Saturday, April 26, 2014

1 Peter 1:3-9; The Second Sunday of Easter; April 27, 2014;

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

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.

St. Peter tells us that we have a living hope that is founded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And indeed, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that makes all the difference for Christianity. St. Paul agrees:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV)

It is impossible to overestimate the value of the resurrection to your life of faith. The resurrection is the proof that what Jesus offers, all of his work, and chiefly forgiveness of sins that he won on the cross, is real. Like one of my professors once said. If Jesus had gone around making hair grow and billiard balls, it would’ve indeed been a miracle. But it is a miracle that would’ve meant nothing, except to bald billiard balls. (Dr. John Warwick Montgomery) But Jesus most important miracle, his resurrection from the dead, attacks the real problem of the human condition. The celebration of Easter is all in recognition of the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead. Jesus resurrection is the key to everything that plagues human beings. It’s the key because the resurrection is the defeat of death. Not just death in general, but your death! This is why St. Peter calls it a living hope. It’s not just a living hope because it’s based on Jesus passing through death to life, but it is a sure hope founded in the promises of the one who is living and was dead. It is the resurrection of Jesus that makes all of his promises true.

In the book of Hebrews the author writes,

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

It is the assurance of our hope that St. Peter is talking about. We have assurance and all that Jesus has done because he was stone cold dead on the cross but walked again out of the tomb on Easter morning. His death is our forgiveness and his resurrected life is our assurance that is forgiveness is true. St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Christ rises again in us according to our faith, just as earlier he died in us because of our unbelief.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, volume X I, page 69) and again, St. Paul,

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

The idea firstfruits is the very first fruit of the harvest. It’s the promise of everything that is yet to come. And so Jesus resurrection is the promise of our resurrection. The promise of your resurrection!

But the resurrection is nothing without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, because the life of Jesus after the resurrection is the life of Jesus that was sacrificed into death because of our sin. The resurrection without forgiveness is a resurrection to eternal hell, not “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you.” And it is indeed an inheritance. One earned by Christ, not earned by you. It is given to you, “according to [God’s] great mercy.” To quote St. Paul once again in his letter to Pastor Titus,

[God] 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,” (Titus 3:5, ESV)

God in his mercy sent Jesus Christ to the cross to suffer the punishment of our sin. With that punishment satisfied there is forgiveness for all sin. And as St. Peter and St. Paul both state, “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope” and “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” “Born again” and “washing and regeneration” are the very same thing. St. Peter even makes it more clear in chapter 3 verse 21 of this very same letter.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21, ESV)

The appeal for a good conscience is forgiveness applied to you and me in faith through Holy Baptism. Baptism means that God forgives you, saves you. That Jesus death and resurrection are your death and resurrection. His death is your forgiveness and his resurrection is your life forever.

St. Peter applies the meaning of the resurrection directly to you. He says that since Jesus has suffered your punishment, God does not need to punish you. Therefore, nothing of your life in this world is punishment from God. St. Peter says that as you wait for the resurrection you rejoice. That is, you take joy in the fact of your resurrection promised in Jesus. Even though, at times, in this life we are “grieved by various trials.” Because of God’s promises made to you through Holy Baptism, these various trials are not punishment but testing. Because Holy Baptism is your personal promise, that Jesus is connected to you. His death is your death. His punishment on the cross for sin is your punishment on the cross for sin. And his resurrection from death is your resurrection.

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

This wonderful verse is what we read at the beginning of a funeral service. That’s because the promise of Jesus death and resurrection, your death and resurrection, stands there in the face of your death.

So, this means, that as hard as life gets you have the promise of the resurrection. So the hardness of life is nothing but a test to push you closer to Jesus. When sickness is a trial for you and reminds you of your death, you know that the resurrection is at hand. The sickness may kill you, but you will rise again. When work is hard and unsatisfying, you look forward to the resurrection when work will all be joyful in the presence of Christ. When your friends and family let you down, when your relationships with them are shattered because of sin, you look forward to the resurrection. After the resurrection, human relationships will be perfect, unspoiled by sin. When your body is less than it once was, you look forward to the resurrection when your soul will be rejoined to your body and you will be perfect and perfectly human in every way. And when you suffer the separation of death, you look forward to the resurrection, when all those who have died in faith will rise to new life together with Christ.

It is all there in the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” It’s the power of the dead made alive. It’s the promise of the one who was dead and is alive, who can make you alive again after death. Amen.

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Philippians 2:5-11; Sunday of the Passion; April 13, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

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

How could you do it Jesus? How could you stoop so low? It starts out so well with your entry into Jerusalem. You riding on the donkey, the people waving their tree branches in the air and laying their cloths on the ground to keep the donkey's feet clean. Shouts of "hosanna" which is to say, "the King is here!" It's hard to imagine how a few short days later you stoop to hanging on the cross, rejected, despised, beaten, and bloody. How could you do it Jesus?

But then, that very question could be asked of other people, also. How could you disciples of Jesus and religious leaders of the day stoop so low? Judas was a thief. He pretended that he was concerned about poor people, but he was helping himself to the disciples treasury. And for a fistful of dollars betrayed Jesus and brought his enemies to him. Jesus lowers himself to be counted among the trespassers.

Peter too, adds to Jesus' humiliation. His denial is born out of pride in contending that he would never forsake Jesus. But when push comes to shove, standing in the presence of those accusing him of being Jesus friend, he flat-out denies it. Jesus himself hangs abandoned on the cross for the sake of sinners who deny him.

The religious leaders, who should've been on Jesus side, instead were his enemies. They use false witnesses to condemn innocent Jesus as a liar and blasphemer. Jesus accepts their condemnation in silence. Innocent Jesus takes the accusation of being a sinner.

Ah, but we don't have to stop there, maybe as we wrap up Lent and prepare for holy week it's a good question for us to ask ourselves. How could you stoop so low? I'm speaking to you sitting here today. How could you stoop so low as to cause Jesus humiliation? It's easy for us to look at other people, those in the Bible who betray, deny, and hate Jesus, and those around us who we think are low down and no good. It's easy to condemn them and say they had their part. It's easy to blame our neighbors who hurt us, in our family we can't get along with, for their sin. But Lent is a time when we look at ourselves in our true light. We look at ourselves to see our own sin. It's the beginning of repentance and faith.

Jesus says, "Why do you see the spec that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3) We constantly do the opposite of what Jesus says. Others are to blame. Others hurt us. And we fail to see that we are the other who hurts our neighbor. We are the other who is to blame. And we justify our selfishness by holding our needs over the needs of our neighbors. And we cling to our things. We make what we have more important than the people God has put into our lives. Our pride and selfishness are the cause of Jesus being made low. He lowers himself, and suffers the just punishment for our selfishness. Jesus puts himself on the cross, counting you and I more important than himself.

How could you, Jesus, stoop so low? How could you allow your humiliation? Because you are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The one who was slain from the foundation of the world, for the sake of sinful human beings. Because in the beginning God created the world through you, the word. So you are the Creator and Redeemer of the world.

How could you, Jesus, stoop so low? Because God is love. You are God. Love of your creation and your created human beings drives you to the cross. Love is that which would set us free from our slavery to sin. Love does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

How could you, Jesus, stoop so low? Because only you can save us. Only you, God who became man. Your death on the cross is enough to forgive our sins because you are God. Your death is our death because you are a man. You who knew no sin became my sin for us. You took my sin into death on the cross. You suffered our, oh so well deserved, punishment. You were forsaken by your friends, by us, and even by God himself. That is the punishment that our sin deserves, to be ignored and rejected by God. And yet you stoop so low as to do it for us. And you do it because we would not, and cannot. And if it were not for you we would be lost forever. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of us. Amen.

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

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Ezekiel 37:1-14; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; April 6, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

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 indeed 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.

The Resurrection is coming! And I'm not just talking about our celebration of Easter in two weeks. I'm talking about THE Resurrection. The Resurrection the Jesus talked about in the gospel of John:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:25–29, ESV)

And the Resurrection that was Job's hope:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27, ESV)

And Ezekiel, standing in the valley of the dry bones, saw this vision of The Resurrection. He was led there by the Hand of the Lord and in the Spirit of the Lord. God himself, Yahweh, brought him out to the valley to show him how he would restore hope to dead and dying people.

First of all, for Ezekiel, and the people of Israel, his vision was about their hope in God restoring them to the land he had promised. They were in exile. Their sin had caused God to send the Assyrians and the Babylonians to remove them from the land. They had done exactly what God told them not to do. They worshiped the gods of the Canaanites. And now in exile, God seemingly so far away, they had lost hope. And so God gave Ezekiel this vision to restore their hope. If God can restore life to the dis-articulated bones of slain soldiers left to rot in a valley, they could indeed trust that he would restore them to the land that he promised them.

They would be restored to the promised land. The Messiah would come. He would save his people from their hopelessness. There would be a resurrection of the dead. God's people would live again with God forever. This has always been the hope of God's people.

A physical, fleshly, real bodily resurrection, is the hope. You and I, and all of our loved ones who have gone before us, will be resurrected as in the vision of Ezekiel. The hope and focus of God's people, the holy Christian church, the Communion of Saints, is in God's promise of the resurrection of the body. We speak it in the creeds. "I believe in… the resurrection of the body." It is a return to what God created human beings to be. Flesh and blood, living breathing, walking talking, touching holding, eating sleeping, bodily human beings. And restoration of creation for created human beings.

In the meantime, we live in an exile. As we live every day in the valley of the shadow of death, death knocking at our door, threatening everything that we are and have, it's easy to lose hope. Hospitals care for the sick, and yet the sick still die. Automobile accidents loom around every moment behind the wheel. Our bodies age and we are unable to do all that we used to do. We struggle with the loss of independence. That loss is a sign of coming death. And all the technology in the world cannot prevent the disappearance of even a single airplane full of people. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). And the wages count heavily against us. My death, your death is a matter only of time.

But the resurrection is coming! That is our goal. That is our hope. The resurrection brings hope to hopeless people. People facing death. But it is not just life after death. It is the resurrection after death. And first there must be death. You cannot be raised from the dead, until you are dead. Just when death will seem to have its victory over you, your joy, your hope, is in the promise of the resurrection.

Next week, as we will hear on Palm/Passion Sunday, Jesus will ride the donkey into Jerusalem hailed as the King. He will ride in, clear the Temple, eat the Passover, pray in the garden, be arrested, betrayed, beaten, mocked, denied, and nailed to the cross. Crucified, dead and buried, Jesus will lie in the stone cold tomb. And then, on Easter, the breath enters him, and he breaths again. God raises him from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus' death is the wages of your sin paid in full. God's death on the cross for you. His resurrection is the promise of your resurrection. No matter how death comes to you, on the day of resurrection, your dead body will hear the voice of God and you will rise to life again, sinews, flesh and skin.

This is the promise of hope restored. The resurrection of the flesh, the body. An end for pain and suffering, forever. An end for sin, forever. An end for death, forever. The beginning for new life, forever.

Ezekiel proclaimed the good news that God's people would return to the Promised Land. They would know the God who delivered them from Egypt was still their God. And what was true for them is true for you and me. It is even a fuller and richer promise for us.

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.” The word of the Lord came to me:” (Ezekiel 37:13–15, ESV)

And so, it is in the promise of THE resurrection, we face death. Amen.

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