Sunday, March 30, 2008

Second Sunday of Easter, 1 Peter 1:3-9, March 30, 2008

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9, ESV)

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

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

It caused Nicodemus to scratch his head. In case you forgot Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to Jesus one dark night to speak to him secretly.
“What do you mean ‘born again.’ I’m already old, can I be born again? Can I go back into my mother’s womb and start all over again? That doesn’t make any sense!”

Nicodemus was a wise old man, but Jesus words confused him. Jesus couldn’t really mean what he was saying. “Listen closely.” Jesus continued, “no one can enter into the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. You see, human beings are flesh they can only give birth to human beings. Flesh is flesh, but spirit is spirit. The Spirit can give birth to spirit.”

It is perhaps one of the strangest metaphors used in the bible. To be born again. When Jesus had that discussion with Nicodemus he was left with scratching his head. He was an educated man, and yet he was still confused. What ever it means to be ‘born again,’ it is apparently very important because Jesus says that you can’t have a relationship with God without it. It is a good topic for the Easter season. After all Jesus Christ died and rose so that human beings could once again have a relationship with God. So to be born again must have something to do with that also. And here it is in our text this morning: According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope. New birth, born again, what exactly does it mean?

Well, let’s start by taking a closer look at the text.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Peter opens this section with a statement of praise to God. He’s using God’s name as that statement of praise. He begins here with what might be called a Doxology that is, praise to God for what he has done for us.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Just like the song he’s saying let’s praise God because of who he is and what he has done. Let’s begin “In the name of God…” According to his great mercy, he has caused us… God the Father of Jesus Christ is acting as our Father, too. He gives us good gifts, just as any good father would do. He is a father that cares for us and gives to us what we need. Here, Peter says, he gives us

born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading

Well, there it is: being born again; The new birth that Jesus talked about to Nicodemus, being born again; The new birth that is necessary for anyone to ‘see the kingdom of God.’ The new birth that is a birth through the Spirit of God. So the text says that this new birth comes about through the resurrection of Jesus. This new birth has everything to do with Easter. It has everything to do with what Jesus has done for us. Notice how the text says that it was given to us. It’s a gift; new birth is something that we don’t have much to do with. How many of you had something to do with your first birth? How many of you chose to be born, when and where you were born? So in the same way we have as much to do with our ‘new birth’ as we did with our ‘old birth.’ Nothing. It comes to us because of God, too. The same with our new birth. It comes to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit must give birth to spirit. He is talking about faith in the work of God, through Jesus Christ. Faith that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So we still haven’t answered the question yet, we know where it comes from but, we don’t know exactly what it is. But before we answer that question lets ask another; Do we really need to be born again? Well… Many people feel that life is a dead end. Modern life with all its gadgets and distractions (as many of you might know I’m a gadget guy!), with all its entertainment and pleasures, can feel quite pointless and without purpose. It’s easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel running for all your worth, to get nowhere. There doesn’t seem to be time to do anything well. It’s easy to look back to the ‘good old days’ and feel that life in the past had much more purpose.

“I remember when… things were just better. I remember when this church was filled to the rafters. I remember when downtown was packed every Friday night. I remember when men were men and boys were boys. I remember when gas was 15cents. And a coke was 5cents. I remember when we announced for communion. I remember when…”

When people feel that way, often it isn’t that they have lost a sense of meaning in life, the real problem is that they have lost the meaning of life. That is to be in a relationship with God, the creator of the heavens and the earth. Sometimes we get that way especially in the church. We forget why we are here. We forget why the church exists. The church is here for this morning. Here is where our relationship with God is fully expressed. The church is here to receive from God the gifts that He loves to give. Through Word and water, bread and wine we receive what we need for life to have meaning. Whenever we loose sight of God at work in our lives in this way we cannot understand life’s ultimate purpose. When we receive these wonderful gifts from God, we turn around and share them with the rest of the world. Without that, we can’t see the purpose for our existence. We focus on ourselves and our lives and all that we have to do. We are cut off from the one that that makes life worth living. We are self centered, living only for me. That’s when life feels like a dead end because it is a dead end. This is sin and sin brings only death. And we are mired in sin up to our eyeballs. Not other people’s sin, but our own. We need God’s forgiveness; we need to be born again, without it we are lost.

But St. Peter talked about being

born again into a living hope.

A living hope, is a hope that makes a difference in a life. It’s a living hope, not a dead end. It’s new life, born again, not an old life with no future. St. Paul describes it too, in his letter to a Pastor named Titus. He describes us pretty well when he describes our sinful nature.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7, ESV)

Paul too talks about rebirth, being born again. Did you hear how he describes it? God saved us through the washing of rebirth that he poured out on us through Jesus Christ! There are other words that we have heard recently:

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. (Romans 6:3-4, ESV)

There it is again. New life, it says, so that we can live a new life! It’s talking about dying and being born again. Dying with Jesus Christ. That’s what baptism is all about. We are connected to Jesus death. In fact, we die with him on the cross. There is no other way to put away sin. You know that if you’ve ever tried to be perfect. We excuse ourselves by saying, “I’m only human.” Well, that’s exactly the problem. Humans cannot be perfect as long as they are alive. But Baptism takes care of that. We die with Jesus. He takes our sinful human nature, and nails it to the cross. He takes ours sick, sinful, hearts and pierces them with the Roman spear. He buries our sin sick bodies, dead and buried in the grave. That’s what Baptism does. Not because I say so, but because God says so in His Word. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death. Our sin is done away with and we rise to new life. A life marked by the joy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A new life that has hope, living hope. A new life that has meaning and purpose because we have forgiveness of sin through the death of Jesus. Our relationship with God is restored. It is our inheritance. Peter wrote: born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That is the living hope that we have been baptized into.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Even though we have been born again, there is still trouble while we live on this old corrupted planet. Even though our hope is living, our living is filled with all kinds trials. It should be expected. Many of you have experienced exactly what Peter is talking about here. Suffering grief and pain of many kinds, hospitalization, tragic accidents, cancer, and death. And even trouble from your own bad decisions. But these, Peter says, also have purpose. If your new birth gives your life purpose, then the troubles in your life must have purpose too! They come, says Peter, to increase your faith. They comes, he says, so that you can see the new life you have in Jesus even more clearly. Trials make us see our faith Jesus as a gift and nothing we can do for ourselves. When you can’t depend on yourself, you have to depend on Jesus. When you know you will fail, you turn to the one who gave his life for you, because what he gives you that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, and is kept in heaven for you.

It’s a new life that you’ve been given, new life full of joy and hope. How do you know it’s yours? How do you know that you’ve been ‘born again?’ It’s a gift from the Father, a gift to you, not because you deserve it, or because you chose him, but because he chose you when he poured out on you new life a new birth. He did it when he said to you:

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What has Issues, Etc. taught me? That's simple. One word. Preaching.

What has Issues, Etc. Taught me?
That's simple. One word. Preaching.

As a preacher I fall into the prideful trap of all preachers. I want to leave my listeners crying in their seats. I want my listeners to say, "he's the best preacher we've ever had in this church." I want my listeners to remember me and my preaching. But that's not what preaching is about is it Todd? If I do all these things but leave out the cross I've missed my purpose for standing in the pulpit. I learned much listening to Todd's analysis of preaching on the program. I still may not preach perfectly ;-) but my preaching has certainly become more Christ-Centered / Cross Focused.

The Issues, Etc. Sermon Diagnostic (My paraphrase)
  • How many times was Jesus mentioned? (simple count)
  • Is Jesus the one doing the actions in the sermon? (is Jesus the subject of the verbs)
  • What did the pastor say Jesus did for me? (what are the verbs)
The Issues, Etc. Sermon Diagnostic is so simple, so straight forward, so right. As Todd always said it doesn't cover everything a sermon should be, but it hits the heart of the matter dead on. I use it for my Confirmation Class sermon notes and I wrote a simple bible study for my Sunday morning bible class.

This is not all I learned as a preacher listening to Issues. But this one stands out.
Thanks Todd and Jeff!
Rev. Jonathan C. Watt

I've attached a pdf file containing the "Sermon Evaluation Study and Form"
And a PowerPoint document "What Makes a Good Sermon" I used in the morning bible class.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway former member of the Board of Communication Services interviewed on the White Horse Inn

Friday, March 28, 2008

Joshua's Senior Project.

I have been asked many times what Joshua, my son, is studying.
I always say, "computers in everything."
Here is a web page of his senior project, an Omnidirectional Robot
He is working on this project with 8 other students.

Here's a video of this autonomous Omnidirectional robot finding a tennis ball.
(that means it finds it by itself!)

Issues Issue hits GetReligion.

"tmatt" a writer at the GetReligion blog (A blog that studies how religion is represented in the media) chimes in ( on the Issues controversy with an entry about MZ Hemmingway's feature in the WallSteet Journal. He talks about his connection to the show.
This is especially interesting to me, since this was one of the only radio shows that I used to agree to appear on (for free) to talk about trends in religion news. It offered intelligent hosts and very fine listeners with good questions. It was worth the time and effort to hook up with them. It was not a shouting show.
He finishes with an interesting observation.
Welcome to the worship wars and the post-denominational age. This is the kind of conflict that is quietly developing on the right, while the left draws more headlines battling over the creeds, salvation and, of course, sex.
Any thoughts that this issue isn't a big issue should soon evaporate!

Searching Scipture: Seeing, Hearing, Touching Jesus.

Please check out the current issue of the Lutheran Witness.
I have written the bible study "Searching Scripture"

"Seeing, Hearing, Touching Jesus"

Read it online.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Issues, Etc. (updated 3/27)

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod canceled the radio program Issues, Etc. on its Radio Station KFUO AM. This program was a lifeline of Lutheran Theology to many people all over the globe. Host Pastor Todd Wilken and Producer Jeff Schwarz were dismissed and the program ended without notice. I have struggled with the reasons that may have prompted this decision and will not speculate here. This is a great loss to the whole Communion of Saints. (see Article III, paragraph 47ff)

Read the Official statement by the LCMS.
for Reaction see:

And the Wall Street Journal: By MOLLIE ZIEGLER HEMINGWAY

If you care to sign a petition in protest of this decision and ask for the return of Issues, Etc. to the air please visit

Some blogs to follow for more information:

For now the program can be heard in archive:
(some trouble accessing the archives has been reported)

The online resource page for Issues Etc is

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunrise, March 23, 2008. Matthew 28:1-10

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10, ESV)

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As I was preparing for this service this morning I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. Something that at first seemed strange and different. Maybe you’ve noticed it, or maybe you just took it for granted. But, for me it was really the first time I really took notice of it. The Easter story, the account of the Resurrection of Our Lord, the highest point in the church year, “The most holy Christian Holiday” (as they so often say in the News media), the most joyous day of the year for Christians, all it takes place in a cemetery. Maybe that doesn’t seem strange to you. But I have a difficult time putting all the normal events of Easter, all of our celebrations, in a graveyard. Maybe I can explain it this way. Little Billy is 2 years old. He’s wearing he new Easter suit, its one of those with a white shirt and a little vest. He’s running across the grass in search of Easter eggs. Mom is standing there with her hand at her mouth holding back tears of joy, “He’s just so cute!” she says to herself. Dad is following close behind making sure Billy sees all of the eggs hidden in the grass… Dad kneels next to his son. “Billy, I see a really nice one. Look over there, next to that gravestone!”

Or picture this; a large group of people has gathered together, they are all wearing their “Easter Best.” It is a joyous Easter festival! There are little girls in new spring bonnets… flowers butterflies, ribbons and curls, perfume and makeup; little boys in new spring suits, women in fresh flower print dresses and men who normally are found in coveralls, actually wearing ties. Everyone is joyful and happy. There is laughter and singing, even trumpets. As you look out over the crowd here and there between the people are gray and white tombstone stones sticking up. And even a mound of fresh dirt marking a recent burial. It seems to me an odd picture, an inconsistency. Something is defiantly out of place. Somehow, Easter and the graveyard don’t seem to go together.

Well, I guess it really isn’t hard to understand… Easter is a springtime festival. Everything we do reminds us of life. Mountains of lilies, bright Easter colors, buckets of pastel M&Ms, even the white paraments on the altar remind us of life. The grass is at least thinking about turning green again several of you farmers are already itching to get into the fields. (some of you have already been there) Easter is about life. It’s about spring, or so it would seem.

The graveyard on the other hand, is about separation and death. When we visit there we do so with tears, not joy. We do our best to make them pleasant places, with green grass and trees; nice quiet peaceful places to visit; but they are not places of great joy. They are not places of life. So it would seem, Easter and the graveyard don’t really go together.

Yet, here we are with this text in front of us, an account of how the two Mary’s went early in the morning to “look at the tomb,” to the graveyard. I wonder exactly what they expected to see there? Were their steps a confusing combination of grief, sadness, and yet hope? Did the words Jesus spoke about his death echo in their minds? Did the words Jesus spoke about his resurrection give them some small portion of hope? After all, they wanted to look at the tomb. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus wouldn’t be there, dead. Maybe, just maybe, they’d find just what he had told them they’d find, that he was really alive again. One thing is for certain. They went to the graveyard to see Jesus. And it was Jesus that they found. Well, first they found an angel, and an empty tomb. I wonder how it felt to stand in that graveyard, that place of death, and look at the place where a dead body should have been and find it empty. “I know you are looking for Jesus, the one who you saw crucified, dead and buried….” The angel said to them, “but you won’t find him in the grave anymore. He is risen! See the grave is empty! And that is good news that you need to tell his disciples.” The women were afraid, but they were also filled with joy; an uneasy combination of faith and unbelief; of hope and fear. And so they ran. They ran to do what the angel told them to do. And suddenly there in that place of death, there in that graveyard, stood Jesus, not dead but very much alive. The angel told them that he was alive. What the angel had told them was true. Jesus had told them that he would rise from the dead. What Jesus had told them was true. Jesus Christ, their crucified Lord had conquered death. There he stood before them, and all they could do was grab hold of him and worship at his feet.

Jesus conquered death! Two nights ago we gathered in this same place and remembered the price paid by Jesus for our sins. We remembered the punishment he bore for us as he bled and died on the cross. We all left in silence, maybe even with a confusing mixture of sadness and joy. Because we knew that what Jesus did, he did for us. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” That means that his death on the cross was our death, too. When he died for the sins of the world he died for your sins and mine. “We were therefore buried with him, through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the father, we to may have new life. If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.” You see Jesus conquered death. He conquered your death. The resurrection of Jesus is assurance to you that even though you will die, you too, will rise again, just as he did. And that’s what those women found when they visited that graveyard in Jerusalem. They found the resurrected Jesus. They found the living Jesus and the promise of their own resurrection.

We’ve made some visits to the graveyard this year. We’ve been there. And we will undoubtedly be there again this coming year. What do we expect to find there at the graveyard? Do we go with an uneasy combination of sadness and joy? Do we go there looking for Jesus? Do we go there remembering that Jesus stood in a graveyard, resurrected to life? You see, it may seem that Easter is about life. But would it surprise you if I said that Easter isn’t really about life. Easter is really all about death. It’s about an end to death forever. It’s about the victory our Lord won over death. It’s about Jesus Christ standing in the cemetery alive. It’s about you and me, and all those we’ve laid out in the ground of our cemetary, alive again, because of Jesus Christ our Risen Lord.

Well ok, I’m not saying that we should have met in the cemetery this morning. But I am saying that the cemetery is the perfect place for Easter! That is where Easter means everything. That is where we see first hand what it means that Jesus Christ is risen today! Amen.

He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jesus, I Will Ponder Now

"Jesus, I Will Ponder Now"
by Sigismund v. Birken
Translated by August Crull, 1845-1923

Jesus, I will ponder now
On Thy holy Passion;
With Thy Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of Thy suffering, pain, and death,
That I may not perish.

Make me see Thy great distress,
Anguish, and affliction,
Bonds and stripes and wretchedness
And Thy crucifixion;
Make me see how scourge and rod,
Spear and nails, did wound Thee,
How for man Thou diedst, O God,
Who with thorns had crowned Thee.

Yet, O Lord, not thus alone
Make me see Thy Passion,
But its cause to me make known
And its termination.
Ah! I also and my sin
Wrought Thy deep affliction;
This indeed the cause hath been
Of Thy crucifixion.

Grant that I Thy Passion view
With repentant grieving
Nor Thee crucify anew
By unholy living.
How could I refuse to shun
Every sinful pleasure
Since for me God's only Son
Suffered without measure?

If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let Thy cross my fear disarm,
Peace of conscience give me.
Grant that I may trust in Thee
And Thy holy Passion.
If His Son so loveth me,
God must have compassion.

Grant that I may willingly
Bear with Thee my crosses,
Learning humbleness of Thee,
Peace mid pain and losses.
May I give Thee love for love!
Hear me, O my Savior,
That I may in heaven above
Sing Thy praise forever.

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #140
Text: Luke 18: 31-34
Author: Sigismund v. Birken, 1653
Translated by: August Crull, 1923, alt.
Titled: "Jesu, deine Passion"
Composer: Melchior Vulpius, 1609
Tune: "Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maunday Thursday.

Thanks Paul for the nice article on Maunday Thursday.

I can say nothing better than this:

"I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table"
by Friedrich C. Heyder, 1677-1754
Translated by composite

1. I come, O Savior, to Thy Table,
For weak and weary is my soul;
Thou, Bread of Life, alone art able
To satisfy and make me whole:

Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good!

2. Oh, grant that I in manner worthy
May now approach Thy heavenly Board
And, as I lowly bow before Thee,
Look only unto Thee, O Lord!

3. Unworthy though I am, O Savior,
Because I have a sinful heart,
Yet Thou Thy lamb wilt banish never
For Thou my faithful Shepherd art!

4. Oh, let me loathe all sin forever
As death and poison to my soul
That I through wilful sinning never
May see Thy Judgment take its toll!

5. Thy heart is filled with fervent yearning
That sinners may salvation see
Who, Lord, to Thee in faith are turning;
So I, a sinner, come to Thee.

6. Weary am I and heavy laden,
With sin my soul is sore opprest;
Receive me graciously, and gladden
My heart, for I am now Thy guest.

7. Thou here wilt find a heart most lowly
That humbly falls before Thy feet,
That duly weeps o'er sin, yet solely
Thy merit pleads, as it is meet.

8. By faith I call Thy holy Table
The testament of Thy deep love;
For, lo, thereby I now am able
To see how love Thy heart doth move.

9. What higher gift can we inherit?
It is faith's bond and solid base;
It is the strength of heart and spirit,
The covenant of hope and grace.

10. This feast is manna, wealth abounding
Unto the poor, to weak ones power,
To angels joy, to hell confounding,
And life for us in death's dark hour.

11. Thy body, given for me, O Savior,
Thy blood which Thou for me didst shed,
These are my life and strength forever,
By them my hungry soul is fed.

12. With Thee, Lord, I am now united;
I live in Thee and Thou in me.
No sorrow fills my soul, delighted
It finds its only joy in Thee.

13. Who can condemn me now? For surely
The Lord is nigh, who justifies.
No hell I fear, and thus securely,
With Jesus I to heaven rise.

14. Though death may threaten with disaster,
It cannot rob me of my cheer;
For He who is of death the Master
With aid and comfort e'er is near.

15. My heart has now become Thy dwelling,
O blessed Holy Trinity.
With angels I, Thy praises telling,
Shall live in joy eternally.

Hymn #315
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: 1 Cor. 11:28
Author: Friedrich C. Heyder, 1710, cento
Translated by: composite
Titled: "Ich komm' zu deinem Abendmahle"
Tune: "Ich sterbe taeglich"
1st Published in: Ms., Municipal Library
Town: Leipzig, 1756

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2008

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14, ESV)

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

Life if full of tragic events. Hard events that seem to come at you without warning. Events that leave you feeling alone, gasping for breath, and wondering what happened. Events that drain away hope, and leave your future desolate, like standing in a great desert, with nothing but miles of dry sand and dry bones in every direction. And there’s nowhere to go but through it… the hot dry wind only pushes the sand around and the sun even dries the sweat off of your forehead.

You’ve been there. Dragging your way through the hot sand, breathless… facing emergency surgery; watching a neighbor suffer with cancer, gathered together to wait for word about and accident; standing in the waiting room while your whole reason for living is in surgery; struggling with financial decisions that don’t seem to have any solution; watching helplessly as the crops dry up under the hot South Dakota summer sun; gazing at another empty Saturday night main street; fretting over empty pews in church. It’s enough to get you to ask the question “Why?” Screaming out to God, who feels like he is a thousand miles away… unwilling and unable to help… uncaring… while your hopes and dreams for the future dry up and blow away like sand.

But it isn’t only life events, like disease and accidents that leave us panting for breath and wondering where God is. We’ve driven ourselves out in the desert, too, pushing God’s life giving breath away. We do this every time we let sin rule our lives, inviting it to live with us, drying out our faith and our desire to be with God in His house. When we pretend that our priorities for the church are God’s priorities. We let our selfishness destroy our relationships with each other; letting anger destroy a longstanding friendship; thinking of personal gain instead of helping others; thinking first of the survival of the congregation instead of how God would have us serve the community. Sin and time away from God’s Word make it feel natural to be alone in the desert. The long trip back seems impossible. The desert is too hot and dry to cross. It’s easier to sit down and be alone, separated from God and His refreshment.

the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.

Ezekiel writes this about his vision.

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.

Just like those bones God’s people, Israel, were like bones dried up and lying in a desert valley. They were breathless and dry, without hope and alone. From the time Joshua led them over the Jordan river to the time that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the beautiful irreplaceable temple of Solomon they were warned about the results of unfaithfulness. They were told the land they lived in was a gift from God, and would remain theirs as long as they remained faithful, as long as they trusted in Him alone, as long as they remembered that the land was really his. But for hundreds of years they ignored the warnings of prophet after prophet. When Jerusalem was laid waste by the enemy, when the temple was destroyed, when the best and the brightest of the survivors were hauled off into imprisonment and slavery in lands far from home; Israel was left sitting alone, unable to breath.

‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’

Can bones like these, dry and lifeless, ever live again? Can flesh come upon them and blood once again course through their veins? Can dried out ribs ever inhale moist oxygen rich air and breathe again?

“O Lord God, you know.” And only you!

“Speak my word to them and they will live,” promises God. “Breath will come to breathless dry bones and they will breathe again. In spite of their unfaithfulness, in spite of there aloneness, my breath, my Spirit, will fill them again with breath and life.”

In a few short days we’ll celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. During the Easter season we’ll hear again and again about breath and life returning to Jesus lifeless breathless body. We’ll rejoice that God breathed life into Jesus and He lived again. Death can not hold God in the grave. On the third day He broke out of death, alive and full of the breath of life.

So when God says that dry, lifeless, breathless bones can live again we know it is true. When He tells Ezekiel that the dry bones of Israel will take on flesh and breath we know it is true. When He promises that when we are dry and breathless, apart from Him, we too can live again we believe it is true. That is, after all the work of God, through the Holy Spirit. He is the Breath and Spirit sent by Jesus at Pentecost to raise the house of Israel from its grave of despair. It is that Spirit that breaths life into His church to make it alive in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection.

The work of God in the Holy Spirit isn’t anything new. The Spirit’s work has always been bringing life. Like a potter God formed Adam out of the dry, breathless, dust of the earth. He carefully formed him, bone to bone, tendon, flesh and skin. And then the Spirit of God gave him the breath of life, it was ‘puffed’ into his lifeless body. Adam then breathed and lived.

Ezekiel was talking about this work of the Holy Spirit. He was also talking about the restoration of the Promised Land to God’s people. They would return to the land, but the glory of David’s kingdom as they knew it was gone forever. They would never again be a free nation. They would always be under the control of others, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. God’s promise was fulfilled anyway. There would be a new better king than David. There would be a new Israel. The new kingdom wouldn’t be based on bloodlines but on the blood that ran from the veins of Jesus’ pierced body. The new kingdom, the new Israel would be created by the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

It isn’t just a nice metephore to call the Spirit of God, the Breath of Life, or to call Him the wind. The biblical words that describe Him are the same words for wind and breath. When Ezekiel heard the wind come and fill lifeless bodies with breath, and the disciples heard the wind come at Pentecost, they all knew the Spirit of God, the one that hovered over the waters at the creation, was at work again creating life, bringing breath and life to breathless human beings.

For the children of Israel in exile in Babylon far from their homeland, separated from their homes their families and their land, without any hope of returning, without any hope of being a people again, they asked, “Can these breathless, dry bones live?” God’s answer is, “Yes!” I will breathe new life into you. You will once again be my people and I will be your God. You will no longer be dead, breathless, dry bones lying about in a valley of death, but a people of hope and life.

And for you and me, God’s people today, standing together in the quiet dark of the hospital room, wondering if the next hours bring life or death, when we stand at the open grave peering in facing the very real prospect of our own death, when we see our relationships crumbling like dust, and our worship dry and lifeless, we ask, “Can these bones live? Can God bring life and breath to me? Can God breathe breath into my relationships and my church? God answers “Yes!” to you too. Yes, because you were brought from your grave of sin through the death of Jesus. Yes, because new life was breathed into your dry dead bones and flesh. The Holy Spirit breathed faith into you and refreshed you through the water of Holy Baptism.

There will still be times when we gasp for breath, when the struggle with sin will dry you out and leave you thirsty. There will be times when you wonder if God is a thousand miles away. There will still be events in your life that will leave you breathless. Automobile accidents, family struggles, dissolving friendships, loss of a job, failing church attendance, shrinking communities… When these times come remember the Breath of God. Remember the Breath of God in a valley of dry bones that brought life to lifeless bones and flesh. That same breath has already brought new life to you. That life comes from the promises of God in Jesus Christ. The promise of forgiveness and new life, signed and sealed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and yours though the gift of faith. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Eph 5.8-14, Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 2, 2008

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14, ESV)

(This is a repeat sermon from Feb 27, 2005, preached at St. John's, Burt IA).

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

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, … I will turn the darkness into light before them” (Isa 42:16) Isaiah writes that in the Old Testament lesson for today. Those words remind us a lot of the reading from the book of John where Jesus heals the man who was born blind. Jesus does exactly what Isaiah said, he turns this man’s darkness into light. That blind man himself said as we sang in the hymn, “I was blind but now I see!” as the story continues the sees more and more. The more the Pharisees grill him about how he was healed the more his faith grows. In the end he gives a very powerful witness to Jesus. He worships Jesus, the one who took his blindness away. He moves from darkness into light.

The Pharisees go the other way. They see the light that Jesus brings but they choose to stay in the darkness. The fulfillment of the prophecy is there for them to see, the blind man who was healed, stands before them. It is sight and light brought to a man born blind, but they refuse to believe. For the man born blind, Jesus created a completely new world of light where there was only darkness before. How much different would his life be now?

That’s what this text from St. Paul is about. The words he wrote in Ephesians answer that question. The man that Jesus healed was blind, in darkness, and now he is in the light, he could see. The world that he knew only by his other senses was brought to new light. And not only that, but he could see the one that God had sent to be the Savior of the world. He saw the “Son of Man,” the light of the world.

You and I, we can see. We’re not blind. Probably very few of you even know person who is blind. Few people in this room even suffer from poor eyesight, that is disabling. We have the best of medical care that corrects and protects most of the problems we have with our eyes. In lots of ways we see better now than any generation. When I was a senior in High School the teachers told me they thought I might need glasses. I didn’t believe them, but I went to the eye doctor anyway. It was one of those “in-the-mall” eye clinics. After the checkup the doctor brought me out to pick the frames for the new glasses he said I needed. As I sat there he must have seen the dubious look on my face. “You don’t think you need glasses do you.” “No!” I answered. “I can see just fine.” He pointed out the window of the shop to a tree. “What do you see?” he asked. “A tree,” I said in a sarcastic voice. Holding the lens that would be my glasses prescription in front of my eye he asked again. “Now what do you see?” “Leaves!” I said. Before that, I didn’t know that that when you looked at a tree you were supposed to see leaves. I was blind to it. I was brought into the light. I couldn’t wait for the glasses to be done.

We also have light… at least the electric sort. It’s not very often that the power goes out around here. The lights are very dependable. Once in a while, we have power outages from snow and ice. Whenever you mention the power being out you always here about the old days when the snow piled up the roof and power was out for weeks. All that is just in our memory, our lights rarely go out today. But even if we can see and we have light there is darkness to be found in our lives. It’s blindness that doctors have no cure for. It is darkness that you can’t fix with a flashlight. And it all lives in the chambers of our hearts.

We live with this darkness every day. We struggle with what we know is right and what we want for ourselves. It comes out in our selfish desires. It comes out in our anger. It comes out in our laziness. It comes out in our apathy. We know the darkness. We most often point it out when we see it in other people. But we know that what we see in others is only a reflection of our own troubles. What’s more, God’s light, His Holy and Perfect Word exposes us for what we really are. It shines the light on our sinful nature. When what’s in our hearts is in control of our lives there can be only darkness in our lives.

Saint Paul also knew well what he was talking about when he said; “You were once in darkness…” He lived it in his own life. Before Jesus changed his life he stood by and approvingly watched as people threw stones at Stephen until he was dead. Stephen died because he confessed Jesus. He was the first Christian martyr. Paul even held the killers coats while they worked. Paul’s world, before Jesus, was darkness. And even if we don’t care to admit it, we know what he’s talking about, too. We don’t like it when the light of truth shines on our dark hearts and reveals our sin. We would rather keep our secrets, secret. We want our private lies, our private desires, our private darkness, to be only ours. But, God’s light shines on it and exposes it all and when it does we want to cower in the corner, and stay in the darkness.

But, Paul also says that we are Children of the Light. We are that because we have been made so by the Jesus. He said himself that he is the light of the world. He not only brings light into the world, like when he made the blind man see, but he is the light of the world. Jesus is life, and that life, is the light of men. St. John says at the beginning of the Gospel of John. So Saint Paul can talk about our darkness as a thing of the past. Just look how Paul says it You were once in darkness… he said, but now you are light in the Lord. God’s Word of Light shines on us and tells us of our need for a Savior. It shines on the darkness in our hearts and exposes it. God’s Word also tells us that Jesus Christ is the Savior we need. He won forgiveness that makes the darkness in our hearts go away. God’s Word tells us again and again of God’s great love for us in Jesus. His love was so great that, on a darkened hillside outside of Jerusalem, the Light of the World endured the pain and suffering, the punishment and the condemnation, that our darkness deserved. All the darkness of the world was gathered into that one place, and placed on Jesus. He took the darkness of our sin to death, and left it in the grave. We know what happened after that, he rose again. He came alive. The darkness of death was defeated by the Light of the World. That’s the Light that shines into your darkness with God’s great love.

When you walk into a darkened room you simply flip a switch and soon light floods every corner. We do it every day without thinking. Light makes a difference in the room. The Light of Jesus makes a difference in your life. Jesus is your Light. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and Water and Bread and Wine, he enables us to push the darkness away, and see Jesus even more clearly. The Light that Jesus gives defeats the unholy, secret, dark things in our hearts. Like the blind man who saw the light of the world for the first time when Jesus fixed his eyes, our lives are also forever different.

Paul tells us again, Live as Children of the Light. The fruit of a life as a Child of Light is evident goodness, righteousness, and truth. And that describes you and me, too. Even though there still times when the darkness comes out, because of Jesus we always have the moments of light. Visits to the hospital miles away from home, a caring touch for a hurting relative, and an understanding smile. Faithful, often unnoticed, work for the church, and money that sends missionaries to the farthest, darkest corners of the earth. The Light of God shines in and through us, as the love of God reaches out from us, to the dark world that is all around us.

And there are times when we point to the darkness of the world around us, and shine the Light of Truth there, too. It isn’t that there isn’t darkness in us, but that God’s light is needed out there. “…light that makes everything visible.” There are times to speak up about sin in the world: to defend the lives of the helpless; to point out what God says is evil. So there are times when we must speak out against public sin. It’s not that we want to condemn but that we want to bring to light what God had done about the whole world’s sin. We want there to be repentance to life. We what God’s light for other people, too. Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. “God has sent Jesus Christ to remove the darkness from your life.” We say to those whose lives are controlled by the darkness. “Turn to him and live in the light.”

Jesus sent the blind man to a pool of water to wash the mud off his eyes. When he did his new life in the light began. Our new lives, our new life in the light begins with our washing too. Every day we as we wake, when the light of day wakes us from sleep and we hop into the shower or wash our face, we remember the new life, the light that Jesus brings to our lives in Baptism. We remember that we were blind but now we see. We remember that Jesus washed the darkness in our hearts away. We are no longer blind but are in the light. We also remember that every day we wake and rise only because the Light of Jesus Christ has shines on us. The Light of the World shines through us to make us a light to the world. Darkness no longer controls us, but light, the light of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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