Sermon for Quasimodogeniti

A person whom I admire – who sadly is not on social media, and so won’t likely won’t see this – suggested that I post a sermon on the doctrine of justification. Nothing says “sermon on justification” like Jesus words “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.” So, here is me, posting a sermon on justification. And, given that it’s call day, and that the thing pastors do is forgive sins, it all seemed like excellent timing.

On Easter we hear the Easter Promise – Christ is risen, He is not hear.  It isn’t until the following Sunday – today – that we actually see and hear from Jesus.

And what is it that we see and hear?  Jesus, breathing on the disciples, and giving them the authority to forgive sins.  Jesus, showing his hands and his side to Thomas, proving that he was dead, but now he lives.

That first Sunday, when the disciples – except Thomas – are gathered in the upper room, something extraordinary happens.  Even though the doors are locked, Jesus appears among them.   Jesus literally goes through the door and appears to the disciples.  And, as is often the case when angels suddenly appear – he says to them “Peace be with you.”  Calm down, everything is ok.   But Jesus means more than simply settle down. “I am not coming here for your judgment, but to bring good tidings of great joy to you.  I am raised from the dead, and now you have a new life in me.  Peace be with you.”

And then, he ordains the disciples by breathing on them – giving them the Spirit – and he tells them what they are to do with this ordination – they are to forgive sins.  That is what the disciples – now the apostles – are about.  It is what the pastors of the church have been about for two thousand years. Just as the faithful priests of the old testament were about bringing the people the forgiveness of Jesus by pointing to him through the sacrifices. The people of the Old testament were saved through that Word.

Now Jesus gives the same ability to bring forgiveness to the apostles – no longer looking forward to what will be accomplished.  Now the apostles look to what has been accomplished – and what is being accomplished even to this very day – by the word and command of Jesus – forgive sins, and they are forgiven.  Such words had to wait until the resurrection was complete.  Without Jesus being raised from the dead – as we heard last week – there can be no forgiveness of sins.  But Christ is raised.  And forgiveness is now ours through Jesus Christ.

Now, Jesus gives the authority on earth to forgive sins to the apostles. The idea that we sin and are forgiven before God in heaven is really unknown in the history of religion.  We sin and then atone for our sins, you’ll see that one sometimes – or more common, we follow whatever system of laws man makes up and then hope we’re good enough to gett to heaven.

Jesus give the apostles authority on earth to forgive sins, and to give the blessing of God to all “who have not seen and yet have believed” Jesus came to give forgiveness of sins to sinners.

One famous prosperity preacher left the Lutheran church because – so she claims – she just couldn’t say the words anymore – I a poor miserable sinner.  It’s really rather an appalling thing to say about ourselves. But that’s what the Law tells us. We have to confess the truth of God’s word regardless of our fragile egos:

“You shall have no other God’s, you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your god.  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, honor your father and your mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony against your neighbor, you shall not covet your neighbors house, you shall not covet your neighbors wife or his manservant or his maidservant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Luther says – if someone will not learn the ten Commandments, they should be told that they are no Christian, and they should not be allowed to come to the sacrament of the altar, be sponsors at baptisms, or enjoy any of the benefits of being a Christian.  Why?  Because without the law, we can not know our condition before God.  Unless God’s Law is burned on our hearts, we can not evaluate our conduct according to God’s law, we can not know our sin.  Without God’s law, Christianity becomes group counseling for those who aren’t happy with their lives: “We just figure out what makes us happy.  We learn to forgive ourselves.  We must learn to be comfortable with who we are.”

Which is another way of saying – ignore God’s law and just make your conscience feel better with platitudes.  But that’s like a Doctor saying, “Ignore the deadly disease, take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” It might make you feel a bit, but it blinds you to the death you are slowly dying.  We must have God’s law.  Not to make us feel better about ourselves, not to make us happier, more self-actualized, or more in touch with who we are.  We need God’s law because we need to know where we stand in relation to God.

And the news isn’t good.  The diagnosis is total corruption, bondage to sin, we poor and miserable sinners.  The prognosis is worse – temporal and eternal punishment. We need someone who can do more than help us come to grips with who we are – we need someone who can actually take away the sin.  And that is beyond our ability. Someone else has to do it for us.  We can’t just feel sorry until the sin goes away.  The feelings go away, the sin remains.  it keeps doing its work of killing us – both in this life and in the world to come.

We need that contrition – we need to be sorry for our sin.  It’s high time the world rediscovered shame.  The idea that some actions are not allowed, and that they separate us from God.  The world tells us it isn’t so. Just ease your conscience and dull it so that you don’t feel the sin anymore.

That’s where the ten commandments come into play – they force us to realize that we aren’t good, we aren’t ok, and unless someone does something, we are going to die.

Before the Gospel can do its work, the Law must work on our hearts, and bring us to realize how much trouble we are in.  It’s not comfortable.  It’s no fun saying, “I have sinned”  But we must. We do the wrong easily enough – we must also say, “I have done wrong.”

Only when we recognize our sin, and have sorrow for it – that’s called contrition, only then can we desire forgiveness.  Or as Jesus says – only the sick need a doctor.

And once the law has done its work then we must turn to the Gospel.  That’s where repentance comes into play.  It’s not just being sorry – its trusting in Jesus to actually forgive the sins.  And this is the extraordinary thing that Jesus does.

The idea that we can confess our sins and be absolved of them is not only foreign to any other religion, it’s not all that common in Christianity.  There are two ways that churches usually go on this, either they teach that You are forgiven because of your personal faith, so you can just sit at home until you believe it, and then presto you are forgiven.  While technically this may be true, it leaves Satan out of the equation – who won’t let you forget your sin so easily, and who will stop at nothing to get you to disbelieve that forgiveness.  Generally this group says that to be forgiven you must be sorry, ask for forgiveness, and promise never to do it again – as if your puny – easily broken promise – is required for forgiveness.  It’s a variation on the pagan – you do and then God… it turns God’s grace into something that depends on us.  It gives us something to do, but robs us of the comfort of salvation.

On the other side there are those who would say, “You can get a certain portion of your sin forgiven, but there are still consequences to be worked off.  And you can only be forgiven for the sins you specifically confess”  There’s nothing like turning a gift of God into a torment – what if I forget a sin?  How long do I have to wait after I die before I can enter the joys of heaven?  it takes away the assurance of the Gospel and replaces it with doubts and man’s work – and man’s work can never take away sin.  Only God can forgive sin.

Luther takes these words of Jesus at face value – he doesn’t add anything to them, or take anything away.  When you confess your sins, says Luther, and the pastor forgives them, it is as if Christ himself has done it.

In the Large catechism, Luther says “When I encourage you to go to confession, I am only encouraging you to be a Christian.”  Why?  Because it is living out our baptism – remember daily contrition and repentance.  We must daily have sorrow over sin, and daily trust that Jesus is the way – the only way – to forgiveness.  To confess sins to the pastor then, is simply part of that baptismal life.

In the Gospel reading  Jesus says these forgiveness words on Easter Sunday – why wait until the resurrection?  Because without the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no forgiveness.  If you want to know what it is that Jesus death and resurrection gives us, here it is – the authority on earth to forgive sins – something that only God can do, but now something that God not only does, he gives to his church to do – and specifically to his pastors.

And another thing – Jesus died for your sins.  So when the pastor pronounces forgiveness, that sin is bound to Jesus death.  It is placed in the tomb.  And it can never rise again.  Remember – sin leads to death.  Sin can’t be raised from the dead.  Those sins that are confessed to a pastor can never be brought up again – not by the pastor, not even by you.  And especially not ever by Satan, not even when you stand before the judgment throne of God.

Jesus takes away the eternal punishment you deserve and gives you eternal forgiveness.  And with it eternal life.  And no one can take it from you.

That is why we join Thomas this day in confessing – “my Lord and My God”. Jesus, who died for your sins and rose again for your justification, is your salvation.

 

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Sermon for Call Service

For very many good reasons, I am not preaching at the Call Service for either of our seminaries. And for even more good reasons (DV), I never will. But ever since my own call service, where the sermon was so abominable that I would have been grateful for a sermon which followed the Lutheran Satire Call sermon outline, I have pondered what I might say to a group of men who are receiving their calls. Fortunately, the Reverend Dr. Vice President Murray will be doing an able job this evening at my Alma Mater. But I still ponder each year. These are this year’s musings…

Reverend Brothers, tonight you will each receive your call into the office of the Holy Ministry. For four years, you have been given the privilege of studying the Word of God. No one tells a Doctor at the conclusion of medical school, “You need to forget everything you have learned. Now it’s about patients.” No one tells a class of Lawyers at the conclusion of law school, “You need to forget everything Law school taught you. Now it’s about your clients.” And yet, for some reason, pastors – the very men who should know the Word of God most intimately – are always tempted to advise each other “Forget all the Word of God you have learned in seminary. It’s about pastoring now.”

The question is not whether you will be a theologian – one who knows and speaks the Word of God. For you are called to that high and noble task. The question is whether you will be a good theologian, or a bad one. Hold on to the Word you have been taught. Know nothing else than Jesus Christ and him crucified. Dwell in the Word. Study it. Proclaim it. You have one task: to fulfill the Command (the Word) of Jesus by forgiving the sins of the penitent, and retaining the sins of the impenitent. And if you think you can fulfill that by any means other than the Word of God, then please, please, please, do not take the vows. Do not place yourself under the holy orders from God to do those things if you are unwilling.

Do not listen to anyone who would distract you from that Word. It is all you are given to work with. There is nothing else. Turn from it neither to the right nor the left. And if someone, in their confusion, tells you to be about something else, stop your ears. Do not hear them. They speak not a Word from God, but a word from men. And such words will fail. Whether it be (and these are listed in reverse order of importance) from a District President, or a brother pastor, or even a Baptized child of God placed under your care, continue preaching, living in, speaking only the Word of God. For it is powerful. And if you hear it, if you honor it, if you believe that word and hold fast to it through all the changes and chances of life, it may save both you, and your hearers.

In Jesus name.

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He is Risen! Sermon for Easter

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for | he is good;*

for his steadfast love endures for- | ever!

Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the | righteous:*

“The right hand of the LORD does | valiantly,

I shall not die, but | I shall live,*

and recount the deeds | of the LORD.

The stone that the builders re- | jected*

was made the capstone

This is the day that the | LORD has made;*

let us rejoice and be | glad in it.

Blessèd is he who comes in the name | of the LORD!*

We bless you from the house | of the LORD.

What was death has been turned to life. What was sadness has been turned to shouts of joy. What was despair has been turned into gladness. The Lord, who was dead, is alive. Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. He was crucified for our transgressions, and raised again for our justification. Christ is arisen from the graves dark prison. So let our song exulting rise, Christ with comfort lights our eyes, Alleluia!

The women are on their way to the tomb. Today begins with rituals we know all too well. The sad journey to the graveside of a loved one. The halting steps of the survivors. The rites of mourning. The women go to anoint him. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had already used 75 pounds of spices. The women will add more. So they think. But they are too late to anoint the body of Jesus. When they arrive, the tomb is opened. The angelic messenger greets them with the glad tidings.

This they did not expect.

To us that seems odd. Jesus predicts his death and resurrection on more than one occasion. It had been prophesied since the beginning, so it should not have come as a surprise. And yet, the disciples did not understand. Jesus says, “I will be killed and on the third day will be raised”. It’s not subtle, it’s not a mysterious saying. It is a straightforward description of what will happen. And yet, we are told that the disciples didn’t get it How can that be?

Seeing they do not see. Hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

God actively hides these things from the world. That seems strange. God would have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. It seems like he would want us to know these things. And yet, the sinful human flesh can not know the things of God. As we have seen during this past Lenten season, even when presented with unmistakable evidence of Jesus divinity, the people harden their hearts to His word. They refuse to acknowledge him. Why? Because our hearts can not hear the word, can not receive the word, can not believe it. And so the people demand a sign, and when he gives it, they reject it and accuse him of doing signs by demons. He helps others, and he is accused of breaking the Sabbath. He even raises Lazarus from the dead; their the reaction is to try and kill Lazarus, so that he would not stand as evidence of who Jesus is.

The world is opposed to God, and is opposed to the things of God. Our attachment to, our love of the things of this world is because we are weak in our faith. It is a struggle to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. An impossible struggle. We are not capable of such things.

And so, just as the disciples could not believe such a strange and wondrous thing when Jesus told them, the women do not expect it either. Unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, unstops our ears, and breaks through our stony heart, the corruption of sin is just too great. As we confess, “I believe that I can not by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.

The women arrive at the tomb, and they hear the word of the Gospel proclaimed by the angel. “He has risen! He is not here.” Oddly enough – we don’t see Jesus today, we don’t hear from him. We hear the report. The disciples will see him. We are told over 500 see him raised from the dead. But the church only has their report – It’s all we have had in the church since Jesus ascension. We must hear the report of those who witnessed, those who heard the word of the angel. The apostolic witness is what God gives us. The word they preached, which the Holy Spirit caused to be written for our instruction: the Gospel accounts, the Epistles,. We hear those words, that witness, and pray that God would break through our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh that worships him alone.

But what of those women? They have the witness of the angel to be sure. Extraordinary events. Next week we hear of Thomas who refused to believe unless he saw. “I will not believe” he said. But these women did not doubt. The scripture says they were trembling and astonished, and that they were afraid. We usually associate these words with doubt, unbelief. But we must let scripture interpret scripture, we must let the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and not presuppose that in our sin we can discern the things of God on our own.

The women were trembling. “Tromos” is the word for trembling. It is used throughout the New Testament.

Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling…

And again Paul writes to the Ephesians,

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,

And to the Phillipians,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Psalmist writes, “Serve the Lord with fear. And rejoice with trembling.” Fear and trembling is the response of the faithful to the Word of God. It does not mean just shaking, although certainly the women were shaking. They’d just gone to the cemetery and an angel told them their dearly departed was no longer dead. Of course they were puzzled and likely shaking. But godly fear and trembling is what happens when the full truth of the Gospel hits you. In the case of the women, they were given a task – to go and report to the apostles that Jesus is raised from the dead. That’s an important job.

And we are told that the apostles did not believe their report. Peter and John will rush to the tomb, see the clothing, no Jesus. But there is no angel to announce to them. “They still did not believe the scriptures, that Jesus would rise from the dead. They went home.”

It’s little wonder the women were trembling at their task. Who would believe such a thing? We see that reaction a lot when God gives people a job to do. We are told that  Moses was trembling when he spoke to God on the mountain.

The women were utterly astonished. The word they have heard is unlike anything else. The dead are raised? What can this mean? The word of God often astonishes.

The response of the crowds when Jesus finished teaching the sermon on the mount: “They were astonished at his teaching.”

It is also used to describe Peter and Paul when God speaks to them in a vision. An ecstatic experience. That’s the word.

The women were afraid, they were ecstatic. But it doesn’t mean they doubted. In scripture these words are used to describe the response of the faithful to hearing the Word, and receiving that word with thanksgiving. The women believed the word that was spoken to them – as unbelievable as it was. They were told to tell the apostles. They ran to tell them – they spoke to no one on the way. And so, they said nothing to anyone.

Remember back at the birth of Jesus. The angels tell the shepherds the good news. The shepherds were quaking and afraid. They went to Bethlehem, and then on the way back, told everyone they saw. The women would have done that, like the shepherds had done all those years before in Bethlehem. But the women were sent to speak to the apostles. To bring to them the news of the resurrection. And so they go quietly. They don’t talk along the way. They hurry to tell the eleven all that they had heard and seen.

 

The women hear and believe. In their confusion they hold on to the word and promise they have been given. They don’t know what’s going on. But they respond with proper fear of the Lord and his word. They respond with the trembling heart of faith. They are astonished at the word of Gospel spoken to them.

They are our example this day. The example of godly conduct, of fear, love and trust in God, even if things are going on that are beyond our understanding. Even if they are being tested by God, going through a time of great sorrow. They still hold on to the word, and go to do as the angel says.

Notice also, the angel makes specific reference to Peter. Tell the disciples and Peter. After Peter’s shameful denial, one might assume he was out. Peter denied Jesus to his face. And yet, the angel has good news even – especially for – Peter. Tell the apostles, and Peter, that he will go before them to Galilee. He goes and they will see him, not so that he can speak a word of judgment against them for their unbelief. But so that he can comfort them with the resurrection. So that he can absolve them, restore Peter, and speak to them God’s word of salvation.

Saint Paul writes that Jesus was crucified for our transgressions and raised again for our justification. It is in the resurrection that we see the difference between Jesus, and the others who were crucified with him. On the first day of the week, those criminals were off the cross as well. But they are still in their tombs. The dead whom we bury from this church are still in their tombs. Unless our Lord returns first, every one of us will one day rest in our tomb. Jesus is not in his tomb. He is risen. Do not doubt the report – even as unbelievable as it may seem. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified has been raised, and so he will raise all those who believe in him. The promise Jesus gives is that the tombs will be emptied. The dead will be raised. Those who believe in him are given the victory. They will be raised imperishable. They will be taken to be with him, that where he is –he has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty – so faithful will be raised to a new life in God. Jesus has gone to prepare a place. And he will return. Where he goes, there shall be no night. They will not need the light of a lamp or of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. Death met its match in Christ’s death. It’s power was utterly broken.

And yet for a time in this world, like those women, we hear and receive that word with fear and trembling because, like the women, we still see the death and corruption around us. We still have to make that journey to the cemetery. We still have our earthly good byes. But in Jesus, death is now life. Those who are laid to rest, will be raised, in Christ, imperishable, incorruptible, immortal. Not yet. Still fear and trembling as we receive and, by the grace of God, believe the word of the angel.

On the other side of the resurrection, there will be no death. No sin. No crying or tears or pain. The old order of things has passed away, behold I make all things new.

He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

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Good Friday Sermon

God, who created life, is dead. That’s the paradox of Good Friday. How can it be? God is dead, yet, God reigns eternally. But if we would look at God, we can do it in no other way than looking at Jesus. No one comes to Father but through Him. And His lifeless body has been taken down, and placed in a tomb. God is truly dead.

Tonight, as the forces of darkness descend, as the light is driven away even from this place as we acknowledge our sin, we do not read Luke’s Gospel, which records the darkness over the whole land. But John’s Gospel, in which it seems as if Jesus is the director of this great pageant, and the others are merely doing his bidding.

My kingdom is not of this world. You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above. Jesus on the cross attends to his final earthy responsibility – he takes care of his mother. He is thirsty – but only so that the scripture may be fulfilled. And John is most explicit of all that Jesus picks the time of his own death. “It is finished” he cries. Tetelestai. One word in Greek. It is now finished, and it will stay finished. No more suffering for Jesus. He hands over his spirit. He takes his Sabbath rest. No more looking toward to the redemption to come. It is accomplished.

Paul says “We preach Christ Crucified.” There are those who would make the church into so much more than that, and in so doing, make it so much less. But the cross – the crucified Christ – is all we have. There is nothing else.

There are those who would make the church about inclusiveness, about belonging to community, about some time in the past when people interconnected more than now, and how we have lost that in our culture today, and we need balance and rest in this restless world.

That’s all so much worldly pablum. It sounds nice, don’t we all long for that? But you can get that at a Colorado ski resort, or at a summer camp sitting around the bonfire, or casting your line from a boat on the reservoir. It is an entirely worldly pursuit. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. A chasing after the wind. The problem is not that we are disconnected or lonely. That we are overworked or restless. The problem is that we are sinners. And sin kills. More than that. It damns. We are walking dead men, sinful – and therefore condemned – from the moment of our conception. There is no earthly cure for this. And the church forsakes its high calling if it looks at the cross and sufferings of Jesus and says with Peter, “I will never let this happen to you.”

Today is what we are about. Those who will not preach Christ and him crucified this day ignore Jesus and his work. Those who refuse to come to hear of the death of Christ are refusing to hear of their own salvation. Today is the day when all the sin is brought together, and poured out on the one man who had none of his own. Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary – he is the one who takes your sin to the cross. He is the one who swallows that sin by his death, who swallows and kills your death by his death this day.

This is a day of deep darkness. The powers of Hell are at their greatest. They have convinced Judas to betray, the people to scream, the leaders to capitulate, and now God – who came to this earth to serve, have been killed by the very ones he would save.

And yet, this death is required for the salvation he came to offer. Without Jesus death, there is no good news. No church to proclaim it. We can moralize all the livelong day. We can offer a safe space with therapy for human brokenness. We can talk about how God is all about love.

But without the death of Jesus, that talk ends the same place as anything else – it is something to do to pass the time while we wait for the inevitable darkness of death to close around us. While we wait God’s righteous and unending wrathful judgment. The death of Jesus is all that stands between you and eternal condemnation. Why is this day – in which the Son of God died – called good? Because if it were not for this day, we could know nothing good. Nothing loving. Nothing except punishment for sins. The world can ignore this day. But the church can not. The world tells us all sorts of things we need to do if we want to be prepared to succeed in today’s world. But if it is not about Jesus Christ and him crucified, then it is not of God. It comes from the liar and the father of lies. The one who was a murderer since the beginning. Who overcame by the tree of the garden, but who was overcome by the tree of the cross. That ancient serpent who struck at Christ’s heel this day and killed him. On this day of darkness and death above all others, he seems to be the triumphant one.

But even as Satan struck at Jesus heel, Jesus heel was utterly crushing Satan’s head. Jesus cry, rings out “It is finished.” There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Because he suffered that condemnation himself. He put himself in harm’s way. He not only went into death, he suffered the pains of hell so that you would have peace with God.

Yes, the Gospel gives hope and meaning to our lives. But that is a side effect of the forgiveness, life, and salvation given through Jesus. Yes, Jesus gives rest to the weary. But he can only do that because he finished the work given to him this day. We who were outcasts, strangers, and enemies of God have been gathered together and included among God’s children, because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.

The meaning of life was always to fear love and trust in God above all things. It was sinful arrogance that led us away from that. And that sinful Satanic arrogance of Satan and the men who carry out the will of Satan leads God to the cross, leads Jesus to his death. Leads to the darkness over the land. And yet the darkness does not stay – soon morning will break on the tomb. And Jesus is not subject to corruption and decay. Death can not hold him. The grave grabs hold of him and so loses itself.

But none of that happens without the death. Today you see the terrible price of your sin. It cost Jesus his life, in exchange for yours. Today you see how very much God hates death. He sent his son to die in order to destroy death.  Today see the sign of the cross, and be encouraged in your own sufferings, find strength for your own weakness. Look to Jesus in times of trouble and testing, in times of temptation. See him there, crucified for you. Know that if he would suffer all that, he will certainly not abandon you. Know that your sin is swallowed up in his death. That you are joined to that death in your Baptism, and are now a child of the most high God.

No more wrath. That was poured out on Jesus for you.

Amen.

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Maundy Thursday Sermon

Jesus institutes the blessed sacrament, but the Gospel reading is from earlier in the evening. Only recorded in John’s Gospel – Jesus gets up, takes off his outer garments, and begins washing their feet. Later, his garments will be taken from him. But, just as we see in our Gospel reading, that is Jesus, willingly laying them aside, in order to serve. Here he takes the task of the lowliest servant on himself. And yet, this is an exalted position compared to the one he is about to take. The servant’s place is still preferable to the place of the blood sacrifice. Jesus loved his own to the end. It was that love that drove him to the cross, that brought about the cry, “It is finished.” Continue reading

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Holy Week Wednesday

The third evangelist. In the last four days we have heard from Matthew, Mark, and now Luke. Luke is the only one who records the visit to Herod. The others have him before Pilate – the Roman Governor. Only Luke mentions Herod – the descendant of Esau. Jacob cheated him out of his birthright. Now, Herod will sit in judgment over the son of Israel. And yet, Herod comes to no firm conclusion. Like his ancestor Esau, he isn’t really interested in the things of God. He cares only for the things of this world. He wants to see the show. Can Jesus do a miracle before him.

A few years ago, scientists did a study – people were in the hospital for various illnesses. The control group received regular medicine. But others received medical care, and the prayers of a religious order. No difference was found in the outcomes. The conclusion the world drew was the prayer was probably not effective. The conclusion that should be drawn was “Thou shalt not put the Lord the God to the test.” Herod tests Jesus. Jesus disappoints. No miracle. Nothing extraordinary to say. Unlike his cousin John the Baptist who denounced Herod’s incestuous marriage, Jesus says nothing. No word of judgment. No prophecy. Herod left the whole thing rather disappointed. So, he just sends him back to Pilate.

Jesus is not in this to entertain or amuse. Not then, not now. The Gospel is not a word of ease, or popularity, or physical pleasure, or wealth. It is of self-denial. It is of cross. It is of death. Jesus enters into the holy place on our behalf. He is the sacrifice for sin. His blood is sprinkled on the altar so that God would not count your sins against you.

Even as he is crucified, Jesus seeks forgiveness for his crucifiers. “Father forgive them” He prays. And there is darkness over the whole land. The hour of darkness has come. Satan has entered Judas, the leaders of the people have their way. Herod the adulterer stands in judgment over God. Pilate doesn’t have the constitution to stand up to the people. Even the criminals revile him and mock him. And then the darkness descends. It was God who called the light from darkness in the first place. Now, the darkness rules. Because Jesus, the Son of God, is near to death. The creation is being reborn – but at a terrible cost.

And yet, in the midst of the reviling, there is one spot of light. One of the criminals repents. He even rebukes the other – we are here justly, but this man has done nothing wrong. And then he pleads for mercy from Jesus. He knows there is no mercy from Rome. That time is past. But the time is past for seeking after the things of this world. He recognizes that there is more than this world. And that Jesus is the one to go to in order to get it.

His request – remember me when you come into your kingdom – shows that he understands that Jesus is not of this world. There will be no earthly kingdom for Jesus. He is also being put to death. He is mocked by the leaders of the Jews and the Romans. All the earthly authorities make light of him, and set him at naught. There is no kingdom to be had in this world. There is only cross. And yet, the criminal, at the end, recognizes that more even than the disciples. His request assumes divinity, it assumes resurrection, it assumes everything that the church confesses about Christ.

And Jesus response is the only response that God can give, in light of Jesus sacrifice. Your sins are forgiven. “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

We might say, “Even on the cross, Jesus is about forgiving sins.” But the reality is “Especially on the cross, Jesus is about forgiving sins.” That’s why Jesus came. To forgive sins. The man on the cross wasn’t just caught up in events. He was guilty. He knew it. He even admits he deserves the death sentence. He knew what he had done. And yet, he repents of his sin, and seeks forgiveness in the one place it can be found. In Jesus most holy death.

And that is what Jesus gives him. It is what Jesus gives to all who believe in his name, who receive with thanksgiving the gift of the blood shed for them. That is why he went to the cross. So that you would have forgiveness. And where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.

Amen.

 

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Holy Week Tuesday Sermon

Today we hear from the Passion account according to Saint Mark. The shortest of the Gospels. The one that focuses on the miracles rather than the teaching of Jesus. The word Immediately is used more in Mark’s Gospel than in any other book of the Bible. Chapter 15 begins, “As soon as it was morning…” Quickly. Must move on. There is an urgency to Mark’s Gospel. It is marked by action, driving Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. This is why Jesus came. The power, the miracles, the action of God in the world, all lead to this point – Jesus crucified. Jesus says only two words to Pilate. “su legeis” In English it’s four words. “You have said so.” He makes no further answer. The only other words from Jesus in today’s Gospel are a quotation from the Psalm. Eloi, Eloi, Lema sabachthani. Four more words. In English – My God My God why have you forsaken me. Jesus doesn’t say much. And he doesn’t do much. The Gospel of Jesus miracles, the one that has Jesus moving relentlessly to the cross, has Jesus being done to. He is led, delivered over, led away, and crucified. It happens to him. But it is not a helpless Jesus who is crucified. That is what we see. The will of the Father is being accomplished in these events. Jesus, paying the penalty for sin.

The leaders of the people, who knew the scriptures, refused to understand their meaning. Jesus calls out from Psalm 22, but the people think he is calling Elijah. They may have memorized the words of the bible. But they do not know the scriptures, nor the power therein.

It is the Roman centurion who confesses. “Truly this man was the son of God.” He is correct, but too late. God is dead on the cross. And now, the one who was led and delivered and crucified, will be buried. Actionless. Powerless. Jesus goes into death for the sins of the people. And the people do not know it, can not hear it. Do not care. They called out crucify, even knowing he was innocent. They got what they wanted. Jesus has been killed.

But ultimately, it was not the Romans that killed him. Jesus calls out in loud voice. He breathes his last. He is not overcome, he does not succumb. He knows the moment of his death. He entrusts himself into the hands of his heavenly Father. The scriptures are fulfilled. Not just the ones like our Old Testament reading, that talk of Jesus as a lamb being led to the slaughter, as a tree being destroyed, being cut off from the land of the living. Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy that said the seed of the woman would crush the serpent. That he would be struck on the heel as he did so. The poisonous snake is crushed. The one who crushes is struck and dies. Even in the promise to Adam and Eve, there is death. There must be a death to redeem from sin. And Mark records that death. The Son of God dying, even as the curtain in the temple is torn in two from top to bottom. Jesus is the sacrifice to cancel guilt. He is the one who will bring us salvation.

And Mark, in typical fashion, records only one of the seven words on the cross – less than anyone else. And that word looks to not only the Old Testament and her promises, but to the actions of God the Father. Who laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus has been sent into Hell. And yet, the Psalm ends with the hope of the forgiveness of sins:

24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

Jesus is not abandoned by God. Even in his death that divinity is seen by a foreigner. One who has no interest in the squabbles of the people. He sees, and he confesses that this is God. And Jesus is laid in the tomb in grief. But he will be raised. The chapter ends with Mary Magdelene and Mary the Mother of Joses seeing where Jesus is laid. It’s as if Mark knows that some will claim the women just got confused and went to the wrong tomb. No. They knew where he was. That line is only included as a pointer to the resurrection to come. The resurrection – it is where the cross leads. But we aren’t there yet. We can not stay forever at the cross, we must move to the resurrection. If we stand forever looking at Jesus dead, then he is no different than any other crucifixion victim. It is the resurrection that sets him apart. But that’s the reason we do spend this week at the foot of the cross. Because we know the end. That’s why our crosses are not empty symbols. Only those who know Jesus is raised from the dead would be so bold to put his image on the cross. Because we do not worship a dead God. We worship the Lord who comes in power to save his people. Who yes, was crucified. God, serving his people. Showing love to those who were his enemies. Redeeming them and calling them his own. That is what happens on the cross. That is what we celebrate and remember this week. What we proclaim throughout the year. Christ will be raised. But we aren’t there yet. For now a few more days, a few more hours meditating on the cross and passion, the precious death and burial of our Lord. We know how it ends, and so, our pondering is not futile, not just remembering the past. Rather, it is receiving the gift, through the word preached. Through the Body and blood given and shed. Because we proclaim the resurrection, we can afford to spend time at the cross pondering the suffering and death as well.

Amen.

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