Monday, April 29, 2013

Hebrews 12:1-3; The Sixth Sunday of Easter; April 28, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3, ESV)

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

Perseverance isn’t a word you hear much of these days. Oh, you might have heard some about it in reference to the Olympic athletes, especially those long distance runners. Here St. Paul tells us to run a race with perseverance. Perseverance implies pain and sacrifice. That “no pain; no gain” attitude, pushing on no matter what. That’s the attitude we love to talk about when it comes to sports. We always admire the football player who perseveres through the pain and plays hurt because his teammates depend on him. He endures for the sake of something greater. We admire the Marathon runners who collapse at the end of their grueling jaunt, and those guys who play water polo. It’s hard to imagine treading water that long, but they endure and more because the love the game and they want to win. Now even though we admire perseverance athletes, and we even strive for some ourselves in our own personal “training” goals, somehow, even though we like to talk about it, even though we admire it in athletes, it doesn’t seem to carry over to our spiritual lives. But that’s the race Paul is talking about in our text. He’s talking about persevering, enduring in a spiritual race. That’s a little different from what we usually want to hear at church. That’s usually not what we want to hear from God, either. We’d really like the quick fix, 10 fast and easy steps to a more meaningful life. We come to worship expecting to feel God’s presence right now; expecting God to give to us what we want for good living. “God, I want patience, and I want it now.” “God, if you love me, take away my pain, now… heal me now… save my spouses life now…” When it comes to spiritual perseverance, spiritual endurance we fall pretty short of the mark.

And so Paul’s words to us today are about spiritual perseverance. He knows where we are. He saw it in the Christians he wrote to. He knew it was common among those congregations he founded. I guess people then were just as sports minded as they are today. Paul must have known because he used this illustration that most of us can relate to. One that is even fresh in the minds of those how’ve lingered in front of the gray glow late into the night, to see the Loral leaves placed on US athletes and national anthems played. Paul is telling us how to endure in the most important race of our lives. The spiritual race; the eternal race; the one we dare not fail.

He starts out by telling us we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. If you’ve been watching the Olympics you’ve seen the crowds play an active part. You’ve been in the stands a an important football or basketball game. Paul wants to call that picture to our minds. He says there’s a great cloud of witnesses all around us. You know how the crowd can affect an athlete. Boos and cat-calls make it difficult to do your best. Cheers and screams of encouragement give an extra boost of confidence. In Paul’s day the crowds were the same. The people around didn’t just witness the event, they participated in it. And yet, Paul’s great crowd isn’t standing around looking on at our race. The crowd that he’s revealing to us is the ones who have already run the race. They have gone before, they have finished already. They are not standing around watching us run, but by their example they have shown the right way to run. Paul wants us to remember that we run on the same track, we participate in the same trials; we suffer the same pain, and need the same perseverance and endurance as they did. In spite of it all they ran in faith that the promises of God were true. In fact, they ran as if the promises of were a reality even though they had to suffer. They ran through the pain. They show us that even when all seems lost, when the pain is too great to continue on, that perseverance comes from Jesus. We keep our eyes on him and run anyway. You know about some of the other faithful runners, that’s what we learn about in Sunday school. Just think faithful athletes like David, who struggled with sin just as we do, who endured even though his sinful nature threatened him. When he fell into sin with Bathsheba, when he committed adultery, he saw his sin and repented and turned to God for forgiveness. And even though he lived with the pain of death over and over again in his family, God called him a man after his own heart. David endured because he knew that God promised a Savior from sin. He depended on that Savior to remove his sin. And then there’s Moses, who gave God’s laws to God’s people. Yet, he, himself, was guilty of breaking them. He disobeyed God in anger and lost the promise to enter into the Promised Land for himself. But he persevered and brought the people to the Jordan River. And there were others, many, many more who ran. Remember the endurance of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo who faced death in the fiery furnace, because they wouldn’t pray to Nebuchadnezzar as god. But, God saved them from certain death and literally stood with them and protected them in the fire. On and on the list goes… And the list of witnesses that Paul is talking about even includes faithful runners who used to sit right here with us. They also ran with perseverance facing pain, and sickness, and even death. They had trouble in their lives because of sin. But they ran through the pain. All of them had one thing in common and without it they would have all failed, they would have all quit. The one thing they had in common was Jesus. He was the goal that they ran towards. He placed the Laurel leaves of victory on their heads when they finished. Paul’s point is that we are not alone, we run just as they ran. We know the race can be finished. We have many examples to prove it.

Jesus, too, ran a race of perseverance. In fact he is our best example of one who ran the race. He ran His race of pain and suffering for us. He saved us from our sinful course in life. He is not only our rescuer, but also the author and perfector of our faith. That means that he gives us the faith that we need to run. That means he gives strength to continue when the race gets difficult. It is faith that sustains us as we struggle against the world that would have us forget Jesus. It is faith that gives us the strength to endure against the painful attacks of Satan. It is faith the keeps our eyes on Our Savior even in the face of temptations from our own sinful flesh.

We can endure in all this because our every weight, and sin which clings so closely was carried by Jesus in His race for us. He runs carrying our sins, our failures, our selfishness, our trouble and pain. His race is a race to the death. Its finish line is a bloody death on the cross. He spent His whole life running toward that goal, looking to that prize. Not because He enjoyed the pain, but because He loves us more. He removes our burden of sin so that we can run, and shed every weight and sin that clings so closely, and run burden free, keeping our focus on Him, drawing our strength from Him. He becomes the perfect example, running the race for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. And victory that he won, is our victory. You know how marathon runners douse themselves with water from bottles given them as they run? It removes the sweat and cools them off. Baptism is our dousing. Only baptism does more than remove a little road grime. Baptism connects us directly with Jesus race. When that water is poured on to us we are connected to Jesus life, his whole life. And just as he persevered, just as he ran through the pain, it is his promise to us he will give us what we need to run too. And even more than that, his victory is our victory. Jesus’ death and his resurrection over death that makes his race perfect. And baptism is God’s promise to us that our race will end just as his did. Just when all seems lost and we close our eyes in death, we will open them to see Jesus.

For us now even though He has finished the race for us, we still have training to do. Any race requiring perseverance requires training. Just like any coach who pushes his athletes to perform better, Jesus does the same for us. Just like a father who disciplines his children, so does Jesus also. In fact, He shows us His great love through that discipline. Actually, the pain and trouble that God allows along the way are a blessing. After all, what would happen if God never corrected us when we strayed from the course? What would happen if we were never chastised for our errors? What would happen if God didn’t use the strong hammer of His word to point out our guilt? We’d never finish at all. We’d be lost in our sin. We’d be sitting on the side of the track, comfortable-ly lost. But God is our Heavenly Father. He loves and cares for us more than we can know. That’s why Paul could write these words to the Roman church:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

The race that we’ve been given to run isn’t always an easy one. But the outcome is assured. The victory is ours. We will finish and even more than that we have the victory. It’s been assured to us by Jesus’ victory, even though from our point of view the race sometimes seems lost. We suffer failure, pain, sorrow, and loss. Perseverance isn’t easy. But God’s promises to us are true. Jesus has run a perfect race. He bore all our pain and suffering on the cross. He gained our victory and he gives it to us freely. He gives us all that we need to endure, to persevere in the race. We run with the great crowd of witnesses, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, in him we persevere. Amen.

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

John.10:11-18; Fourth Sunday of Easter; April 21, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:11–18, ESV)

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

You know, I don’t know many shepherds. I did grow up in a family that was well versed in cattle and corn, alfalfa and irrigation, I’m familiar with farming, but I don’t know sheep. My grandfather raised a few sheep, but I don’t think you could really call him a shepherd. I just remember avoiding the mean old ram we called “Rammel.” I see sheep in pens around here, but still I don’t think you could call anyone around here a shepherd. So when Jesus says that He’s the good shepherd, I’m not sure I really understand what that means. Do you?

I’m sure you have a picture of the Good Shepherd in mind. Of course you do, it’s right there in the stained glass window. Jesus standing on the rocky path, all you have to do is add sheep standing around lovingly gazing at the shepherd’s face. He’s always holding one, too. Usually a little lamb, one we imagine is too small to walk on its own, one that’s been injured by the dangers of the path, or one that’s tired and unable to go on. Jesus is carrying it because it’s lost by itself. We love that picture. Sure you've seen a similar picture with Jesus standing among the children. They too are standing in similar positions looking at Jesus with big dark sheep eyes. That’s the Shepherd in our mind, the shepherd of Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. But I wonder is that what Jesus is talking about, is that what He saying about himself, when He says He is the Good Shepherd, in this text.

First of all he says that he is the Good Shepherd. He’s not just a good one, the is the good one. He’s the best of the best, the top of the heap. The One and Only, champion, good shepherd. But what kind of a shepherd is this Good Shepherd? What makes him a good one? What makes him the good one?

He says that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. It’s easy to let that one go by us, and not stop and think about what He’s saying, because of course we know about Jesus dying for us on the cross, that’s what He’s talking about, right? Well, probably, but really if you think about it it’s not really very wise for the Shepherd to die? Is it? After all if He dies who will protect the sheep? Imagine the flock out there in the rocky wilderness. They are all gathered around the Good Shepherd, lazily minding their own business, eating the green grass, and drinking the still water. Then from out of nowhere the wolf appears. The sheep get nervous and start bleating. The shepherd positions himself between the sheep and the white fangs. There’s a quick struggle—but the wolf walks away and the shepherd is dead. Now what? The wolf snarls as the shepherd’s blood drips from his teeth, and is hungry eyes look over his next victim, probably that little sheep the shepherd was just carrying. If the shepherd is dead, there is no one to protect the sheep anymore. The sheep are as good as dead, too, aren’t they?

Of course the shepherd who dies is better than the hired hand shepherd, the second hand shepherd (that's what the bible calls him). As soon as the wolf appears he hightailed it off to the hills. All he’s worried about is his paycheck, and you can’t spend any money when you’re dead. He doesn’t care for the sheep. There’s no window here in the church dedicated to the hired hand. Not picture of the hireling carrying some poor little tired sheep. If there was one it’d probably have him kicking them to get them to move a little faster, and the sheep certainly wouldn’t be all around him. Instead they’d be just out of arms reach, with a wary eye on the shepherd and another on the dangerous trail. He just pushes them along the trail to get to where they are going. You’d think at least when he saw the wolf he protect the sheep, if for no other reason than to protect his pocketbook. But that’s not the case. The sheep are “snatched and scattered” when he runs away to save his own skin. And again the wolf has his bloody way.

So what’s the answer to the problem here? The Good Shepherd dies and leaves the sheep, the bad shepherd, runs and leaves the sheep. At first glance it doesn’t look as if there’s really much difference between the Good Shepherd and the bad one. Well, that can’t be the end of the story so let’s see what else Jesus says.

He says that the Good Shepherd knows the sheep, and the sheep know Him. That sounds pretty good. Back to the shepherd in the pictures, the sheep are lovingly looking up at him, they know him very well; they know him because of what he does. He leads them beside still waters. He gets them to the green grass… He knows what the sheep need, and when they need it. But there’s more to knowing the sheep than just providing for what they need. Knowing the sheep means that the Shepherd know the personalities of the sheep. He knows when certain sheep are likely to stray. He keeps an eye out for those who are getting a little too close to the edge of the flock. He knows the ones that like to slip away when he’s not looking. He knows, so they don’t get far. He knows the flock so well that he can count them without counting. He’s so familiar that just a glance will tell him when one is missing, when one is hiding, when one is trying to slip away.

That really does fit Jesus. You see he knows you and me. He knows Trinity / First. In fact he knows all churches all over the world. He knows their strengths and weakness. He looks over them and knows exactly what’s going on in each one, without counting he knows where they are. It doesn’t matter that we are way down here in Southern Iowa. We are still part of God’s beloved flock. Jesus knows and cares for each of us and he knows what we need.

Do you want an example? Way back a few years after Jesus ascended into heaven from the mountain of transfiguration, the Apostle John had a vision on the Island of Patmos. Jesus spoke to him. We often hear about John’s visions of the “Last Things” in that book, but we don’t very often hear about Jesus personal messages to seven little churches, seven struggling churches in way out Asia. They were like seven little lambs that Jesus was carrying. Each had problems that Jesus spoke directly to. Each had strengths that Jesus praised. Jesus knew each church by name.

“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”” (Revelation 1:11, ESV)

And he dictated a personal letter to each one. Jesus knows his flock. He knows his churches personally. He knows Trinity, Creston and First Lutheran, Mount Ayr. He cares and protects us right here, and right now. That’s what a Good Shepherd is, that’s what The Good Shepherd does.

Ok, so we know that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He loves and cares for them and gives them all that they need. But there’s still that troublesome problem about Him dying for the sheep. Remember we wondered what becomes of the sheep after the shepherd dies. It’s easy to see that this relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep isn’t the regular run of the mill shepherd—sheep relationship. He knows His sheep better than any ordinary shepherd does. He loves His sheep more than any normal shepherd, too. We know that because He dies for them. Jesus talks about dying for those he loves all the time

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14, ESV)

He died willingly for you. He lays down His life for you. But what good is that if it leaves the sheep with out a shepherd?

Remember! Jesus isn’t just any shepherd. He’s the unique one; the one and only one; the champion; the Good Shepherd. It’s not just any old kinda-good-shepherd that lays down his life. It’s The Good Shepherd that gives His life for you. It’s the Good Shepherd who is God himself, in the flesh. It’s the Good Shepherd who can lay down His life, but who can also take it up again. He the Good Shepherd that died on the cross to save human beings from sin, but rose to life again to destroy sin’s power. He proves that he is able to help helpless sheep. “Why are you troubled? He said to his disciples (and to us). “See my hands and feet, touch me and see that I am alive again!” (Luke 24:36ff) Be at peace! This Shepherd doesn’t leave His sheep alone. Not even death can separate Him from His sheep. Death cannot separate Him from you. He was dead but He is now alive again. No ordinary good shepherd can do that.

Remember that old wolf, the one whose only thought is fresh lamb chops. We left him as he was slowly approaching that little lamb, the one without a shepherd. But suddenly the shepherd is there; he was dead but not any more. He grabs the wolf and flings him away. There’s a great yelp as he crashes to the ground and runs away. What chance does a mere wolf have against a Shepherd that is stronger than death?

Dear Christian friends. Members of the Flock of Jesus Christ. Are you feeling alone in the world? Are the dangers of the wilderness out there threatening you? How about that wolf, the one that keeps snarling at you, and reminding you that your death is only a blink of the eye away? It’s easy to think and feel that we are shepherd-less. But we are not alone. You are not alone. Your shepherd is The Good Shepherd. No matter what the danger is: weather it’s the loss of a job, or wondering what’s ahead in the future. No matter what the fear, weather it is crop failure or fear of being left alone. Weather it is the danger of violent death all around us. All of those dangers are just plain old wolves and what chance does a mere wolf have against a Shepherd that’s stronger than death? That’s Jesus Christ for you, your Good Shepherd. Amen.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

John.21.1-14; The Third Sunday after Easter; April 14, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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.

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

“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.” They had failed again.

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 a servant’s ear. Not only has he failed to protect his master, he’s a failure at wielding a sword, too! All the disciples run away in fear, and let Jesus be taken. And again Peter failed 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 he ran out and wept over his failure.

Later, after Jesus was crucified, they gather together in a darkened room, huddled together afraid. 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, they are about to fail again. Not only had they failed to be good disciples, but when they try to go back to fishing… “that night they caught nothing.” Failures again. Do you think that maybe they were beginning to develop a complex? Even after Jesus had risen from the dead they were failures. 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 besides that 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. We know the resurrected Jesus, but it doesn’t really seem to have a great impact on our lives. We fail at what Jesus would have us do all the time. “Love your neighbor,” he says. 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? A quick spoken word cuts them to the bone and we can see them wince in pain. And sometimes we even mean to do it. 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. We know the failure of Peter very well.

And as far as being successful fishermen… we fail there too. When there are people right next door who don’t go to any church, when we have friends and neighbors who don’t know Jesus, and we let them alone ashamed to speak to them about the most important thing in the world.

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.

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. In my first church one of the members told me a story about a day of fishing. He thought he would just throw a quick line into the water. He caught so many fish after that that he didn't even realize that he forgot to turn off his truck, hours later. It was the best day of fishing they had ever had! 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 changes human failure into success. I’m not talking about a plastic Jesus on the dashboard to bring good luck; I’m talking about turning our sinful failures into success. I’m talking about a way to solve the problems we cause because we don’t love one another like we should. I’m talking about reaching out to our community with the love of Jesus. I’m not talking about success fishing on the lake; I’m talking about success fishing for men.

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 did it to make you a success. He did it to remove the failure of your sin… to make you perfect in God’s eyes, to make you a success.

It’s funny though. We really know all this. Most of us have been hearing it all our lives. And you know what, we don’t really feel very successful. There are those days when the love just isn’t there, days when we don’t really want to risk exposing ourselves as a Christian, days when we just want people who don’t fit here in this church, to stay out. Day when we wonder what in the world our children are thinking when they do the things they do. We wonder what happed to all that stuff we thought we taught them. That’s the failure in us poking out his head 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 we turn to him and cry out, “Jesus, help me!” And he says, “I’ve died for that failure already. You don’t have to live with it any more. My success is yours.” And sometimes, just sometimes, we can love, even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes words come out about Jesus, even when we’re afraid. And we can even ask people to come to church that we really don’t 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. Jesus brings success.

The disciples enjoyed breakfast that early morning. Jesus brought them success in their fishing. There would be many more successes, bigger nets to drag ashore, more fish to count. But they wouldn’t be fish from the sea; they’d be people that would be brought into the church of Jesus Christ. They’d all be failures that Jesus died to save, failures he died to make successes. Amen.

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

Monday, April 08, 2013

John.20.30-31; Second Sunday after Easter; April 7, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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 20:30–31, ESV)

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

"That is a good question. But, I don't have an answer for you because the Bible doesn't say anything about that."

I've said that often. Maybe even to you. Usually, I get a response that goes something like, "why didn't God put that in there?" Well, here's the answer. John says the things he put in his book, the Gospel of John, are there "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." And what John says here actually applies to all of the Bible, everything that is necessary for you to have faith is here. "These things are written…" Even though there were many other things that could have been written, these are written so that you may believe. There is enough here for your faith. There is enough here for you to believe. These short two verses of the conclusion of John's Gospel, sum up the gospel and the Word of God in a very simple and concise way. They tell you what the Word is all about. It's about Jesus and all that he said and did for you for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you may believe. It's no accident that John says these things right after the account of Jesus resurrection and his appearance to the disciples in the upper room on the first Easter Sunday. He says, "Peace be with you." And then he sends the disciples out to bring that peace, the forgiveness of sins that he brings through his cross and resurrection, to the whole world. "As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you." It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we receive this forgiveness.

You see, this is a very important understanding of how God works. Roman Catholics believe that it takes the Pope to tell us what Scripture means and what it's about. Other Christians believe that you figure out what Scripture means and what it's about by how it makes you feel. You hear this in the question that people often ask, "What does this text mean to you?" It actually doesn't make any difference what the text means to you. What makes a difference is what God means to say in the text. It makes a difference what St. John, and the other writers of Scripture, meant when they wrote the text. John tells you exactly what Scripture means and what it's about. It's about having faith in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again for you. It's about having faith in Jesus so that you may have life in his name. It is Scripture that is enough for faith. The Psalm says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

You see, faith always has an object. The object of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. (

The Bible, and all its parts, is about this very thing. Although there are many other things that we can learn from the Bible about how to live our lives, this is not the primary purpose. John didn't write these things so that you can transform your society. John didn't write these things so that you could find your purpose in life. John didn't write these things so that you could be a financial wizard. He said these things are written so that you may believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World. So our faith is centered on Jesus Christ and all that he has said and done. If we look to Popes or feelings to tell us what the Scriptures are about our faith has its object in Popes or even in ourselves. Popes have often been wrong. And your feelings are unreliable and change like the wind. It is the Word of God that is reliable and never changes. It says exactly what it means. And it says exactly what it means to you when you search the Scriptures for Jesus Christ. Jesus said this to his enemies. They didn't like the things he said and did even though they were very well-versed in Scripture. He corrected them,

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39, ESV)

Here Jesus was talking about the Old Testament. The Scribes and Pharisees knew it very well. They searched it looking for ways to save themselves. They had rules upon rules to make it doable. What they missed was that Jesus Christ had come to save them. They put him on the cross. But he willingly went there for their sins. And they continued to look in the Scriptures for other things than him. They rejected Jesus because they depended on their own ideas about what Scripture meant and why it was written.

It's easy to put ourselves in the drivers seat. In fact it's the oldest temptation in the world. In the garden of Eden, Satan drove this point home. He asked Adam and Eve, "Did God actually say?" (Genesis 3:1) He was asking the question, "What does this text mean to you?" It sounds so good to our sinful human nature, to hear that what Scripture is really about is our purpose in life. It sounds so good to our sinful human nature that the Bible is about us. If the Bible is about us that makes us God. And this is where we want to be. This is the most basic nature of our sinfulness. Just like our forefather and mother, Adam and Eve, we want to "be like God, knowing good and evil."

This is why we need to be reminded over and over again that Jesus is the object of our faith. The Bible is about what he has done for us. This is what our preaching is all about. St. Paul says it in first Corinthians,

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:21–25, ESV)

This is exactly why I have said many times I'd like a very large cross in the sanctuary with the body of Jesus on it. It reminds us that Jesus Christ crucified is the object of our faith and all Scripture.

But don't think for a moment that what I mean is that there is nothing else to be heard in Scripture. God clearly lays out his demands on how we are to live. God clearly lays out truth and error, sin and righteousness. And he expects us to keep his law perfectly. And so it is in the Bible that we see over and over again how we fall well short of being able to save ourselves, or please God in any way. David said in the Psalm,

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:3–4, ESV)

His transgressions were before him because he had God's law before him in the Word. And God sent people to him to proclaim that Word to him when he was willfully ignoring it. And so he saw his sin and his need for God to be his Savior. This is what the law does for us also. It shows us our sin. It leaves us without excuse. And so we look in Scripture for a Savior. And that Savior is Jesus Christ crucified for your sin. And that brings us full circle back to what John says here. These things "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." Amen.

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

Monday, April 01, 2013

Luke.24.1-12; Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ; March 31, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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 is a surprise in this text. And not talking about Jesus' resurrection. Look at the first sentence once again, But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb. Who is the "they"? We have to go down a few lines to see that, Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women... So that brings me to another 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, they don’t 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 have 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 yo and will u 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.

John.20.1-18; Sunrise Service, Festival of the Resurrection; March 31, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:1–18, ESV)

(from a sermon by Rev. Norman Nagel)

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

Christ is risen! His is risen indeed!

A beautiful exchange we see here between Mary and our Lord. Jesus calls her by name. Mary is distressed at death. Her Lord Jesus, as far as she knows, who was dead in the tomb has had his body stolen. She wants to know where he is. And he speaks her name. The same name he had spoken to her so many times. The name he spoke to her when he cast out her demons. By that name she instantly knows that he is alive standing in front of her. She wants to reach out and grab hold of him in the same way she had always done. But with Jesus raised from the dead everything is different. He no longer is the sin bearer. That has been accomplished. He is no longer under the law that condemned the sin he bore to death. He has gone to the cross and death with sin and now stands in front of her the Risen Lord, glorified in his human body, free from sin and its hold. He stands now in front of her the victor over the wages of sin. He has done death in. He stands alive with the promise of life. And Mary doesn't know, she doesn't understand.

"Rabboni," she says and reaches out to touch him. But she cannot. "Do not cling to me…"; "Do not touch me," he says. It was the time for something more than the physical touch she had enjoyed before. Because although Jesus had been as close to human beings as God could ever be, God and man joined together in one human person, come close to us, to draw us close to him, now is the time for her to cling to him not with earthly hands, but with the hands of faith. Jesus is there to draw her closer then physicality allows. He is there with forgiveness that restores her relationship with God. He has drawn near to her in order to draw her near to him through faith in the forgiveness he offers, because where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.

This is what God does. He draws close to us because our sin prevents us from drawing ourselves close to him. Even now he draws close to us in his Word. The Word that strikes your ears and tells you of God's great love for you in Jesus Christ. The Word that brings to you the Good News of God come near to you in human flesh. The Word that brings to you the Good News of God suffering your punishment on the cross. The Word that brings the Good News of forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from death. The Word that brings the promise of life forever with God in your own resurrection.

Closer still your Lord draws to you. At this altar he gives his very body and blood. But don't think that this body and blood offered here is the same as that which Mary reached out to hold. You do not receive him here in that earthly sense. You receive him here in a much deeper much more real sense. Here in bread and wine you receive the very same body and blood that God used to save you from the necessary punishment of sin. Here in bread and wine you receive the very same body and blood that walked and talked to Mary. Here in bread and wine you taste and see that the Lord is good but not in the same way as you would reach out and grab a hold of a friend with both arms. But it is no less true. Is no less Jesus. It is no less here for you. He is here for you with all the gifts he offers through his life death and resurrection. That is forgiveness life and salvation. You are forgiven. You have a restored relationship with God through faith in what Jesus has done. And there is no doubt hear that it is for you because you open your mouth and receive Jesus body and blood.

And here at the font you receive Jesus, too. He comes to you in God's name. I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The gifts that Jesus offers in his life death and resurrection are placed on you with God's name. Luther asks the question, How can water do such great things? And he answers

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

So Jesus is here in the water and Word once again with the gifts that he won for you on the cross.

Jesus is very near. He comes near to us to draw us after him to eternal life. He is no less near to us because we can't touch him. In fact we are nearer to him when we reach out to him with the hand the faith rather than the hand of our physical body. We cannot draw near to God through our earthly efforts, our earthly comforts, our earthly wealth, or even our earthly relationships. These things drag us in the wrong direction away from our Savior. He is the one who must drag us to himself. And when we let go of these earthly weights, through faith, we are united with him in all that he does and promises.

Our Lord Jesus stood before Mary in his glorified resurrected body. And naturally she wanted to touch him. She knelt there before him and looked at him through tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. He had risen from the dead. She wanted to cling to him. Embrace is the right idea. It is God who embraces us. In Jesus Christ, through the Word, in bread and wine, and water, he draws near embraces us and draws us back to God. We reach out with the empty hand of faith that trusts not in what we offer to him but in what he gives to us. Our Lord is before us now, resurrected, victorious over death, promises that are as sure as his resurrection. And we kneel before him in faith. And we say with our sister Mary, "Rabboni!" Amen.

Christ is risen! His is risen indeed!

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