Sermon for Rogate / Commemoration of Constantine

Jesus tells the disciples, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” “Whatever you ask…” sounds good. Health for loved ones, better job, bigger bank account, troublesome neighbor moved away… there’s all sorts of things we could pray for under that system. And this verse has led some false teachers to claim that, if you pray for something and don’t get it, then your faith wasn’t strong enough. That’s what happens when you take verses out of context. Yes, Jesus says “ask in my name and he will give it to you…” But just a few verses later he says, “you will be scattered, each to his own home… in the world you will have tribulation…” No one would pray, “Lord, give me trouble in the world”. So which is it? Do we get everything we pray for? Or do we get trouble? Well, yes.

To understand how prayer fits into the life of the Christian, we need to know what prayer is.

First, it’s commanded by God. He commands that Christians are to pray. The church is a church at prayer. To pray faithfully is to call on God in every trouble, to praise him, and to give thanks to him. But to what end? Why do we pray? Is it just because God commands it? If he had commanded that we whistle all hymns while standing on our head, instead of singing them right side up, that would certainly be enough reason to do it. And yet, God is not a God of disorder, but of order. And he does not give commands solely so that we can carry them out mindlessly. As Jesus says, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God gives his Law for our good. It is actually good for us to Love the Lord God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And so, when God commands that we pray, he does not just want us to pray out of compulsion. He wants us to pray out of love for him. He wants us to come to him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks because of his love for us. He wants us to come to him with our petitions in time of trouble, our thanksgiving in good times.

Do our prayers make a difference? Well, on their own, our prayers are not powerful. They are just words we speak. But that doesn’t mean that, if we get a lot of people together, they somehow become more powerful on their own. Prayer isn’t a democracy. We don’t get bonus points for more prayers. In scripture, Elijah summons fire from heaven with a single short prayer. He even raises someone from the dead – and again, it is with a single, simple prayer. Scripture says that the prayer of the righteous man is effective.  Prayer is us, coming to the seat of mercy of our great king. We may not be powerful. But we pray to one who is powerful. Who promises to hear and answer our prayers. Who has promised to give us every good thing.

This does not mean the answer to our prayers is always yes. Sometimes, in his mercy, the answer is no. But we see in Scripture on several occasions that God changes course because of the faithful prayers of his people.

Luther says about prayer, “In a good government it is not only necessary that there be those who build and govern well, but also those who make defense, afford protection and maintain it firmly.” That is what prayer is. We confess the faith, we teach it. But we must also be defending in our doctrine and our life from the attacks of Satan and the world. And of course, we must always keep watch over our own weak flesh. Your sinful nature does not want the things of God, and would lead you astray from that word into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. We pray that God would grant us faith, and that he would keep us faithful. That he would keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus is the one who has overcome the world. By his death he has destroyed death, and by his rising again, he has restored to us everlasting life. We pray that he would keep us in that true faith.

Today is also the commemoration of Saint Constantine. He was the Roman Emperor in about 300 AD. The church had been illegal from the time of the apostles until that time. Various persecutions would break out, and Christians would be arrested, tortured, and even put to death for the crime of confessing Christ.

In 314 AD, Constantine declared that Christianity was no longer illegal. The tradition says that Constantine was about to go into battle and had a vision of the Cross, with the words, “In this sign, you will conquer…” He won the battle, and became a Christian. After hundreds of years of persecution, the prayers of the faithful were answered, the prayers of the emperor were answered as well. And in the sign of the cross, he found not only victory on the battlefield, but victory over death as well. As our nation and culture now return to a secular and non-Christian status, we are returning for the first time in 1700 years to that pre-Constantinian world. To a world that is largely unchristian, unconcerned with the things of God. To a world that does not know even the basic facts of Jesus life.

We know that the saints stand as examples of faith toward God and love to fellow man. But learning the history of the church can also serve to encourage us to be faithful, to strengthen us in times of trouble, and to warn us against false teachers. The time of Constantine serves all of those. The church never fought a battle. It was persecuted, and persecuted, and persecuted, it was driven underground, those who were Christian often suffered greatly. And then, after centuries of The Roman Empire killing, torturing, and punishing those who were faithful, the Empire yielded to the church. So it always is. The world persecutes, the world tries to crush the things of God – his holy church for example. The world wins, and wins, and wins, and then, it has lost. This is the pattern we see in the death of Christ himself. One of the twelve betray Jesus. He is condemned to die. He is put to death on the cross. And then, that very act of defeat becomes his victory, and the devil is crushed. The church is driven underground until the very moment is conquers Rome – not by strength, but by weakness.

So, we can take comfort in knowing that God continues to watch over and bless his church – even in times of trouble. In times of persecution. In times when the world rejects the word of God, and would try to force us to do the same. In just those times, when it seems from the perspective of the world that God has abandoned us, we see the hand of God working most clearly. Not always right away – not even always in our own lifetime. But God is working – he continues to work through his holy word and his Blessed sacraments. His Word continues to bring forth the fruit that he decrees. The sign of the cross is our sign of victory.

And so, whether in times of praise, or thanksgiving, whether in times of plenty or times of want, in times of strength and in times of weakness, in times of great blessing, and in times of trouble, we pray, giving thanks to God for his many gifts – especially for the victory which is ours through Jesus Christ, for the gift of the church to bring us the salvation He won for us by his death on the cross. We pray for the church and for ourselves, that we would be strengthened and preserved in the true faith, unto life everlasting. And that we would depart this world in the peace of the Lord, and so receive the crown of victory.

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Sermon for Cantate

The sermon isn’t Mother’s Day themed – Mother’s Day not being a church festival. We did give thanks for faithful Christian mothers in the prayers, because we love giving thanks to God for his many gifts, and throughout the year we try to name as many as we can. But sermon time is Gospel reading time. And this week the Gospel is Jesus promising the Comforter. We need comforting, so this is an excellent Gospel reading.

***

We pray that our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found. Jesus tells the disciples that sorrow has filled their hearts. Big difference between the two. We pray for Joy. The disciples are filled with sorrow. So what is the difference between the joy that we pray for, and the sorrow that Jesus sees? The word of Jesus. It’s the Word of Jesus that brings joy to our hearts. But it’s also the word of Jesus that brings sorrow to the disciples. Jesus is going away. We understand good bye. We know that it’s a moment for sorrow. And Jesus isn’t just going to Galilee, or Rome, or Denver. Jesus is going into death. The big goodbye. This is it. And, even after he is raised from the dead, there will only be 40 more days. Then he will ascend to his father. We don’t get to see him as the disciples did. They knew him face to face. They loved him. And now, he will be gone for the rest of their lives. We know what that is like as well. It’s a time of great sorrow.

But Jesus doesn’t tell them this so that they will be filled with sorrow. He tells them this so they will be comforted. He even promises to send the Comforter. That’s what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit. The Helper or Comforter. Jesus doesn’t want them to be filled with sorrow. He wants them to receive the peace that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, brings. He wants them to have joy.

If you have a bucket filled with water, it is weighed down. That’s what sorrow does. It weighs down our hearts. You can actually feel the heaviness. But Jesus came to lift that burden. To remove the weight of sorrow. And yet, his words only cause more sorrow. That’s because Jesus is telling the disciples this before the crucifixion. Before they understood all that would happen. Continue reading

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Sermon for Jubilate/CFW Walther

Today is not only the Fourth Sunday of Easter, it’s also the commemoration of C.F.W. Walther – the first President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. When we celebrate minor or local saints – and CFW Walther would qualify for that – it’s only our own synod that really celebrates him – then you don’t usually displace the Sunday. Maybe during the Trinity season. But not if it’s one of the Easter Sundays. You add an extra collect, which we did, and perhaps make brief notice of it in the sermon, if it ties into the theme of the day.

The Collect for Easter 4 asks that God would correct all errors, grant faithfulness to those in the fellowship of the church, that we keep our confession pure. That’s pretty much the biography of CFW Walther.

Walther and the Saxon Lutherans were persecuted because they wanted to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments faithfully. In 1817 – the  300th anniversary of the Reformation, the King wanted union between the Lutheran and Reformed. So, he imposed it. Anyone who wanted to teach that Jesus meant what he said when he gave us the Sacrament “This IS my body” could teach and believe that – but they were part of a church that no longer required it. When Walther and company insisted on the Real Presence, some were arrested, others were fined. Eventually, they left – and they set out for Missouri. Of the four ships that set out, three made it to the New World. Early challenges almost destroyed the community. But in 1837, the Saxons, along with some other congregations throughout the Midwest, formed the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other Sates – what we now know as the LCMS. And CFW Walther was the first President of the LCMS. He was also it’s foremost theologian – because he loved the Word of God. At a time when most Lutherans in America were content to use Lutheran as sort of a generic term for people who came from Germany no matter what they believed, the LCMS was a different sort of church – they actually believed what they believed. Today, that’s still an unusual thing. In the Collect we prayed that we would avoid everything contrary to our confession – the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God. That no one comes to the Father except through him. That through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins is given to the whole world, and that, where the Gospel is preached forgiveness is given TO YOU. That Jesus wasn’t lying when he said “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for your for the forgiveness of your sins.” Those are basic things – not anything extraordinary. You can find it all over holy scripture. But many churches today reject all or part of that simple confession. They do not want their faith to get in the way of their success in this world. And so they quiet that confession. They change God’s clear word so that it more closely matches the words the world would have us say. But the confession of Jesus is and must be clear.

In the Gospel reading Jesus is giving the disciples  final instructions in the upper room. He is about to go away to his death. He tells them that in a little while he will be taken from them. When that happens, they will weep, and the world will rejoice.

But then, he will be raised from the dead – they will see him again. Then they will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from them. The implication is that the world will try to take their joy. To turn that joy to sorrow. But 2000 years on, the church is still the place where Christians go to receive the forgiveness of sins, to rejoice in the love and mercy of the Lord. And despite the world’s best efforts to persecute the church, no one can take that joy from us. Despite Satan’s best efforts to attack us and bring false teaching into the church, no one has taken that joy from Christ’s church. Despite even the forces of death itself, which corrupts and takes loved ones from us in this world of sin, no one has taken the joy of the resurrection from Christ’s church.

CFW Walther lived in a time where Lutheran didn’t really mean Lutheran. That it does today – that there is a faithful Lutheran church throughout the world – is largely because of the ways that God has blessed his efforts. Through the LCMS, through our sister churches – many of which we planted around the world – faithful Lutherans continue to hear and receive the gifts of God in the church. And today many churches that we didn’t plant are seeing our commitment to God’s Word, seeing how clearly the Gospel is preached, and are approaching us for guidance and help. God has blessed the efforts of Dr. Walther. Even 130 years after he died in this world, CFW Walther’s work continues through the synod he helped found. But it isn’t the synod that matters. It is the word of God faithfully spoken that matters. Walther knew that. His efforts were nothing. It was God working through the word that was preached that mattered and that matters.

Jesus says “A little while”. It’s only used here in our Gospel reading – but it’s used a whole lot. .Over and over again. Because it’s important. Jesus is telling the disciples about his death. That’s an important thing. He will be taken, but only for a little while. Then after a little while he will come back to them by the resurrection.

We need that little while. The promise of resurrection. And while we are in this world for a little while, while we wait a little while until our Lord returns, we need the promise and encouragement Jesus gives. Luther recovered the Gospel when it was almost lost. .CFW Walther restored that Gospel again. Today we continue to hear and receive that Gospel. And the world continues to reject it. The world wants our joy to turn to sorrow. The world wants us to give up on that Word. Because it’s too hard. It’s too mean. It’s too unsuccessful. But that Word and promise of God for Jesus sake, is all that we have. The little while of Jesus death, the little while until his resurrection. The little while since he has ascended, and the little while until he returns. That’s what we have, that’s the gift Jesus has given to his church. The word of promise – your sins are forgiven. The word of hope – he that believeth in me will never die. The word of Jesuse – I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come and bring you back to me that where I am, you may be also.

When does all of this take place? In a little while. It seems like maybe it’s been too long. Almost 2000 years since Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. Maybe we’re waiting in vain. But when we look at the 100’s of years that the patriarchs waited, that the kings waited, that the exiles waited, and yet the promise was not forgotten, the people were not abandoned by God. And so the Saints continue to wait. Walther waited. Now he rests and waits the resurrection of the dead.

Today, we hear the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, that he will return soon – not soon according to our watches, but soon according to his divine will.

And we give thanks that God preserves his church – sending those who are needed at just the right time to keep the pure word proclaimed in the church, he sends those who reject the false teaching of Satan, reject the lies that are told to the church. And we continue steadfast in the confession of all that is pleasing to our Lord. The confession of the truth. And the bold confession that Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life.

Amen.

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Evolution: A Defense Against – Update

I just finished a major edit of “Evolution: A Defense Against.” I am hoping for one more quick review before it heads to the copy-editor. Then, final corrections, formatting, and published! If all goes well, it will be ready before the end of summer.

Why is this book needed?

Because we are losing our people to the culture, and I don’t see sufficient resources on the topic. Oh, there is a lot out there, but I fear that much of it actually does more harm than good. It prepares people to answer arguments that aren’t being made. And it makes our children vulnerable to attacks in ways that we are simply not preparing them to defend. I hope my little book provides some much-needed reinforcement in this area.

Who is it for? Pastors, parents of teenagers, and really anyone who is fed up with the popular culture. If you have ever been to a national park, and don’t know what to say in response to “millions of years ago…” if you have noticed your five year old comes home from school having heard a story book about dinosaurs and how they lived long before man came along on planet earth… if you are just all around unsure of how to prepare your children for high school or college classes where Christian beliefs are mocked openly, and anyone who responds is marked as a troublemaker, then I think this would be a worthwhile book.

Which is to say, “Every Christian should buy this book.” And I don’t just say that because I want to be a world-famous author. I really do think that this will be a helpful tool for parents and pastors as we navigate our brave new secular world.

It isn’t quite ready for pre-orders on Amazon yet, share this with friends, and stay tuned…

 

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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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