Sunday, April 25, 2021

John.10.1-10; Fourth Sunday of Easter; June 23, 2021;

John.10.1-10; Fourth Sunday of Easter; June 23, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:1-10, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. What’s the picture you have of the Good Shepherd? Do you see a man in the field bearing the weight of a sheep on his back? Do you see him rescuing a sheep from a dangerous rocky place? Do you see him sitting among the sheep embracing them and lovingly stroking their wool? Or like stained-glass windows you may have seen in churches. The Shepherd standing holding a little lamb gently to his breast. Those are all good pictures to hold. Those are all good ways to see Jesus our Good Shepherd. They are certainly part of who Jesus is. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. A Psalm of David. (Psalm 23, ESV) Today, I have a different image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that I want you to think about. It comes from our text today, but it’s a little bit hidden in there and will take some teasing out. Once I got an email that said this was found on the internet. “Men fix their problems with duct tape. God uses nails.” And it fits, God solved the problem of human sin using the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross. So today along with all those other pictures of the Good Shepherd you have in your mind, I’d like you to add another one. It’s a nail about nine inches long. “Well, Pastor.” You say, “You’ve finally completely lost it. There is no way that we can connect that nail with the Good Shepherd. Shepherds don’t use nails. They aren’t a tool you’ll find in the sheep pen. We know that Jesus was crucified for our sins, but what does that have to do with Jesus, the Good Shepherd? Besides, that’s not the way we want to think about Jesus. The cross and its pain and suffering isn’t the thing we want to focus on, we want to focus on the good feelings of knowing that Jesus is here with us, whenever we need Him. One of my favorite hymns is "I am Jesus little lamb; Ever glad at heart I am; For my shepherd gently guides me; Knows my needs and well provides me; Loves me every day the same; Even calls me by my name.” No nails there. No pain and suffering, that’s the Good Shepherd we want to hear about. Well, I must admit there’s nothing more comforting than knowing that God is taking care of everything we need. But the image of the Good Shepherd isn’t just about hugs and green pastures and still waters. It’s also about the shadow of death. Jesus is talking about his own death here as he talks about gates and sheep pens. He is, in fact, obsessed with his death. He talks about it all the time, especially in the Gospel of John. It’s what has caused some people to say that the book of John is the Cruciform Gospel, the “Cross Shaped Gospel.” We like the image of the tender Good Shepherd because we so often find ourselves in need of comfort. But the comfort of our Shepherd is found in the fact that He did lay down his life for our sake. Through His death on the cross, he takes our sins and drops them in the sea of forgetfulness. There is nothing that stands between your Savior and you. He is there when you need comfort. Now, when is it that we need the most comfort? When is it most important to us that we have a Good Shepherd? It’s when we face death. I know it’s true because hardly a funeral goes by that we don’t have the Good Shepherd psalm read. That’s exactly why it’s a favorite. It speaks to us in the face of death. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has done something about our great enemy death. What we are talking about here is the Joy of Easter. Not only the joy of having a Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep but having a Good Shepherd who has also risen from the dead. Jesus says he leads us out through the gate. He leads us through death. He does it first. That’s why the nail is a good sign of the Good Shepherd. With his death on the cross, when he is nailed to the cross, he bears the punishment of our sins. The nails pierce his hands and feet, but they don’t hold him to the cross. He was mocked by the crowds when they told him to come down from the cross and they will believe. He could have come down. But the Good Shepherd willingly gives his life for the sheep. He loves them and cares for them. He bleeds and dies going through the gate of death first. There was a tourist to the middle east. She had been told that Holy Land shepherds don’t drive their sheep but walk before them leading them. But the first flock of sheep she saw was being driven. The man driving them cursed, pushed, prodded and beat them with a stick. She spoke to the tour guide. “I thought shepherds here lead their sheep. Look at that one he’s driving them.” The tour guide said softly. “Oh, I see. You don’t understand. That’s not the shepherd. That’s the butcher.” Our Good Shepherd leads us. He calls us by name. Just think of all the examples where he did that. Thomas stood in unbelief in the upper room after the other disciples had seen Jesus. “Unless I put my hand into Jesus side, where the spear pierced him, I’ll never believe.” Jesus calls him back to faith. “Thomas, see my hands and my side. Come over here and put your finger and you hand in the holes. Believe in me.” When the pressure was on, all the disciples fled from Jesus side. But Peter denied Jesus in public, even cursing to prove his point. When Jesus appeared to again, he said to Peter. “Peter, Son of John, do you live me more than these? Feed my sheep. Follow me.” When Mary was overcome with the grief, she didn’t recognize the Risen Jesus standing before her. She thought he was the gardener. She said to Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15). But when Jesus called her by name, she knew him instantly. Jesus calls you by name, too. In fact, he calls you by name and gives you his name in the bargain. When Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls you by name, you can be sure that there is faith given with his words. This Wednesday we’ll listen to the 8th graders confess their faith in Jesus. They’ll tell us all about baptism. What benefits does baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. The Good Shepherd calls you by name; through faith in him we follow him, even through the valley of the shadow of death. And there’s that nail again. There is a hymn that says it like this: In death’s dark vale I fear no ill With thee, dear Lord, beside me, Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV) In the text for today, he says he’s the door. Through Jesus, we have a way to the God the Father. Through Jesus, we have a way to life. (Just so you know, the Greek word for life is Zoe). I came that they may have life (Zoe) and have it abundantly. He says though him we will “find pasture.” That’s a way of saying that even though we’ll have to go thorough death there’s life on the other side. I think it’s really what Psalm 23 is saying too. Think about the psalm as a journey. Before the shadow of death Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us and cares for us giving us all that we need, green grass, still waters and rest. Right in the middle, he leads us through the deep dark valley. He’s right there with us calling us by name, through the fear. After that, we have the table prepared for us, and we live in the “House of the Lord” forever. The whole psalm describes the life that Jesus gives us, care and comfort on the journey, through even the dark valley of death, right to God’s very own table as an honored guest. I know this nail isn’t really a sign of the Good Shepherd. I don’t think I’ve started a new trend. But you can’t separate the Good Shepherd and all those pictures that we have in our minds of him from the death that he dies for us. Because it’s through that death that brings us into the pleasant pastures of life forever. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 18, 2021;

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 18, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The disciples are frightened, and who wouldn’t be. A dead man is standing in front of them very much alive. The rumors, that he had risen, that they were just talking about are confirmed true. None-the-less they react to Jesus with fear. “He must be a ghost!” They think. Jesus proves otherwise. He shows them his scars, and eats a piece of fish. Flesh-and-blood Jesus has returned from the dead and appeared to them. And he brings peace. Now, don’t suppose that this greeting “Peace be with you” is just a simple hello. It is not a formality. When Jesus speaks you actually receive what he says. Jesus’ words bring a blessing. “Peace” is it. Here he means that human beings have been reconciled with God through his life, death and resurrection. Forgiveness of human sin is a reality, “Peace” has come. The proof of what he says is him, standing right there in his living, breathing, flesh, and blood. In the Gospel of John when the disciples had gathered with Jesus for the Passover, on the night when he was betrayed, before his death, Jesus talks about this very moment. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you I you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:25–29, ESV) It is the fulfillment of angel song. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV) This is the end-game that Jesus is born to do. He is sent by God the Father to make “Peace” happen. And it all exists right there in Jesus’ words. “Peace be with you.” And Jesus’ Word is what this is all about. He is not content with bringing this peace to the disciples. He is all about bringing peace to every corner of the world. He lays it out for them. The bible is about him. It is the record of God’s peace come to the world, laid down in ink before he walked in human flesh. Point after point, the Word of God the disciples knew, was shown to be true and accurate, well beyond coincidence. It lays out what must happen, what did happen, so that Jesus could stand before them, once dead, but now alive, and declaring God’s Peace. Jesus’ death and resurrection are key. They are, in fact, the center point of the Christian faith. Without a dead Jesus on the cross, and a live Jesus standing before witnesses, there is no faith to be had. It is what St. Paul means when he says “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV) He is echoing Jesus. Sermons are about Jesus. His suffering and death and repentance and forgiveness of sins. Our translation this morning doesn’t say it quite strong enough. It says: and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47, ESV) “Proclaimed” doesn’t completely capture what Jesus is saying. He’s talking about preaching. It’s the same word that Paul uses: “We preach Christ crucified”, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached”. In the name of Jesus, pastors are to preach Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried and raised again. They are to preach repentance, that is the law that convicts people of their sin and need for forgiveness. And then offer Jesus’ peace, his forgiveness of sin, won by all that he does on the cross. Jesus is plainly telling pastors what they are to do. Jesus is plainly telling churches what they should demand from their pastors. The Lutheran Confessions, the writings that tell us what it means to be Lutheran, talk about what a pastor is: So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake. (AC: I, art. IV–AC: I, art. V) Jesus knows what you need. He is after all the Word of God. Preaching is about what you need, repentance and forgiveness. So, repent sinner! God wants you to know your position before him. His word tells you that all sin is against him and sin is fatal. Ezekiel 18:20a (ESV) “The soul who sins shall die.” We acknowledge it in our confession at the beginning of most of our worship services. Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen. Peace be with you! Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. That’s God’s peace to you. You are forgiven. You have been promised eternal life and resurrection of your body after death. The disciples are witnesses. What they heard and saw they passed down to you through the church and faithful pastors. It is all God’s gracious gift to you. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 11, 2021;

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 11, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:1–2:2, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The apostle John doesn’t want you to have any doubts about what he is saying. Jesus was a real, live, breathing, talking, walking person. He and the other disciples heard, saw and touched him. He wasn’t a phantom, spirit being, or ghost, but instead a flesh and blood man. And at the same time this Word of Life was eternal God from the beginning. He was “made manifest” that means fully shown, heard, seen and touched in real life. John sets himself as a witness, along with the other disciples (“we” he says). It rings back to the Gospel of John. Words that we heard read just last week. John describes the blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ side as the spear pierces his heart. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:35, ESV) It is the truth of Jesus brought to you in eyewitness testimony. You see, we don’t look inside of ourselves to find the truth about God’s love for us. We don’t look for some “burning in the heart” or to some vague feeling of “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart” to be proof of Jesus’ forgiveness for us. That’s not Christianity, that’s a pagan religion called Gnosticism. That’s not Christianity that’s a false Christianity called Mormonism. Our proof of faith doesn’t come because we feel it to be true, but instead because reliable witnesses heard, saw, and touched Jesus. Real, reliable witnesses, heard him teach about himself. He said in no uncertain terms that he was God, himself in human flesh. Jesus enemies heard it and killed him for it. The charge they held up as the one deserving death was blasphemy. Saying things about himself and God that weren’t true. They knew exactly what Jesus claimed to be. The church leaders couldn’t have God running around in human flesh calling them sinners. And notice how we confess our faith. The confessions of the church fall right in line with what John is saying here. There’s not a “feeling” expressed in them, only historical verifiable facts. Just listen to the verbs. 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. See how it is set in real human time, “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. Martin Luther explains our faith this way: By the grace of God I have learned not to turn my eyes away from that Person who was born to Mary, and not to seek or acknowledge another god. One’s eyes must be fixed on that Person who was born of the Virgin Mary. Where the Son of God is, there Christ is; where Christ is, there the Father is (AE 30:223). The one born is the one who was crucified. The one who was crucified is the one who rose from the dead. The one who rose from the dead is the one who promises to return again and resurrection to you. If Jesus isn’t a living breathing, dead and raised person, neither will you be. It is as simple as that. No other religion has such a physical, reliable, and verifiable hope, based on a physical, reliable, and verifiable person. John wants you to see Jesus as he saw him, because that is real faith in a real Jesus. We cling to the promises of Jesus. We cling to a Jesus crucified, dead and buried and raised again on the third day. We stand together confessing those truths and that is our fellowship. It is a fellowship with John, all those who heard, saw, and touched Jesus, and all those who together confess faith in that real Jesus. It is fellowship finally with God himself. That fellowship is only possible because of the forgiveness that Jesus gives you through faith in his death and resurrection. It is a putting away of sin, that creates a relationship, fellowship between you and God. And that fellowship is only as real as Jesus is real. But John isn’t done. The reality of Jesus has effects in your real life. If Jesus is real, if his death and resurrection are real, if you are really forgiven, and you have a real fellowship with God, then things will happen in your real life. John wants you to be mindful of your sin as you live every day. He talks about living in the light. He means knowing the truth about yourself, sinner that you are. If you deny your own sin, you deny your need for Jesus. It isn’t difficult to see your sin. You have its effects around you. Poor heath, poor relationships, poor attention to God’s Word, poor care for your neighbors in need, poor selflessness, these are all signs of your sin. These are all signs of your broken relationship that is, lack of fellowship with God. But living in the light also means living in light of what the real Jesus has done. You acknowledge your sin that is, confess your need for forgiveness, because God forgives through Jesus. God is faithful and just, he forgives the sins of those who have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for their sin. Your sin and mine have been put to death on the cross. We are promised resurrection to new life in Jesus resurrection. But it is only real for you, if it is real in history. If you deny your sin, you deny God’s work in Jesus, you deny God, calling him and his Word lies. But they are not lies. Our sin is real and our Savior is real. We live in the light of Jesus, avoiding sin because it is God’s will for our lives. We hate sin, even as we can’t avoid it. We don’t want to sin, but we do. And so John gives us the good news. We have an advocate with the Father. And it isn’t some phantom, spirit person or ghost. It is a real, flesh and blood, human being, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. He is one who has lived as we live. He is one who faced death as we will. He is one who promises a promise based in his victory over death. He is one who promises forgiveness through his real life, death and resurrection. A promise of life without the threats of eternal punishment. A promise of fellowship with God, the Father. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.