke 24:1-12


But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:1-12, ESV)

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

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

There’s something that I noticed about this reading this year, that I never saw before. That happens to pastors once in a while. I’m sure it happens to you too, something new jumps out of God’s Word at you that you’ve never seen before… a new insight… and new way of seeing something that you never thought of before. Well, for me on this text it was this question: Where are the men? I mean the disciples… the ones who followed Jesus and listened to his preaching for those three years. I counted; St. Luke in his gospel tells us that Jesus told them he would rise from the dead three times.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, ESV)

“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:44, ESV)

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31-33, ESV)

What Luke is showing by these examples is that Jesus told them many times that he would rise from the dead. After all, the cross and resurrection are the very purpose that he came. Jesus makes that very clear. But somehow they missed the point. After all, if they had understood completely what Jesus said the picture would have been quite different, wouldn’t it? If the disciples really understood what Jesus was all about, they would have been standing there outside the tomb with Jesus cloths waiting for him to walk out of the grave. Imagine the story:

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, all of Jesus disciples went to the tomb, taking Jesus clothing with them. When they arrived they rolled the stone away from the grave and waited for Jesus to come out.

Well, that’s quite a different story isn’t it? And in fact, St. Luke tells us that each time Jesus shared the cross and the resurrection with them, they didn’t understand what he was talking about. Even though he said, Let these words sink into your ears… they didn’t. And if you think I’m saying the women were any better, don’t get really get it either. They didn’t come to see a living Jesus. They came to anoint a dead body. The men, the women, didn’t remember the words that Jesus spoke to them. They didn’t know, they didn’t have that information in their heads, they believed that God would raise the dead at the end of time they just don't expect a resurrection now.

Well, who could blame them? It’s not that Jesus was speaking in code or something. What he said was clear enough, it is just impossible for people to believe it. You and I have been to funerals. We don’t expect dead people to get up out of their caskets. Death is unforgiving in that way. When it gets a hold of you, you stay dead. That’s why it hurts so much. When our loved ones die, we can’t talk to them anymore. I’d give all I have to speak to Dad again. When our loved ones die we can’t hug them anymore. What would you give for the embrace of someone you love who is gone? We can’t laugh and cry with them. And it’s not just that they are distant. There’s a hole where they were, a big empty space that nothing can fill. You can’t speed dial your cell and have them answer. That’s death. That’s the pain it causes. That the finality of it. That’s what the disciples were feeling on Easter morning. They didn’t expect Jesus to do what he said he’d do. After all, he was dead. How could they believe that he would raise?

That is exactly the point. What God does in Jesus is so amazing, so much against they way that we think that it just doesn't seem possible. Even when we hear it spoken very clearly we just say, “Now that can’t be true.” It’s right here; we see the women and the disciples doing that very thing. The women go out there before dawn and find and empty grave. They are perplexed. They don’t believe it can possibly be true. “Why would the body be gone? This is where we saw them put him. He should be here.” But thank God he does things in ways that we don't understand.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)

Right there in the middle of their doubt the angel speaks to them. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, he says:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:5-7, ESV)

And then it happens. God's Word works in the women's hearts. They remembered what Jesus said. Don’t underestimate that word “remember.” It’s the difference between being in the dark and being in the light. It’s the difference between understanding and not understanding. It is in fact Jesus words of promise that is spoken to them. It’s God’s Word that creates faith and strengthens faith. They run back and tell the rest of the disciples.

Christ has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Only the disciples didn’t say “He has risen indeed!” They said, “That’s crazy!” It takes Jesus to speak to them himself. He appears to them all.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36-49, ESV)

So what does this mean for you and me? Well, what about your doubts? Of course you have them. Sometimes while you are standing next to the casket, you wonder if Jesus can really raise your loved ones from death. And sometimes you really are afraid of your own death? I know you had feelings like those, because had them myself. At the same time you know that Jesus did rise from the dead. You know his promises are true. Just like all of God’s people you with your doubts just like the disciples did.

Remember what God has told you. Remember what God has promised you. In Holy Baptism you were connected to Jesus in his life and death and resurrection. It’s the very first thing we remembered today, isn’t it. In that washing with water and God’s Word, God gave you faith to believe. He does for you what is impossible for you to do for yourself. What you are remembering is that Jesus death on the cross is for you for the forgiveness of your sin of doubt. You are remembering that just as he is raised from the dead, you too will be raised from the dead. That’s why when you stand at the edge of death in doubt; you also stand there in faith. That’s why we sing hymns like “Jesus lives! The victory’s won!” “Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!” and “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Those hymns are the words of faith, spoken in the face of doubt. Those hymns are hymns of remembering that what God says is true. In the face of doubt, in the face of death, don’t look inside you for some kind of inner strength, remember instead God’s Word of promise to you in Baptism. Need more? I do! In the face of doubt seek the Lord where he may be found. Here on this altar, the Risen Christ will come again. He says to you, take the bread that is his body and eat it. He says to you, take the wine that is his blood and drink it. “Do it and remember me!” Jesus says. What you are remembering is that Jesus blood shed and his body broken on the cross for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. You are remembering that Jesus is risen from the dead and he is with you right now and always with his promise of your resurrection. See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. Jesus puts himself right inside you so you can have no doubts about his promise to you and right here (in your hands) he gives you faith to believe.

All this is what we mean when we say:

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

So our story is a bit different now. Here we are standing at the mouth of the open grave of Jesus Christ. We are not seeking the living among the dead. We have been given faith to believe that…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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

Festival of the Resurrection, Sunrise Service, April 8, 2007, 1 Cor 15:51-57

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57, ESV)

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

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Today is the day we look our old enemy, our biggest enemy, our most feared enemy, Death in the face and tell it to its face, it doesn't have any power over us any more! That’s what St. Paul is telling us right here. He mocks the very thing we all in our human nature fear. O Death! Where is your victory? O Death where is your sting? You ain’t got no victory any more. You ain’t got no sting any more… because…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

If you’ve been out to the cemetery with me while we lay the perishable body of one of our brothers or sisters in Christ to await the resurrection, you’ve heard these words of St. Paul. I like how it starts at almost a whisper. Behold! I tell you a mystery. It’s like a movie I saw, one character asks, “What’s going to happen?” the other says, in a whisper, “Something wonderful!” (“2010”) Something wonderful is going to happen to us, so says St. Paul. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. Changed into something not necessarily different but better, better than we are, and what God has always intended for us to be. He uses words like perishable and imperishable; mortal and immortal to help us to understand what he’s talking about. Now we kind of know what those words mean. Look at the leftovers in you fridge and you know perishable. That pizza you put in there last week has perished. The peas in the little Tupperware bowl that’s gotten pushed to the corner have perished. The bodies of those we’ve placed so lovingly in the ground have perished. We understand what it means to be perishable. And all too painfully we know what mortal means. You and I have suffered the pain of mortality. We’ve gathered in this place and other places in grief and loneliness, looking mortality in the face. It’s just another word for Death. We know what it means, our pets die, our plants die, our friends die, our family members die, and we know that we too will die (unless our Lord comes first). That’s just what we confessed it a few weeks ago, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) We know what mortal means. We know what perishable means. We live in their dark shadow every day. We look Death in the face every day. But that’s exactly why we are here today; to stare into death’s face and tell it boldly that it has no power over us; it can’t control us; it won’t have its way with us; it won’t make us live as if it was all there is anymore, because…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

The sting Paul is talking about is that death is ours because of sin. Sin is ours because of the law. We can’t keep the law because we are sinners. Death is the rightful punishment for those who can’t keep the law. We are mortal and perishable because of sin. And the sin I’m talking about isn’t the things we do. If we could keep the law we’d not have to die. But we can’t keep it. We can’t work harder and harder and get better and better. We can’t do anything to please God. In fact, the harder we try to please God, the more we do stuff for him to try to earn some better standing in his eyes, the more sinful our behavior is. Doing stuff for God so that he does something for us in return is always sinful. It’s trying to manipulate God. It's not trusting in God to save us, its counting on ourselves. The true God of the universe doesn't work that way. That’s just not the God we have. That’s the way the gods that we have invented out of human thinking work. Because that’s the way we work. And I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter if it’s reading our bible, helping an old lady across the street, counting beads, or dropping a hundred bucks into the collection plate, everything you do is done at least a little bit to try to buy God off, or to make you look better to him than you are. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to stop doing stuff that is good to do, and I’m not telling you that you need to change your motives. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We sin against God in thought word and deed. That’s the sting… we are lost and condemned creatures, unable to change who we are and what we think. Who we are means… the sting… perishable… mortal… Death… But…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

Death, says St. Paul, is swallowed up in victory! And we just said that we can’t have any victory as far as our lives go, because we have no power over our sinful nature. Well, we don’t have to. … thanks be to God, he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has won the victory and he gives it to us. He was victorious over death. We just sang it 28 times!

He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living head!
He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save;
He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;

Hymn: I Know That My Redeemer Lives;
TLH 200 / LW 264 / LSB 461;
Text and Music in the Public Domain.

In the second service today we’ll read the account from St. Luke where the women go to the tomb and find it empty. Every year when we hear it they are surprised not to find Jesus body there… but we are not. We know the rest of the story… the angel asks them, Why do you seek the living among the dead? We know what to say next…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

That’s our victory over death. We don’t seek him among the dead, he’s alive! All that sin that we were talking about just a few minutes ago, all that trying to please God in the wrong way, all that trying to buy God off, and impress him, all that was taken to his death. He was crucified dead and buried. He was as dead as dead can be. He looked death in the face and at first it seemed to win. His dead lifeless, perishable, mortal body lay in the coldness and stillness of death. He died. He took the sting. But when the women got there, he was not there to be found anymore. He woke up from death. He came alive again from death. His heart started beating again. He blood started flowing again. He smiled in the face of death and said “you are done!” He was the victor and death went down for the count.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

And you and I will be raised too. That’s God promise to you. Because he lives I too shall live! That’s what Paul is saying. He says we shall all be changed. It’s going to happen so fast if you blink you’ll miss it, but the change will happen none the less. He describes it in such simple terms. He says the dead will be raised... he’s using words there that are a bit like waking up from deep sleep. In fact that’s how he begins, we shall not all sleep. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable. It’s as simple as waking up and putting on new cloths. The trumpet will sound to wake us up and we’ll put on new cloths; imperishable cloths; immortal cloths; no more decay, no more pain, no more tears, no more anything that goes along with this perishable, mortal body. There will only be laughter and joy.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

It’s for you! How do I know? I know it because it’s God who promises it to you. If it was just my promise, you’d be in trouble. If it was something you did or had to do, you’d be in trouble. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a gift. You can’t earn it, work for it, pay for it or even steal it. It’s given. It’s given to you through faith in the promises of Jesus Christ. That means, he gives you the cloths and puts them on you. In fact it’s already happened. That’s why at the next service we’ll start with the same verse we start every funeral:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5, ESV)

That’s the new cloths, we just can see them yet. They’ve been given and put on, so that when our enemy death comes, we our eyelids close in death, we know they’ll open up again. We’ll awake and put on those new cloths again. This old perishable, mortal body won’t be perishable and mortal anymore. We shall all be changed. Because…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia! Amen.

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

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday Devotion - Luke 23:55

At the Grave of Jesus. .. Luke 23:55
They witnessed his burial. His body lay there, lifeless... pale... inside the white linen shroud. The women held each other for comfort; they couldn't believe what they were seeing; His lifeless body. Lifeless? How could He be lifeless? After all that He had done... after all He had said... Hadn't he confronted evil everywhere he went? Didn't the demons run screaming away from him? Hadn't he proven he was stronger than death? But now the darkness of the death held him, and his life was gone. The brightness of his eyes... the smile that brought warmth... the voice that calmed fears... they were all gone. Mary Magdalene struggled to remember his voice. She remembered how gently it would come over her when he spoke. She remembered how the sound would fill her like life itself. She remembered how fear and doubt evaporated into nothing. She wanted to hear it now... as she looked in the tomb... the tomb where her Lord lay dead. Mary's mind traced over the time she had spent with him, following him, watching him, and listening to him. What would he say at this moment? What words of hope would he offer? Hope? Yes, that was it... he would give her hope. But, what hope was there in the face of death? What hope was there as she stood staring into the dark hole that swallowed up everyone? Death was her future. Death was the future of all who breathed and dreamed. Every time she visited a grave she saw it. Each death she witnessed brought her own into focus. Every death moved the darkness a little closer. The darkness would come to her, soon enough. And yet, with the crucified Jesus lying before her there must be some hope. He had spoken of death often enough. She remembered the little girl, who died of a fever. "Why do you weep? She is only sleeping." Jesus said. His words filled Mary's mind as she remembered being told how Jesus lifted the girl alive again to her mother's arms. But, most of all she remembered the words Jesus had spoken at the grave of Lazarus. When they all stood there looking into that open grave, just like they were looking now into his. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die." The sound of the rolling stone pushed his words from her mind, and the loud dull thud that sealed the tomb left only silence. But, in that silence she realized that death was sealed there in that tomb with Jesus. The death of all those she had mourned... the death her of parents... the death of her friends... and even her own death lay there wrapped in that shroud and sealed in that tomb. And in her mind, was a flicker of hope, like a single candle in a darkened room. It was hope that was stronger than the image of her dead Lord that now filled her mind. It was hope that knew that this was not the end.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Holy Thursday, April 5, 2007, Luke 22:7-20

7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” 9They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. 14And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:7-20 (ESV)

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

During his three years of ministry I’m sure Jesus and his disciples had lots of meals together. Of course this meal, this one on the night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was unlike any other they had had. There was something very unique about it. Not that every meal they had was an ordinary one. I’m reminded of the time that Jesus and his followers retreated to Bethsaida to get away from the crowd. Even though it was a remote place, the crowds found out that Jesus was there and they followed. Jesus reacted welcoming them, and teaching those who had gathered about the kingdom of God, and healing “those who needed healing.” When the time grew late, the disciples told Jesus to send everyone away to find places to eat and stay for the night, “It’s a long way home.” They protested. Jesus answer was unexpected. “You give them something to eat.” The disciples weren’t sure what Jesus meant because there were well over five thousand people. “But Lord,” they said, “we only have five loaves and two fish, unless you want us to buy food for them all.” “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” When everyone was seated, Jesus took the food they had, the five loaves and two fish, and blessed them, broke the bread into pieces, and gave it all to the disciples to give out to the people. Everyone there, all five thousand plus, ate the meal. It was like none other they had ever had. This meal was provided by Jesus. Over five thousand people had enough to eat from five loaves and two fish. That meal was everything they needed and some left over, twelve baskets full. I’ll bet that every time the disciples saw Jesus breaking bread after that they thought about God providing for people exactly what they needed.

Now the amazing thing about this meal wasn’t necessarily only the fact that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. That alone is an amazing thing. But sometimes we get sidetracked on the big miracles that we can see. If Jesus can provide bread for a multitude we know that he can provide daily bread for me. There is really more at work here than just the filling of empty stomachs. Actually the disciples were used to seeing miracles from Jesus. We can see that that is true just paging through Luke’s Gospel. Luke carefully records for us a great many miracles of Jesus. And even the disciples had been given the ability to do them for a time. Just before this meal the disciples were sent out by Jesus to preach and heal. So the miracle of multiplying is an amazing thing. But there is something else going on here that St. Luke wants us to see. There is something more that Jesus is doing. First, when the crowd gathers, he welcomes them. He doesn’t send them away. Now these people were the typical people who were following him. They were sick, lonely, outcast people. They were people that normally didn’t get invitations to meal, or gatherings. But still, Jesus welcomes them to be with him. Second, he teaches. Jesus tells the people about the kingdom of God. He tells them what it means that God is drawing near to them. He tells them how their lives are already different, just because he is there. And just to show them the reality of what he is speaking about, he blesses the bread, breaks it into pieces and the people eat it. In those days, what ever blessing you spoke over bread that is shared is a blessing for all who share it. The miracle of making the five loaves enough for everyone was only making sure that all those people knew that they were invited to have a friendship with Jesus.

It’s not unexpected for Jesus to use a meal to say that kind of thing to God’s people. The Passover meal was the very same thing. The most important even in Israel’s history was remembered every year by a meal. After the first nine plagues in Egypt, Pharaoh wasn’t impressed enough with the God of the Hebrews to let them go. Through Moses God told his people to sit down and eat. A lamb was slaughtered. Its blood was smeared on the doorposts of their houses. And while God’s friends ate the flesh of the dead lamb, the angel of death visited the houses where God’s friends weren’t eating. Inside all the bloodless houses, the first born died wherever a lamb hadn’t died in his place. So every year after that, the Jews remembered the friendship of God, showed to them in the killing and eating of a lamb.

14This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 15Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:14-17 (ESV)

Do any of you know the first question that was to be asked by the youngest child at this meal? “Why this night is different from all others?” It was a “memorial meal” to teach the people what God had done for them. The lamb’s blood was to be shed to show them what it means that they were the people of God. That He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. How now their lives were different, just because God was with them. And just to show them the reality of what he was saying, the lamb was killed and eaten, and unleavened bread was broken and shared.

And now that brings us to this night, the night that begins the great suffering of Jesus for the sins of the world. The night Jesus had an earnest desire to share with his disciples. Everything for the Feast of Unleavened Bread was prepared. They gathered around Lord’s Table. The table was littered with what was left over from the Passover meal. They had killed and eaten a lamb. And there was unleavened bread. Jesus took the bread gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And then he took the cup of wine and gave it to them and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus was teaching again. He was telling them what was going to happen beginning that night was the real reason that he came. Within hours his blood would be poured out just as it was now begin being poured into them with the wine. Within hours his body would be broken just as it was broken with the bread that they were eating. But the key to what Jesus was saying wasn’t just the miracle of his presence in the meal. The really big miracle comes in the smallest words that he spoke. “for you.” “This is my body given for you. This cup is poured out for you.” Jesus was telling his disciples what it means that God had drawn near to them. He tells them that because of what he was about to do, their lives were already different. And just to show the reality of what he is about to do, he gave his true body and true blood in bread and wine for them to eat and drink. The miracle of what Jesus had come to do was show to them in a way that they could see and taste.

Then it was out to the garden… on to arrest… on to trial… on to crucifixion… and on to death. Jesus offers himself as the replacement lamb. He was killed and his body eaten for the sake of his friends who had gathered at his table.

Tonight, in a few moments we’ll do it again, in remembrance. It is no less miraculous than the feeding of the five thousand. It is no less miraculous than the night the blood was spread on the doorposts and the angel of death passed over. It is no less miraculous than the night the disciples gathered with Jesus over the Passover meal. Right here in this place, God is coming near to us in a very special way. We’ll eat the bread and drink from the cup, just as Jesus told us to do. Jesus is still teaching. The very body and blood that hung and suffered and died on the cross is going to be right here. The very same Jesus who rose from the dead is going to be here at his table again tonight. He wants you to remember what he has done for you. He wants you to remember his broken and bloody body hanging on the cross. He wants you to remember his death and his resurrection. It will all be shown to you in a very visual way right here, tonight. Jesus is telling you what it means that he is drawing near to you. He is telling you that because of what he has done your life is already different. It is all right here and the most important thing to hear when we speak Jesus words over the bread and wine in a few moments is those two very small but very important words… “for you.”

At this meal, you’ve been invited by Jesus himself. He says to you, “Look, my baptized child, look at my body and my blood given and shed for you. Through them you have forgiveness of your sins. Through them you are my friend. I am the very Lamb of God who has given myself up to death in your place. And even though death will come to you, right here in my body and blood you have my promise of life forever with me.”

It is an unusual meal. Amen.

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