Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Living Hope in a Living Lord

1 Peter 1:3-9 The picture  we have of Peter during Jesus’ passion is that of a man who has failed greatly—not because he was being tortured for his faith—not because he was facing imminent death—but simply out of cowardliness.  And not only did he deny the Lord, he called down the curses of God Almighty upon himself to back up his denial.
And yet the Lord loved him.  Despite his denials—despite his cowardliness—despite his weakness-- the Lord loved him.  After his resurrection, Jesus specifically sought out Peter to forgive him and restore him and to give him an opportunity to re-commit himself to following the Lord. 
That’s the whole point of Jesus’ resurrection:  forgiveness and new beginnings for us-- despite our fears and failures. 
In the Book of Acts we see the difference the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes in the lives of his people:  Peter and the other apostles boldly preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to…the religious leaders who put Jesus to death—the leaders of their own people of whom they were so afraid. 
And those who denied the Lord—who hid in fear when he was on trial—who abandoned him in his deepest need—rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for a living Lord who had given them: a new life and a home in heaven -and was working through hardships to being them there.  Peter writes of this living hope in a living Lord:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy
            Can you just imagine what the word “mercy” meant to Peter and the other disciples--to know that because of Jesus’ mercy, their life with God did not come to an end because they failed so completely?  Can you imagine how profoundly grateful they were to their heavenly Father for sending his Son Jesus Christ to make forgiveness and new life a reality for them despite their sins?
Each of us knows what it means to stumble in our walk of faith.  Each of us knows how often our lives in the words we say, the things we do, and the thoughts we have are outright denials of the Lord-- no less than Peter’s denial. 
That is why we join our voices with his words of praise for God’s great mercy in the gift of his own Son—because we also know what Peter knew:  that through faith in the resurrected Christ we have a living hope in a living Lord who has raised us up to new life in Christ.  Peter writes about that new life that is ours through Christ’s resurrection:
God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
Peter calls our new life in Christ “being born again to a living hope” and there is no better way to describe the change in his life in the light of the resurrection than being “born again”.  Very simply, a new life had come for him.  He was a different person than he was before because Jesus rose from the dead. 
The resurrection of Jesus Christ still has the power to change lives from spiritual death to spiritual life. 
When the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is preached, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to raise us from the death of unbelief-- to the life of faith. 
In Holy Baptism, it is not the water that causes new life to be raised in the hearts of those born dead in sin, but it is the powerful promise of God’s Word in that water that causes us to be born again—the promise that we have died with Christ in his death on the cross and been raised with Christ in his resurrection from the dead.
It is the resurrected Christ who is present at our altar offering forgiveness and new life in his own body and blood crucified and raised.
Christ’s death and resurrection--preached and given in the sacraments-- takes children of Adam, born to die, and causes them to be born again as children of God and gives them a living hope in a living Lord with a precious inheritance of eternal life--an inheritance that is:  imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 
            It took Peter and the other disciples a while to get this heavenly inheritance straight in their minds.  For much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what he taught the disciples about life with God “went in one ear and out the other”. 
Their minds were fixed on Roman enemies and national pride and a physical homeland.  But AT the death of Jesus on the cross they saw these earthly dreams and misplaced hopes come to an end. 
It was only AFTER Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples began to see the truth about what he had been teaching all along:  that this world is not all there is and we ought not live as if it is—that God’s kingdom is not of this world but resides in human hearts through faith—that God has something infinitely better for us than simply satisfying our fleshly desires here on earth—an eternal home in heaven.  This is a living hope.
Like the disciples, we bear the weight of our sinful flesh that simply wants to live life with all our wants and needs met.  We value success and happiness above everything else.  We are not nearly as concerned with spiritual things as we ought to be-- but we certainly want God to give us material blessings in abundance.
But a life focused on upon the things of this world is a life of futility—a life without meaning and purpose—a life that death will always destroy. 
God wants more than that for us—he created us for an eternal life—and he redeemed us by the death and resurrection of his own Son so that we could live that life in heaven with him.  That is the living hope of the Christian and that is the purpose of God’s redeeming work for us.
Moment by moment-- he is working in our lives to bring us to our heavenly home.  Peter tells us that we have a living hope in a living Lord who is present and powerful even in the trials of life—that we:
by God’s power are being guarded  through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.   
            During the last days of Jesus’ life, the disciples lost faith in the power of God to protect them.  In our Gospel lesson today we see them cowering in fear behind locked doors. 
But after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, there was no doubt in their minds that the God who had the power to raise his own Son from the dead-- also had the power to guard and protect them and bring them safely to their heavenly home.  From then on…
They faced their enemies unafraid.  They were beaten to within an inch of their lives and thrown out of town and went right back into the same town still preaching Jesus.  They were shipwrecked and jailed and exiled and finally faced a martyr’s death. 
Did those hardships mean that God’s power to guard and protect them had failed?  Absolutely not!  In fact, the miraculous power of the resurrection was that their faith remained intact no matter what kinds of trials they faced! 
Every time they came through some kind of difficulty with their faith in Jesus still strong, God’s almighty power—the same power that raised his Son from the dead—was validated and vindicated again and again in their lives.
The same is true for us.  God’s power is not necessarily shown in keeping us from times of trial—though he can certainly do that!  But God’s power is shown in that he keeps us strong in our faith through times of trial so that we emerge with an even stronger faith than what we started with!  That is what is really important-- for it is only through faith in Jesus that are born again and have the hope of entering eternal life. 
When we finally come to the same place in life as Peter did-- in realizing that our faith in Jesus Christ is the most precious gift that God has given us-- there is no comfort that we would not forgo and no hardship that we would not endure to keep our faith. 
The trials in our lives are not the failures of God to keep us safe—but a necessary part of God’s work in helping us to keep the only thing of eternal value that we have—and that is our faith in Jesus.  Peter writes about the meaning and purpose of trials in the believers’ life from his own first-hand experience:
you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
Trials are necessary to the Christian life if we are to mature in our faith and obedience to the Lord because they test and refine our faith.
It was only when Peter was tested in the courtyard of the high priest that he could really see the truth about himself—that his own strength was absolutely insufficient to remain steadfast—that he needed to repent of his trust in himself and put his trust in the strength of God alone. 
Trials show us where we are weak so that we can turn to the Lord for strength and ask the Holy Spirit for help in those areas of our faith and life.
Trials refine our faith just like fire refines gold—getting rid of doubts and removing worries as we discover that God will protect and provide for us again and again. 
It is only when we begin to see our faith as something infinitely more precious than gold that we can begin to THANK God for the refining fires of hardships and REJOICE in the trials of life because we know that through them God is shaping us and molding us for a glorious eternity with him. 
That was the living hope of these Christians to whom Peter wrote even though they had never seen the resurrected Lord—folks just like us.  Peter writes:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When the living Lord appeared to his disciples he spoke this blessing to Thomas and the other disciples who doubted:  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  We see the power of that blessing in the believers in Peter’s congregation and down through salvation history to our own day and the believers sitting in these pews who have never seen Jesus and yet believe in him and love him.
Faith in Jesus did not end with those who personally saw Jesus alive-- but spread to all who believed the Good News of the resurrection proclaimed by the apostolic witnesses—first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee and Judea, and then throughout the world down to this place and time. 

Our living Lord continues to give a living hope to all who believe in him—promising new life, an eternal inheritance in heaven, and his powerful presence in our lives even in times of trial.  Amen.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

He Has Risen!

Matthew 28:1-10 The story of our life with God began in a garden.  It is the story of God’s goodness and man’s fall into sin.  The story of our life with God ends in a garden where God and man live in perfect fellowship with one another throughout eternity.  And the only possible connection between those two gardens—the connecting bridge-- is found in the garden that we hear about this morning where Jesus’ grave was found. 
When Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimethea asked for his body, and along with Nicodemus and the faithful women, they prepared his body for burial.  The Bible says that in the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden and in the garden there was a new tomb and they laid Jesus there.  That’s how Good Friday ended…
The Seed of the Woman that God had promised all the way back in the Garden of Eden, the Seed of the Woman who would undo all the destruction that sin and Satan had caused, was laid in the earth—with the harvest God promised still come.  The Bible says that:
…after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
            They went to see the tomb.  Who can blame them?  After we lay our loved ones in the grave none of us returns the next day to see if they have been raised from the dead.  These faithful women remained with Jesus every step of the way that led to the cross and knew he died.
They saw him whipped and beaten and humiliated.  They saw him struggle under the weight of the cross and stumble and fall as he walked through Jerusalem.  They saw the hammer blows drive nails into his hands and feet and they saw a Roman spear thrust into his side. 
They saw him die-- and they handled his dead body and prepared it for burial and watched as it was laid in the tomb and the stone rolled in front of it to seal it off.
There was nothing so certain, so sure in their minds as the death of Jesus.  And early in the morning, on the first day of the week, after the Sabbath rest, they went to the garden to see his tomb.  Who can blame them?  Which of us wouldn’t have done the same?  Except…
During his earthly ministry, Jesus told them on a number of occasions just exactly what was going to happen—that his own people would reject him, that friends would betray him, that he would be crucified…and…that he would rise again.  That is a remarkable claim, but…
Had they ever known Jesus NOT to keep his word?  Had they ever once heard falsehood come out of his mouth?  He was faithful to his promises!  And there was more…
A number of times during the previous three years he had raised the dead.  He demonstrated time and again that in his presence death was a defeated enemy. 
In fact, just a week or so before he died, Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus, dead for days, commanded the grave stone to be rolled away, identified himself as the resurrection and the life and called Lazarus to come forth from his tomb—and he did! 
If anyone had listened to Jesus—if anyone had really thought about his power—if anyone believed in him--they shouldn’t have been traveling to see a tomb—they should have been standing there to welcome their living Lord.  The Bible says that:
There was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
            When God promised that seedtime and harvest would never cease, that promise was true.  But what was also true is that sin has undermined that promise. 
Every year throughout the world, there is seedtime and harvest-- but there are also places where there are floods and hail and droughts.  Seedtime and harvest fail in those places.  Sin has destroyed what was once a perfect creation.  The Bible says that:  the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 
That is exactly what happened early in the morning on the first day of the week.  Creation herself, ruined by Adam’s sin, groaned—she could not remain silent in the presence of her Redeemer just as she could not let the light of the sun shine while the Light of the World died on the cross.  In the earthquake, creation herself testified to the death and resurrection of her Creator.
Along with the earthquake, an angel of the Lord appeared-- to announce that Jesus had been raised and with his resurrection the defeat of Satan and redemption of man.  How the angels must have longed for this day!
The angels had been there in the garden when God’s judgment was announced—they saw death enter the world—and they were appointed as guards to keep Adam and Eve out of the Garden and away from the tree of life. 
Throughout salvation history the angels executed God’s judgment and comforted God’s people and proclaimed that salvation had come with the birth of Jesus.  They worked with God every step of the way as he patiently carried out his plan of salvation and now they were here in another garden to see it accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus. 
After the angels appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary and Joseph--after they sang praises to the newborn king--after they strengthened Jesus in the wilderness and comforted him in the Garden of Gethsemane --what a blessing it must have been to see the Seed of the Woman burst forth from the earth with new life for the world!
The angel rolled away the stone so that the women- and the disciples who followed them- and every person down through history from that moment on could look inside and see that Jesus had conquered death and the grave just as he promised he would.  The Bible says that at this angelic announcement:  the guards trembled and became like dead men.
            So are the enemies of God in the presence of the risen Christ.  The world’s most powerful rulers.  The fiercest pagan tribes.  The most evil empires.  All of them have been conquered one by one by the humble, gentle man of Galilee, simply by his almighty Word of life. 
What was the Roman Empire or the barbarian tribes or Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union compared to the risen Christ?  They had soldiers- and the weapons of war- and the power of the law- and the media on their side- but one by one they were conquered by the message of the cross and empty tomb:  it is finished and Christ is risen!
            It is this Good News of Christ, crucified and risen, that still has the power to defeat our enemies and conquer our fears and give us a new life filled with witness and worship and hope.  The angel said:
Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
            From that moment on, every one of us has been commissioned to be a witness for Jesus Christ, telling what we have seen and heard and its power in our lives. 
The faithful women told the disciples- and the disciples shared that message, beginning first in Jerusalem and then throughout the Roman Empire.  Those who followed the apostles have shared that message wherever they have gone-- down to this place and time and the people assembled here today.
 The faithful women never made it San Angelo, Texas.  But we have-- and we are commissioned in exactly the same way as they were to tell those around us the Good News that in Jesus Christ we have forgiveness for our sins and the promise of a new life that death will not end so that those who hear us can worship the Lord.  The Bible says that:
Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
            The response of the faithful women was the most natural thing in the world.  How could they not worship the One who died for them and conquered death for them by his own resurrection?  Could anything be more important in that moment than their worship?!
For those who have put their faith and trust in the work of Jesus Christ—for those who find their salvation at the cross and empty tomb--how can we not worship?  How can we not cast ourselves at Jesus feet to thank and praise him for who he is and what he has done? 
We were made for the worship of God and he is worthy of that worship and his people will spend eternity worshiping in his presence.  Jesus said to them:  “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
            That is a promise for us too!  We will see Jesus just as surely as did the faithful women and we will see our fellow Christians who have gone before.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death and the grave have no power over us!  He is the first-fruits of an entire harvest of people who will rise from their graves to live new and glorious lives like his own, never to die again. 
            Here in the Garden of resurrection there is an incredible harvest of God’s blessings for us.  There is the assurance that Jesus will keep his promises to us.  All of them!  There is confidence that, just as God has wisely worked out his perfect plan of salvation for the world, so he is wisely working salvation in our lives, no matter what hardship we endure.  There is a life of meaning and value here on earth that is filled with the worship of Jesus and our witness to him.  And finally there is the sure and certain hope we have of another life to come. 

            Everything that was lost in the Garden of Eden has been regained here in the Garden of the resurrection by the one who conquered death and the grave this Easter Day.  Amen.

Repent!! Turn to Jesus; He and He Alone Has Accomplished Your Salvation

Repent! Turn to Jesus; He and he Alone Has Accomplished Your Salvation

John 19:17-30 Throughout this Lenten season we have been talking about repentance.  The Bible says that repentance has two parts:  that we are sorry for our sins and then we turn in faith to Jesus for forgiveness.  And in that simple definition is really the story of our life with God.
            We are sinners.  We have not done the good that God demands of us.  We have done the evil he forbids.  But the wonder and glory of this sad story of our sin is that God still loves us. 
            When Adam and Eve sinned, God did not wash his hands of them and start over with two new people.  And so it was with Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and the woman caught in adultery and Peter and Saul.  And so it is with us.  God loves us and we can turn to Jesus when we have sinned and know that we will be forgiven.
And yet, this is the thing that we find so difficult to do.  Instead of turning from our sins and turning to Jesus, we blame others for our sins or we compare ourselves to others and tell ourselves it’s not as bad as all that or we try to make amends on our own.
When Adam and Eve sinned, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed God for giving him Eve in the first place.  When the Pharisee saw the man in the temple who was a tax collector he said to himself, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as all that!”  When Judas came face to face with his betrayal and what that meant for Jesus, he was heartbroken and he returned the money but he didn’t turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this night let us be done with denying our sin and excusing our sin and trying to make things right with God on our own.  Let us turn our eyes of faith to the cross and see just exactly what our sin has done and be truly sorry. 
But also let us see there, in that suffering, dying man the forgiveness he gives to us and know that Jesus, and he alone, has finished our salvation for he is the one who is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior-- and he is the one who loves with an everlasting love-- and he is the one who has died in our place.
When Adam and Eve fell into sin and destroyed God’s good creation and brought death into the world for all men, God stepped in and made a promise, that from a woman he would bring forth a Savior who would destroy the works of Satan.
Throughout salvation history, in the words of the prophets and patriarchs, he added more and more to that promise:  that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that he would be from the House of David and the true Davidic King, that he would be humble and powerful, healing the hick and giving sight to the blind and setting the prisoner free, that he would have a forerunner who would prepare his way and that he would pierced for our transgressions and that by his wounds we would find peace with God.
Hundreds and hundreds of prophecies over thousands and thousands of years—all of them fulfilled in one and only one man—the man who hung of the cross at Golgotha with a sign above his head that said “The King of the Jews.”  The Bible says:
They took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
            Pilate, of course, intended this to be an insult to those trouble-making Jews but the sign he caused to be written really was true:  the man of the cross dying a criminal’s death really was the King of the Jews—he was the fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up a descendant of David to rule from his throne forever. 
            And even in his dying moments he continued to fulfill every word ever spoken about him.  His last earthly possession was taken away when the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it so that the Scripture might be fulfilled that said:  “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  And his last moment of torment was the agony of thirst so that even the smallest promise of Scripture would be fulfilled. 
Throughout salvation history God has spoken about what he was going to do about our sin and from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation every word about salvation is fulfilled by this man who is crucified upon a cross, planted deep in the rocky hill called the skull.
When we are confronted by our sins—when we are caught up in our own failings-- we do not have to wonder about who to turn to for forgiveness and comfort and the strength to begin again because every word of the Bible points us to Jesus Christ. 
And when we are confronted by our sins and when we are caught up in our failings we do not have to wonder what kind of reception we will receive because here at Calvary there is nothing but love for us from the man of the cross.  The Bible says that:
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
            It is difficult to overstate the agony of being crucified.  The word “excruciating” comes from the root word for “cross” in Latin.  We would readily excuse anyone enduring that kind of pain who withdrew into themselves and focused only on the torment at hand. 
But Jesus did not do that—even in those terrible hours of horrible suffering his attention was still not focused upon himself—but others.
He made sure that his mother was cared for.  This one who was blessed among women to bear the Messiah had been warned that her own soul would be pierced by a sword in anticipation of this moment and Jesus wanted to make sure that this one he loved, this one among all the people in the world who knew every detail of his story, would be cared for at his departure.
But maybe we say to ourselves, well of course he loved his mother and cared for our needs in that moment, but why on earth should I count on that same love when I have failed him so often?
But look who else is loved around that cross.  There were those standing there who unjustly condemned him to death- and there are those who took hammer and nails and fastened him to the cross and cast a spear into his side.  And there were friends standing at a distance who failed him in his hour of need and he loved them all gave them what they needed when he said, Father, forgive them.
There is a thief who in the very last moments of his life had a change of heart and was sorry for his sins and turned to Jesus and Jesus loved him and gave him what he needed in that moment of death:  the promise of eternity in Paradise.
 Feast your eyes of faith on the one who was crucified and dies for you—see the love of the Savior who provided for those he loved and forgave those he loved and delivered those he loved and know that Jesus and Jesus alone has accomplished your salvation.
Hear his words of love spoken from the cross and believe that no matter what you have done and no matter how far you have wandered, you are loved with that same everlasting love and you can turn to Jesus and know he has accomplished your salvation and that you will be provided for and forgiven and delivered-- even from death—because he died for you.  The Bible says that:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
How can we ever being to grasp the wonder and beauty and comfort of those words?  That while were still his enemies; before we could do anything to make a way to God on our own; before we took the necessary steps to amend our sinful lives, God loved us and his Son died for us.  This is what love is!  Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to die for us!
As the old Lenten hymn says:  Imprint this image on your heart!  This image of Jesus bearing your sins.  This picture of Jesus speaking words of love and forgiveness even as he died.  This scene of the holy, innocent, sinless Son of God, abandoned by his Father, suffering under his wrath, dying a horrible death so that you will never face any of it because he and he alone has accomplished your salvation. 
Jesus said:  “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  It is finished—and it was!  Our shame and guilt—finished.  God’s wrath and punishment—finished.  Sin atoned for—the slate wiped clean—sins forgiven—finished, finished, finished.
When John the Baptist began his ministry he said:  Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  When Jesus began his earthly ministry he said, Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  When Luther began the reformation of the church he said that the entirety of the Christian life can be summed up in one word:  Repent!  Turn from sins in sorrow and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
It seems so simple and yet we saw in the Lenten cast of characters this year how difficult it is to do because we want to excuse our sins or compare ourselves to others or avoid Jesus altogether because what we have done seems beyond forgiveness. 

In our last Lenten sermon our eyes are directed to the cross and we see what ours sins have done and all our excuses and all our explanations go out the window and we are truly sorry for our sins.  But we also see there the love that is poured out in Christ’s shed blood and we know that we can turn to him and find forgiveness and for he and he alone has accomplished our salvation by dying on the cross.  Tetelestai.  It is finished!  Amen.