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Catechesis Corner May 2018

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Distractions. They are everywhere. Television can be a distraction, the radio can be a distraction, even people who interrupt can be a distraction. But what would seem to be at the forefront of the distraction empire is the smartphone.

          Smartphones have this way of demanding our attention like no other piece of technology created before it. From its beeps to its buzzes, to its blinking lights and its beckoning apps calling our names, there just seems to be no end to it all.

          In a recent article attached to the Mustang Memo at our school, it shared that smartphones are ‘a constant distraction paving the way to academic mediocrity.’ In that same article, it shared smartphones impair sleep as they cause ‘restlessness because of the anticipation of receiving text and social media messages.’ What’s more, smartphones are addictive, ‘like slot machines constantly persuading the user to crave more.’

          The sad reality is that as our cravings for using our smartphones increases, our ability to be still, think, and meditate suffers. This is especially true when it comes to God’s Word. When was the last time any of us took a set amount of time apart from our smartphone to open our Bible and truly meditate upon it and let it wash over us like river flowing over rocks in a river? When was the last time we read a passage in God’s Word and really thought about what God was saying to us and allowed that Word to form our prayers?

          In Psalm 1, the Psalmist writes: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (Psalm 1:1-3).

          The delight of this man who writes this Psalm is to meditate on God’s law day and night. The commandments of God literally serve as his nourishment as they show him his sinfulness and his need for a Savior. It leads him to know what to confess before his Lord so that he may be forgiven. The result is a peacefulness that is likened to a thriving tree that has no lack for water as it is fed by the stream by which it is planted.

          It is a beautiful image for us to consider and take to heart. For all the distractions that rob of us our time, be it our smartphone or otherwise, may this Biblical text and meditation provide a renewed craving to ponder anew God’s Word in our lives. It is truly the sustenance that we as Christians need so that we may yield the fruit of our Savior and prosper in this life He has graciously given to us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable

in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Under Shadow and Shepherd

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Under Shadow and Shepherd

            “The Lord is my shepherd.” It is the beginning of perhaps one of the most familiar Psalms, if not familiar verses of the Bible. Written by King David some 3,000 years ago, David describes the Lord with a familiar picture of his day—a shepherd.

            However, shepherds are not quite as familiar in our day. Sure we have sheep farmers around, though not always that visible. But should spring ever decide to arrive, you might be able to see a few local sheep grazing on the various green hilly pastures.

            Nonetheless, the life of a shepherd is rather foreign to most folks these days. The practice of sheep herding has also become a little more advanced and perhaps laden with more comforts and conveniences than years ago.

So, when you hear the verse, “The Lord is my shepherd” it may sound a bit odd for some folks. Without knowing what the life of a shepherd is all about, it is hard for some to understand this verse, let alone find comfort in it.

            Perhaps some would find more familiarity with a phrase like, “the Lord is my accountant,” or “the Lord is my electrician,” or even “the Lord is my bus driver.” But such substitutes always end up falling short. There is something about the nature of being a shepherd that offers the fullness of what the Lord does.     

In King David’s day (and in Jesus’ day for that matter) a shepherd was intimately familiar with his sheep. David knew this first hand. In the days of his youth, he was a shepherd.

A shepherd knew the stubbornness and the stupidity of his sheep. He knew their tendencies and the weaknesses. Sheep would graze on the same land until it would be utterly bare and ruined. They needed to be led to green pastures.

Since sheep are not very smart animals, they would also need to be brought to still waters in order to drink. Being covered in sponge-like wool, raging waters would pull them in and drown them in a matter of seconds.

 So a shepherd had to be vigilant. In David’s day as well as Jesus’ day, a shepherd camped out in the wilderness with his sheep—a place where fugitives and outlaws hid out waiting for an opportunity to rob, pillage, steal, and destroy. The hired hand wasn’t always ready to risk his life for the sheep. But a good shepherd was.

A good shepherd led his sheep safely through the valleys where shadows hid predators and prowlers. He used his “rod” to protect them from wild animals and intruders. He had a staff to lead them and comfort them. He was there to ensure that they would not be in any “want.”

This is the picture that David paints for us. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” But at the exact center of this prayer poem (verse 4) a great shadow of all that is wrong in this world is introduced and threatens to blot out the good and merciful presence of the shepherd: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

This shadow is death—death valley you might say—or perhaps the darkest shadows and heralds of death. Things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, divorce, domestic violence, grinding poverty, or homelessness. All have a way of casting a shadow that brings sorrow and sadness along with a suffocating despair. Such shadows inevitably drive us back to the shepherd.

This psalm, you see, is a reminder that our lives are lived in the company of both the shepherd and the shadow. It reminds us that on this side of eternity we don’t get one without the other. You have the Lord who comes like a shepherd, with all His provisions and promises, to tend you like sheep, and to go with you even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

When you and I walk through such valleys, and when you and I are covered by such heavy shadows, we become acutely aware that we are a people in desperate need of comfort. We need only look at the news, across the street, or in the mirror to see how sin assails us, evil enslaves us, and death surrounds us. Like sheep, we are running scattered and scared.

So into this mess God sends the Good Shepherd. He sends Him to forgive you, revive you, and enliven you. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who brings abundant life to you here and now. He drowns fear and despair in the waters of your baptism, and then wraps you in His Word of promise that declares He goes with you through every valley and through every shadow.

In a world that robs, pillages, steals, and destroys Jesus camps out with you. Yes, He came to this earth and walked around in it. He knows its terrors. He’s felt its cruelty. He’s experienced its unfairness. He was even robbed of the abundant life Himself. Crucified, dead and buried for the sins of the world, He has felt it all.

But that is what the Good Shepherd came to do. Jesus said it Himself: 11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10).

            Jesus is your Good Shepherd. Note what He says, “I know my own and my own know me.” He knows you. In fact, He is the one who at this very moment comes right to where you are sitting and says: “Listen, I know you. I have something to tell you. I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, denial, dishonesty, and degraded love that you have ever experienced. I know the valleys you travel. I know the fears you have, and the shadows that haunt you.

And I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship and my word is this: ‘Trust me. Trust me that I love you as you are, not as you should be. I love you right here and right now. I have redeemed you. I dare you to trust me.’”

Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He is not the hired hand who flees at the first sign of trouble or danger. He is the Good Shepherd who walks right into danger and death for you.

For lost sheep wandering in a dessert wasteland of sin He seeks you out, calls your name, and wraps you in His arms. Baptized into His name He brings you into the sheepfold of His love and compassion. He restores what is stolen and heals what is broken. He meets you in the midst of heartache and misery. He’s felt it. He knows it. And He brings you through it.

No, Jesus doesn’t remove all the suffering and unfairness of this world, at least not yet. He’ll do that when He returns to make all things new. For now, death still has its sting. But He has journeyed through it and brings you to the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

We live by faith. That means we believe Jesus brings real hope and real life to real people, living amid the real sin and struggles of life. He brings real forgiveness and real healing to you who are hurt by your sin and by the sin in the world. We live under shadow and shepherd.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. To lost sheep and found sheep, His voice leads you through life. So listen to His voice. It’s proclaimed in the Scriptures. It’s spoken at the Lord’s Table where He says, “given for you.” There He prepares a table of grace and mercy for you even in the presence of your enemies. At that table your cup overflows.

When you eat and drink with the Good Shepherd, surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. Though shadows abound we live under the Good shepherd. Amen.   

Understanding the Scriptures

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            “Hey, open up! Let us in. You’ve got to hear this!” Perhaps those were the words of the two Emmaus road disciples who had just hurried back to the disciples in Jerusalem. It was Easter Sunday, and for one reason or another, they had made the seven mile trip to a little town of Emmaus. Jesus falls in with them, though to them He appears to be a stranger. He joins them in conversation, interprets the scriptures for them, and then finally made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread at their evening meal. Then He disappears from their eyes.

            Full of joy, these two disciples, one named of Cleopas (the other we’re not exactly sure of), book it back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what happened. This is where our text picks up for today: 36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”    

The resurrected Jesus comes and stands in their midst. It’s difficult for us to grasp. But for those who got to see it, hear it, and smell it, it was the real deal. He was there in the flesh. The same flesh they saw ripped to shreds by the whip a few days ago. The same flesh they saw nailed to a cross, gory and grotesque. He stands among them and says, “Peace to you.”

This, too, is hard for us to grasp. Attempts to wax eloquent on the peace of Jesus can often end up becoming more of a do it yourself speech on how to will peace in your life, rather than receiving the actual sense of peace. So it does us well to note the source of that peace.

For the disciples, Jesus spoke peace, and so He gave peace. His Word was not void. It was not empty. He demonstrated that to the Emmanus road disciples. He opened the scriptures for them to understand. When Jesus, spoke things happened. The disciples saw it countless times before. So when Jesus speaks peace there is peace to be felt.

Of course, you and I long for this peace. We’ve seen enough, heard enough, and felt enough unrest in this life to know what it is to hope for peace. And not just any old ordinary peace, we long for a peace that brings some “joy and marveling,” something that breathes life into our souls and puts passion into your daily routine, as mundane and ordinary as it might be.

But for this to happen, we need some sweet Jesus action to come into our souls to raise to life the hopes and dreams that so often feel like are just dead and gone. So let’s take some more Jesus action in:  Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

That’s what we want! We want a Jesus we can touch. We want a Jesus we can feel. One who we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt is real and is really with us. However, Jesus has not made an appearance to us like this yet. So what are we left to do?

Too often life, and faith with it, is blurred by our own burning desires and the best of this world’s liars. “If Jesus is real, prove it! If Jesus can help me, why can’t I feel it? If God is so loving, why do bad things happen?” Satan tries to rip the very fiber of faith from your soul. He aims to make belief in Jesus too difficult for some, or too simple and silly for others. Make no mistake, he will tempt you and harass you the same way Jesus was harassed while on the cross.

Remember how the crowds jeered at Jesus? “He saved others, if He is the Chosen One let’s see if He can save Himself!” “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Even the criminal crucified with Jesus derides Him, “Are you not the Christ? Then save yourself and us!”

He certainly could have. He could have went all Wolverine (or Superman), healed Himself, ripped the nails out of His flesh, and then unleashed a can of terror and might rivaling any comic book super hero. But to what end? What would that had proved? The power of the Gospel is rooted in God’s love, not in His almighty omnipotence. Smashing heads and taking names is not love, its pride. But willingly dying for the very people who meant Him harm is unconditional, unfathomable, and unbelievable love. That’s the faith you are called to believe.   

Yet, the Devil, the world, and your sinful flesh fight and flail to destroy what it means to believe in Jesus Christ—to believe in what we cannot see, to trust in one whom we cannot feel, and to love Him whom we cannot touch. To live by faith is a difficult thing indeed. But that’s why we call it faith.

However, don’t worry if you struggle off and on. You’re in good company: 40And when [Jesus] had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

The mass and mixture of emotions going on here is really quite astounding, “while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling...” What’s that all about? Though Jesus is standing in front of them, they are still disbelieving? Yet because Jesus is standing in front of them they are full of joy! They were disbelieving and they were marveling all over the same person! It’s a seeming incongruence of emotions. But it masterfully shows what it is to be human.

It reminds us that being a walking contradiction of emotions is not all that unusual—that peace and unrest, that joy and pain, and that faith and doubt can somehow, by the grace of God, exist together. Plenty of you here know this feeling. How’s it possible? How can this joy, disbelief, and marveling coexist? The text doesn’t tell us. It only describes the intensity of these emotions and then tells us what Jesus does next: “[H]e opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”  

And there it is. It’s the sweet action of Jesus unleashing a fury of joy and amazement on His disciples. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures—short, sweet and to the point. Faith is rooted in and revealed by the Scriptures.

The incarnate Jesus pointed to them. The crucified Jesus fulfilled them. And the resurrected Jesus opens minds to them. And it’s not just for those disciples. It’s for you and for me, right here and right now. Still today Jesus unleashes the fury of His Amazing love. So get ready, because there’s going to be some crazy good, joy filled, disbelieving yet believing, Jesus loving, massive marveling going on in the roller coaster of your life. That’s what happens when the resurrected Jesus opens your mind to the Scriptures and reveals Himself to you in the breaking of the bread you are about to partake.  

He knows the frailty of your flesh and the fickleness of your faith. Yet, He calls you to faith—to believe in what seems unbelievable—even when you hurt, even when you’re confused or angry, and even when you sin and fall short of the glory of God. Through it all, He calls you to faith, and passionately declares that you’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.   

To have peace in this world means we must know the Scriptures. If you want joy, believe the Scriptures. If you want some mind blowing, game changing, faith filled marveling, all-in joy then read, hear, learn, and believe the Scriptures! They declare the Good News.

Jesus loves you! Crucified, dead, risen and ascended, He loves you like nobody else loves you. He never gives up on you. He never leaves you nor forsakes you, but declares that you are a beautiful, beloved, and precious child of God. Where Jesus is, there is joy. Where Jesus is, there is marveling. Take some home. Share it with others. The resurrected Jesus is on the loose. Amen.   

Doubts Defeated - Pastor Gless 4/8/18

 

nullGrace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Doubt. Do you ever doubt? It is a word that is associated with uncertainty. If left untamed, it becomes disbelief. And where disbelief dares to enter in, fear is not far to follow.  

Doubt. It is a word that is often associated with the disciple Thomas. Doubting Thomas. But, if all the disciples could have been thoroughly examined for doubt that Easter night, they would have all ‘no doubt’ tested positive. For they too were filled with uncertainty, disbelief, and fear.

Our text tells us that On the evening of that day, the first day of the week [Easter day], the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews. But no doubt such fears ran deeper than that. Instead of following their leader, they had abandoned Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas came with his band of thugs, when Jesus seemed to have needed them most, they had abandoned Him. They had run off into the night leaving Him for dead at the hands of Pharisees. They had failed in their following.

By this time on Easter evening, the word was out there that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Mary had reported to the disciples that she had seen the Lord. It was just as He had predicted. After three days He would rise. They should have listened. They should have followed. They should have done something. But they didn’t. They hadn’t done anything. Oh how their minds must have been a swirling mess of doubt-filled thoughts wondering what would happen if Jesus came and appeared to them. Surely He would scold them, despise them, condemn them.

You see what happens when doubts abound. Doubts disorder truth from reality. It separates the two. Doubts lead to fear and uncertainty because the mind forgets the truth and starts to chase after lies. Doubts are quite damning because they convince the doubter that there is no hope, only condemnation.

How surprised they must have been when Jesus did appear and speak to them. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19-23).

Wait just a minute! This was not the scolding they expected. There was no tone of disappointment or condemnation. In no way did it seem that He despised them for their lack of faithfulness. Quite the contrary. This was Jesus being true to His character as One who loves and forgives in a way that goes against all common sense. This is that scandalous love that defies all human reason. This is that peace that passes all human understanding and He was literally delivering it to them with His very own breath as He said not once, but twice: “Peace be with you.”

What’s more, instead of letting them have it for their doubts and fears, He was gifting them with the Holy Spirit and sending them out for service. It is what we call the Office of the Keys: “that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.” He was giving them the very keys of the doors of heaven so that they might serve others in the stead and by the command of their Lord Jesus Christ.  

Though they were glad to see Jesus, just imagine how confused they must have been. To think that they expected punishment, and in place of punishment they got peace.

Something He didn’t hesitate to deliver to doubting Thomas either. Though the disciples delivered to Thomas the same testimony that Mary had given, that they had seen the Lord, he would not believe it. He needed proof. He demanded proof. And that’s exactly what Jesus gave him as he sought His doubting disciple out.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:26-29).

The proof Thomas demands, Jesus gives. He gives Him proof with peace. It was more than he could have ever asked for, and certainly more than he deserved. Such is the way of our gracious God.

What Jesus did for Thomas and all of the disciples, so He does for us, because He knows that we have all sorts of doubts too. We doubt His love for us. Does God really love me for all that I have done? We doubt whether we are truly forgiven. Will God actually forgive all my sins, even the really bad ones? We doubt whether or not we will be saved. Will God actually welcome me into His heavenly home? We have all sorts of doubts when it comes to our relationship with God.

But God defies all common sense and human reason, and He comes right into our lives and into our ears by way of His Word. He does not hesitate to seek us out, to defeat our doubt. And He does more than just walk through a wall, He walks right into our hearts to save us.

His pierced hands that He showed Thomas have pierced our hearts as well. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has shattered the very barrier that existed between us and God. By His gift of reconciliation, He has delivered to us His perfect gift of peace. We are at peace with God. With that gift of peace, He also delivers unconditional love, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal salvation.

So for all the times you may have doubted God’s love for you, hear this: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing separates you from God’s love.

For all the times you may have doubted God’s forgiveness for you, hear this: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:9). God is always faithful. He forgives you.

For all the times you may have doubted God’s salvation for you, hear this: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). God does not condemn you. He loves you. He sent His Son to save you.

For all the times any of us have ever locked ourselves in room in doubt-filled fear like the disciples, listen to His Word. It is God’s doubt defeating gift to you. There is power in His Word. By His Word, He created the universe, as well as you and me. By His Word, when He said to the sick “be healed,” that person was healed. By His Word, when He said to the demons, “be gone,” they left. By His Word, when He said to the dead, “Arise” they arose. By His Word, when He said “It is finished,” it was finished, over, done with. Sin, death, the devil, all of it…Finished. And by His Word, when He said to His disciples, “Peace be with you,” that is exactly what they got. They got peace.

Imagine the sigh of relief that came over them when Jesus spoke those words. They were not condemned by God. They were forgiven by God. They were set free by God. Set free to serve Him. Talk about a weight lifted.

So it is with us. It’s why the pastor speaks those words of peace at the end of each sermon. It’s why the pastor speaks God’s Word of forgiveness as a called and ordained servant of the Word. It’s why the pastor baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s why the pastor speaks Jesus’ Words of Institution and delivers Christ’s body and blood.

It is all so that you may believe [beyond all doubt] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31). “Alleluia! Christ is Risen” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Every Knee Will Bow- Pastor Woodford 3/25/18

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Every Knee Will Bow

9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…

Today marks the beginning of Holy week. It is the week we see just how human Jesus was. The sinless Son of God rides into Jerusalem and is hailed as a King on His way to die.

The crowds were gathering, knees were bending, palm branches were waving, people were shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” and children were singing loud “Hosannas;” at the same time the scribes were grumbling, and the Pharisee were plotting. 

They refused to believe what you and I have come to confess time and again—that Jesus Christ is Lord. Their knees refused to bow. Their mouths refused to confess. But that did not change the truth of who Jesus is. Whether or not people believed Jesus was Lord did not change who He was. Whether or not people today believe Jesus is Lord will still not change that truth. 

Jesus Christ is Lord because He came from the stairway of heaven. Born in Bethlehem. Reared in Egypt, brought up in Nazareth, baptized in the Jordan, tempted in the wilderness; He performed miracles by the roadside, on the countryside, and by the seaside. He healed multitudes without medicine and made no charges for his service. He conquered everything that came up against Him. He took your sins and mine, and willingly went to Calvary and died.

As Paul said: Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Yet, while he was on that cross people mocked him saying, “If you’re the Christ, come down from the cross and show yourself to be the Christ.” Jesus didn’t answer that taunt. But the silence did. In fact, the silence may have said something. The silence was saying this is Friday, but Sunday’s coming! Yes, even the silence bows the knee to God. The silence knew it is better to get up out of the grave than it was to come down from the cross.

8[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus died. Make no mistake about it. No matter what skeptics try to say—that He faked it, that it didn’t happen, or that it’s all a lie. Scripture is quite clear. History is clear. Jesus died.

As African American preacher S.M. Lockridge put it years ago: “He died until the sun refused to shine. He died until the temple was ripped in two. He died until the dead came out of the tomb. He died until the rocks were split. He died until the centurion said, ‘Surely he was the son of God’ ” (Mark 15:39).

Jesus died! He was crucified dead. We don’t like it when things are dead—unless of course, such things happen to be the garter snake in your lawn or the spider in your basement. Come to think of it, maybe you wouldn’t mind the death of your financial debt, or maybe your enemy, your ex, your boss, or your competition.

Such hate filled daydreams are why Jesus died—for your ugly sins and mine. Yes, Passion Week points us to Jesus’ death. Surely, Mary fell to her knees in sorrow. His disciples surely dropped in disbelief. Knees bowed at His death—but they were bowed in grief.

Then Jesus was buried. Poor and humble, He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The One who made the mountains, who comprehends the infinite, who placed the stars in the sky, dug the canyons of the earth—the one who filled in the oceans—He was buried in a borrowed tomb. Why would knees bow to one buried in a borrowed tomb?

Because He wasn’t going to be in there long, a borrowed tomb would do just fine. He stayed in the grave just long enough clean it out—to remove its sting and wash away its sorrow. Yes, He knows the darkness of the grave. He knows the coldness it contains. But He dusted out that grave for you. He cleaned it up. Yes, you’ve been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and therefore He stayed just long enough to make the grave a fine place for you and me to await the Resurrection! Jesus died.

And then, on schedule, as foretold, as prophesied, as ordained by the Heavenly Father, He got up out of that grave with every power of His omnipotence and every detail of His omniscience. Jesus Christ walked out of that tomb as Lord, and every knee will bow at His name.

However, people today think His power is fading and falling. The world seems dark. Unrest is all around. Broken marriages, broken homes, and broken lives cause people to fall to their knees and wonder where is Jesus in all this mess? Perhaps that that’s you.  

Others try to wrestle His power away. They deny He’s Lord. In anger and selfishness they aim to destroy His power, be it by unbelief, tyranny, terrorism, governmental decree, or military might.  

But if you’re going to destroy His power, by what power will you do so? If you try to destroy Him by fire, He’ll refuse to burn. If you try to destroy Him by water, He’ll walk on the water. If you try to destroy Him by storm and wind, He’ll shout “Quiet! Be still.”

If you try to destroy Him by law, you’ll find no fault in him. If you try to destroy Him by falsehoods and lies, the truth will shine through. If you try to destroy Him by hatred, He’ll wrap you in His love. If you try to destroy Him by rejection, soon you will hear Him say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). And if you try to destroy Him by putting Him in the grave, He will rise from the dead!

This is why 9God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord.

Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. As Pastor Lockridge would say, “Jesus Christ is the bird from paradise. He is the gem from the glory land. He is truth’s fairest jewel. He’s time’s choicest season. He’s light’s purest ray. He’s joy’s deepest expression.

His name is like honey to the taste, harmony to the ear, health to the soul, and hope to heart. He’s higher than the highest of heavens, and holier than the holy of holies. In His birth is our significance. In His life is our living. In His cross is our redemption. In His resurrection is our everlasting hope!”

Yes, every knee shall bow! At His birth men came from the east. At His death men came from the west. Therefore, the east and the west meet in Him and He shows them all that He is the prince of peace, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords.

Every knee shall bow! Whether people believe it or not, that won’t change the truth.  Whether you believe it or not, it won’t change the truth. Pharisee, infant, or atheist, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Sadly, some may not believe while they live, and that will mean the sorrow and sadness of Hell when they die. But that’s why we tell them about Jesus. Be assured, every knee will bow.

Every knee! The young knee. The old knee. Every knee. The Republican knee. The Democratic knee. The communist knee. Every knee! The white knee, the black knee, Wounded Knee, every knee!

There is no other name like Jesus. At His name all will bow. The Muslim knee, the Hindu knee, the Buddhist knee, every knee! Your neighbor’s knee, your knee, my knee. In the end every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.   

Follow the Leader - Pastor Gless 3/18/18

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The Fifth Sunday in Lent; March 18, 2018

Gospel Reading: Mark 10:32-45

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:32-34).

Follow the Leader. The concept of the game is really quite simple. Perhaps you played it as a child. There is one person who serves as the leader. That person stands at the front of the line to lead the others. Then there is a group of people who stand behind the leader. They are the followers. The leader then proceeds forward, and whatever the leader does, the followers are expected to do the same. Again, the concept is really quite simple.

So it should have been in our text for today as well. Our text says: And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. Jesus was the leader, and His disciples were the followers. That is, until certain followers began to misunderstand what their role was in this game of follow the leader. That is the case in our text for today.

It all started with a request, or perhaps better put, a demand, by James and John while they were following Jesus to Jerusalem. It was a request that made clear that they weren't interested in following. Even though that is the very definition of a disciple. No. They had a different agenda in mind.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able” (Mark 10:35-39a).

This is a blank check request, with a dose of arrogance on the side. James and John wanted Jesus to do whatever they wanted for them. No limits. Just sign at the bottom and we will fill in the amount. And fill in the amount they did, as they asked of Jesus to sit at his right and left in his glory.

Greatness and glory. Our society is saturated with the pursuit of it. We crave it. We love it. We love the feeling it gives us to think we are on the top of the world. We love the so-called power it provides when we can think we are in some way, anyway, better than someone else. We love the attention it draws from others, the limelight, even if it is just our fifteen minutes of fame. In fact, we love it so much we are even willing to bask in the light of someone else’s greatness and glory. We flock to be in the presence of celebrities, star athletes, and musicians. We think, if we can’t be famous, maybe we can rub shoulders with someone who is and some of it will rub off on us, even if just for a moment.  

Through it all, what is the aim? What is the goal of this seeking of greatness and glory? It is to breed jealousy in others. Look what I did that you didn’t do. Look who I was with that you weren’t with. Look at me, don’t you just wish you were more like me? Such jealousy then only breeds division.

That’s what happened between the disciples in today’s text. And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John (Mark 10:41). And why wouldn’t they be indignant? Every one of them wished that they had come up with the idea first. What James and John demanded of Jesus is the same demand they all had. Sure they were willing to follow Jesus, but there was an underlying motive at work. They all hoped their following would lead to greater glory in the long run. It was a ‘what’s in it for me’ approach. And this wasn’t the first time this topic had arisen among the disciples.

You will recall only a chapter ago that such a pursuit of glory consumed their minds: And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34).

How much time do we waste arguing over or pursuing being the greatest, the greatest athlete, the greatest employee, the greatest friend, the greatest sibling, child, parent…the list goes on. All in an effort to try and validate our so-called superiority over another…when all of us stand before God as equal. We are all sinners. Sinners in need of a Savior.

Thanks be to God we have a Savior who displays such patience toward us as He did with His disciples. He doesn’t write us off or condemn us when we lose our place in line and think we should be the leaders. No, He takes us where we are at and shows us the error of our ways. He gently guides us to repent of our sinfulness, graciously forgives us, and then He redirects us back to where we are to be and remain. He calls us to be His disciples who follow Him to the cross and the empty tomb.

The very same place He told His disciples to follow Him toward. See we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34).

We hear that, and it’s no wonder that James and John didn't want to be followers. Their leader was going right into the foothold of the enemy. Mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed? Why would they want to follow Him there? Certainly a fair question.

In fact, it is a question that all of us needs to consider in the times we are now living in. Being a Christian is no life of greatness and glory as the world defines it. Mockery and the threat of death are more the reality. Take the recent episode of ABC’s The View where one of its anchors mocked Vice President Pence’s Christian faith by comparing it to a mental illness. A statement she made and received no consequence from the company she works for whatsoever. So much for tolerance, right? Or how about the cake maker in Colorado who finds himself before the Supreme Court for refusing to make a cake for a homosexual couple because to do so was against his religious views as a Christian. And all the while, he and his family face constant death threats. So much for religious liberty, right?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us put our pursuits of worldly greatness and glory aside, for that will not be our lot in life if we are to remain faithful. Let us humble ourselves as servants and patiently endure the suffering that comes with it. As the Apostle Paul told us: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame (Romans 5:3-5a).

It is just like Jesus told His disciples…they would be baptized as he was and they would drink the cup that he would drink. They would suffer and die as He did. But through it all, sure and certain hope would remain. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel.
          That light is the light of the tomb opening on Easter morning. Our text told us: after three days he will rise. And He did. So it will be for His disciples who followed Him. So it will be for you and me.

So instead of earthly greatness and glory, let us fix our eyes on our Leader. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus who humbled Himself that we might be exalted to heavenly greatness and glory.

Jesus gave up His heavenly greatness and glory to enter into this world of sin and shame. He put aside popularity to dine with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He didn’t come to seek the attention of the paparazzi. He came to heal the sick and forgive sinners. He didn’t expect people to wait on him hand and foot. Rather, on the night He was betrayed by one of His own followers, He wrapped a towel around his waist to wash the dirt and dung off of his disciples’ feet, and then He gave them his own body and blood so that they would be strengthened for their own life of service long into the future. He didn’t demand that we pay the price of our life for our sins. He did it for us. He was mocked. He was spit upon. He was flogged. He was killed…in our place. Because that’s what He came to do. That was His mission from the very start: to serve us in order to save us.

And He keeps serving us so that we may continue to follow Him. In fact, He does so yet again today through His Word and Sacraments. This is where we receive all the nourishment we need to endure as His disciples…so that we too may live a life of service toward God and our neighbors. No, it isn’t going to be easy. There will be trials and tribulations galore, but take heart, our leader has overcome the world. We can trust Him to lead and guide us through it all, come what may. He will see us through the cross and the empty tomb. So, in full assurance of faith, let us follow our Leader confident that where he leads there will be greater glory than we could ever imagine. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Dead Man Walking - Pastor Woodford

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 “Dead man; Dead man walking!” That’s what the guard says as he escorts convicted prisoner John Coffey from the prison truck to his death row prison cell in the movie The Green Mile. It’s a phrase that’s traditionally used to announce a condemned prisoner who is walking to the place of his execution. Though he is still alive at the moment, he is a walking dead man.

In the movie, Tom Hank’s character tells us what death row was like in Louisiana during the Great Depression in 1935: “Usually, death row was called ‘the last mile’ [but] we called ours ‘the Green Mile’ [because] the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair —'Old Sparky,’ we called it.” The movie shows several individuals who had to journey down that green mile all the while knowing they were a dead man walking.

That’s the kind of imagery the Apostle Paul gives us in the reading from Ephesians. Listen again:  1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked… Because of your sins, your bad deeds, your wicked thoughts, and your immoral behavior the verdict is in, the sentence has been handed down, and Paul says you are a “dead man walking!”  

Paul is rather specific in his description. Not only does he describe the guilt of sin, but he also describes how sin works and the consequences of sin.: 1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

[L]ike the rest of mankind…” No one is excluded from this indictment. Not you, not me, and certainly not the unbeliever down the street or on the other side of the world. Just like you and just like me, because of their trespasses and sins, they too are the walking dead. They too need a Savior from the rot and the stench of sin.

Paul’s imagery here is quite provocative. I think that’s intentionally so. Paul wants his readers to use their imagination to see how destructive and how grotesque sin is upon every last man, women, and child. He wants you to consider not only the guilt of sin, but the consequence and contamination of sin too.

The irony about this is that right now our culture has an utter fascination with depicting the gruesome and heinous rot of the walking dead. From heavy metal rockers, to comic books, to TV shows, to movies, depictions of the walking dead are all around. A popular heavy metal rocker who goes by the name Rob Zombie, (and also makes horror movies) had a popular hit song called, “Living Dead Girl” that speaks of the horrors of what such a living dead girl does.   

Even more, from 2012 to 2017 the highest rated cable TV series was a show about survivors living in a zombie apocalypse world. The name of the series is, of course, The Walking Dead. It’s now in its eighth season. It depicts survivors who band together for protection against the threat of the “walkers,” who are the undead gruesome and vile creatures perpetually trudging across the broken landscape, looking for survivors to gorge on and turn into fellow zombies.

I’ve only seen snippets of the show, and I certainly don’t recommend it. But perhaps such grotesque portrayals help us to see the effects of sin on us and those around us. Sin is vile. It’s putrid. It contaminates. Whatever its form, be it lies, cruel thoughts, lust, greed, or hatred—sin pollutes and infects, and ultimately turns you and me into the walking dead. It isn’t pretty.

When you are infected by sinful desires, and contaminated by uncontrolled passions, you often go looking for someone else to gorge upon and infect. You know how it is. When you’re angry you lash out. When others hurt you, you hurt them back. When you’re a bully at school or at work, you intimidate and threaten. When you are in the cool crowd you put others down.

Yes, as Paul says, we are dead in our trespasses and sins… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

            “Children of wrath.” Not just any wrath, but God’s wrath, His anger, His almighty fury! Be assured it is no comforting thought to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Like John Coffey you and I are a “dead man walking.”

            We are left to beg for clemency. Like a death row inmate, we can only repent and plead for mercy. And that is the very message we want all people to know. Not only for yourself, but for your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your unbelieving neighbors down the street. Like a convicted felon walking the green mile, we must cry out to God for mercy.

In the movie The Green Mile, John Coffey is convicted of terrible crimes he did not commit. Though he is giant black man, set in the prejudice south of 1935, we find he has many unique abilities. He is a gentle giant, who though naïve, is kind and deeply compassionate. He has the ability to not only feel the great pain and sorrow of people, but he can take their pain into himself, remove it from them, and give them relief, even bringing physical healing.

Though wrongly accused and convicted of terrible crimes, (the murder of two young girls), he is ready to take the death penalty. Yet, in so doing he heals people along the way, even taking away their diseases, before finally walking to his death an innocent man.

Of course, that was just a movie. But we know one who truly and willingly endured suffering, injustice, and death on our behalf. As we sit on death row begging for clemency and crying out for mercy, the Apostle Paul happily tells us of our merciful and compassionate Lord:

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”

            Because of his great love… Convicted for crimes He did not commit, Jesus Christ willingly took all of your pain into Himself so that you might be healed. He willing took all of your punishment into Himself so that you might have clemency.  

Because of his great love… Jesus willingly endured the wrath and fury of God the Father in your place, in my place, and in the place of the unbeliever down the street and across the globe. The love He has for you, He also as for the person sitting next to you, for the one living across the street, and for the one living on the other side of the world. 

Because of his great love… Jesus stood before Pilate, He before Herod, and He stood before the people and all rejected Him, lied about Him, mocked Him, beat Him and bullied Him. He knows what it is to feel the contamination of sin heaped upon Him. He knows what it is to have the walking dead try to gorge upon Him and infect Him with their sin and savagery.  

            Because of his great love… Jesus set out toward Golgotha with the cross on His back, a crown of thorns on His head, and the sin of the whole world infecting His whole being. He set out, not on the green mile, but on the “Calvary mile” with all the guards and all the people pointing and shouting, “Dead man; Dead man walking!”  

            He did that for you. He did that for your children and for your grandchildren. He did that for your neighbor. He did that for your coworker. He did that for the unbeliever who knows the pain of this world but doesn’t yet know Jesus.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).

            Because we are the walking dead, Jesus willingly became a dead man walking, so that even when we were dead in our trespasses, we are made alive together with Christ.

            Because of his great love… Jesus walked right through death, and three days later walked out of that tomb as the resurrection and the life. That contamination of sin and the infection of evil had been undone. Death had been defeated. And when people saw Him alive, they couldn’t believe it. He was a dead man, a dead man walking! And He is walking right into your life and mine.

You are baptized in the name of this death defeater. You now have His death and His resurrection welling up within you. Now you go forward dead to sin, but alive to Christ. For when you are baptized into Jesus it means that the sinful self in you, the self that gives in to temptation and fleshly desires, is by daily contrition and repentance drowned and put to death with all sins and evil desires.

But yet, when you die with Jesus it means you also rise with Jesus. Those sinful desires that rage inside are put to death so that a new, forgiven and freed person can emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity. In fact, Paul declares that now we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Now you walk in His works. Now you walk in His love. Where you go, He goes. His love is wrapped around you. Share it with others! Share it with others in your daily vocations.

His forgiveness is poured into you through His sacramental body and blood. Christ is at work in you. So now you walk in the works He sets before you. Yes, He who once was a dead man walking, is now walking right into your life and mine. He loves you! He forgives you. And He will raise you from the dead. You walk with Him. Amen.

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