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Welcomed into the

Sermon: “Welcomed into the Presence of the Resurrected Jesus”

Lectionary Series C; Third Sunday of Easter

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 21:1-14

 

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

My grandfather was fascinated with native Americans and nature. He loved to study native American culture, and he loved to explore God’s gift of nature all around him. He was also a very soft spoken man who rarely ever spoke much. But when he did, he would share with you pieces of wisdom that he had learned in his studies or on his walks in the field or the woods.

Unfortunately, as a young, active boy, I was rarely ever interested in hearing what my grandfather had to say. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to study Native Americans. I also couldn’t figure out why anyone would navigate nature as slowly as he did. The outdoors were for playing in, not meandering about with eyes of curiosity.

From my perspective as a young boy, time with my grandfather was really…well…boring. In my mind, grandpas and grandmas were supposed to be there for me to keep me entertained. My grandfather just didn’t do that for me. Instead, he kind of kept me bored.

If only I could go back in time and knock some sense into my younger self to help him see and appreciate what he was missing. To help him to realize that in those stories of Native Americans and walks throughout the woods and the fields were truly some of the best moments in my life. To be in the presence of someone who loved me enough to spend time with me and share his wisdom with me…there simply is not much that could be greater. As I share this, I must confess that I do so with a great deal of guilt and regret.

It is quite honestly the same way I approach this text for today. You see, in reading it through and studying it, I found myself to be…well…rather bored. There was nothing entertaining in it. There was nothing exciting. Nothing that gripped me and said, now that’s going to be a rocking’ awesome sermon, if ever there was one. It’s just rather bland, if you ask me. And bland is boring.

I share all of this with a great deal of guilt and regret. Far be it from me, a pastor, to tell you that God’s Word is boring. But, I am just being honest. Take into consideration where we have just been as of late in the Scriptures.

We have witnessed Jesus enter into the streets to shouts of “Hosanna”. We have listened to the plotting and scheming of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day as they sought to kill Jesus. We have beheld Jesus wash His disciples feet and give them the Lord’s Supper. We have gathered at the foot of the cross and listened to Jesus cry out “It is finished!” as He died our death. We have joined with Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, and all those who witnessed the resurrection. We have heard Thomas as he would not believe, and then Jesus came and let him touch His hands and His side after He had been raised from the dead.

All of these have been exciting texts to preach on. Entertaining texts as well. Today, it is just not so. Today, we hear of the disciples going back to work. They got in their boat and they caught nothing. Then some guy they can’t recognize at first on the beach tells them to throw the net on the other side of the boat. They do it, and they catch 153 fish.

Now to those that fish, that would be exciting. I don’t fish, so honestly, it doesn’t grab me that much. What’s more, I have heard of Jesus doing that before. I have heard him turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for five thousand men, plus women and children. I have heard of him do that again for four thousand men, plus women and children. So, quite honestly, this text seems to lack pizazz. I am left bored with a simple invitation from Jesus who is on the shore by the fire who says, “Come and have breakfast.”

You see, it just seems that with all of the pomp and circumstance that we have had as of late, that the readings would keep the momentum going. It would seem that after the resurrection from the grave, the excitement would just keep building from there. But that is not what happens. Instead we get invited to listen in on a meal on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And what’s more, there isn’t much said either. It’s really quite a bland conversation. And bland is boring.

We live in a day and age where the demand for the exciting and entertaining is at an all-time high. We expect to be amused at all times, and heaven forbid that we might have to sit somewhere and just pause for a moment with nothing to do. But that’s not how our minds operate in this digital age.

Now that everything is a mere click away, we expect that we will be entertained at all times. What’s more, not only do we expect it, we don’t know how to navigate life without it.

I once watched a YouTube video, (ironic, I know, as I talk about the demand to be entertained). In that video a group of girls were challenged to a media fast apart from their cellular devices and other forms of screen time. What do you think their response was, especially for the first few hours? They freaked out. They didn’t know what to do. And the constant mantra was, “I’m so bored.” But after adjusting for awhile, they started to find great enjoyment in time together, playing games, baking. Plus, they slept better. They found that they didn’t have to be entertained by their phones 24/7.

If we are not careful, our so-called need to be entertained would have us miss the remarkable reality present in this text. I must confess that I missed it the first time I read through it. Do you know what that remarkable reality is?

Jesus is there. The One who was nailed to a cross to suffer for the sins of the world…the One who cried out to His Father on our behalf…the One who breathed His last breath, died, and was buried. He is the One who is on the shore calling for His disciples to come have breakfast with Him. The One who was dead, is now alive.

Lord forgive us whenever we would be bored with such a reality. And yet that is one of the top criticisms of being in church. It’s too boring. Why should we come to church if we are not going to be entertained? It’s the same old stuff again and again. There’s nothing new. The pastor says the same things each week. I’ve heard all those Bible stories before. Wake me up when something new comes along. Better yet, don’t wake me up, I will just stay here and worship St. Mattress.

Our necessity for the exciting and entertaining has dulled our wits to the beautiful reality of the resurrection. Just because we have heard something before doesn’t mean that it has somehow lost its shock and awe. A dead person is alive. And not just a moment where the person might have been gone and their heart started beating again. No, Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb from Friday until Sunday. There was no life in Him at all. Then by God’s awesome power, He was raised back to life. This is not bland or boring news by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet, that is so often our response. It’s why churches continue to dwindle in attendance, Bible classes and Sunday School classes lack for students of the faith. Somehow, there are more exciting things to do, more entertaining things to do…than be welcomed into the presence of the resurrected Jesus.

After all, that is what takes place here. The same Jesus who met His disciples by the shore after being raised from the dead comes here to us today. He welcomes us to simply rest in His presence, to be still and know that He is God.

Being still is tough. Just ask that boy at the beginning of the sermon who sat there wiggling about as his grandfather tried to tell him stories of Native Americans and facts about nature. Most of us could probably relate when it comes to the Divine Service.

What goes through our mind when the service goes longer than an hour? What goes through our mind when the pastor challenges us to take an additional hour for Bible Class and Sunday School? What goes through our minds when the service goes long and the football game starts at noon?

Yet here we are, invited into the presence of the almighty God just like those disciples were on that beach. And how often, like I said I was when I first read this text would say, we are just bored. As I said, I say this with a great deal of regret and guilt. Because I can say it’s happened to me too.

The selfish desires of the flesh pull at us so hard. It’s just so difficult to truly just stop and appreciate all that Jesus has done for us. And that’s the beauty of this text. It invites us to take a moment of pause. A moment to ponder what it means to truly be in the peaceful presence of the resurrected Christ. To know that everything He said He was going to do, He did for us…because He loves us.

And what’s more, He is here today to serve us. He serves us Himself. Though we don’t deserve it in the least, though we have traded time with Him in for countless worldly things, He still welcomes us here…into His presence. It is here that He serves as our host. It is here that He says, “Take and eat, take and drink.” And so we do. And once again our sins are forgiven. Our salvation is secured. And we may be at peace…as we are welcomed into the presence of the resurrected Jesus. In His name. Amen.

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

 

Peace Be With You

A lot can be said of a reliable vehicle. Any of us who have ever experienced any breakdowns in our vehicles through the years can attest to this. When I think of reliable vehicles, I think of my first car.

My parents bought me my first car when I was sixteen back in 1997 for five hundred bucks. It was a 1974 Plymouth Satellite with 36,000 original miles on it that someone had had packed away in storage somewhere. It was kind of rust colored with a cream colored vinyl top. It was a four door big boat of a car which we called “The Beast”. The Beast’s body had a leak in the roof, the muffler needed repairs, the heater core needed replacing, the gas gauge didn’t work, it got 13 miles to the gallon in the summer and 8 miles to gallon in the winter, and on and on the list went.

So, why do I say that I think of The Beast when I think of a reliable vehicle? Because what this car did have was a V8 318 engine in it. Now I am no car buff, whatsoever. But I was told again and again, that even though the rest of the car may have issues, that engine was always going to be reliable. And wow, were they right. That engine purred. Not only did it purr, but it idled at 45 miles per hour. I could drive to my friend’s house a few miles away or to school or to work at the golf course, and hardly ever have to touch the gas pedal. The Beast was a reliable vehicle to get me from point A to Point B.

For us as Christians the reliable vehicle God uses to deliver to us His gift of the peace that passes all understanding is His Word, along with His Sacraments.

God’s Word is performative. That means that it does what it says. Behind each Word of Scripture is the crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. He is the Word that was in the beginning with God and is God. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us and is full of grace and truth. And what He says does not come back void. Through the vehicle of God’s Word, God’s gifts are delivered.

We see that in our text for today. 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. Then 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).

Through the vehicle of His Word, Jesus delivered His peace to His frightened disciples and they responded with gladness. There they were gathered behind locked doors filled with trepidation at the thought that the next sound at their door might be another mob of Jews seeking to kill them. And why shouldn’t they think that? The last image they had in their minds was the unruly crowds calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, then hauling Him off, and killing Him on a cross. We would be fearful too, if the leader we had been following for the past three years was killed.

It was into this locked room of fear that the resurrected Jesus entered in. And the first word out of His mouth was “Peace”. It was not, “Hey guys, why did you run out on me when the guards hauled me away from the Garden of Gethsemane?” It wasn’t, “Hey, why didn’t you speak up for me when everyone was yelling “Crucify”. No, the first word out of the resurrected mouth of Jesus to His followers was “Peace”.

And with that, “Peace” was delivered. And not like the peace we think of from the 60’s (hand gesture). No, it was this kind of peace (show hands). Jesus physically showed them His hands, and He showed them His side. In fact, it is quite remarkable that those that use sign language even emphasize these wounds of the hands as they use the name Jesus. The sign for Jesus is (show sign).

Jesus let His disciples see what true peace looks like as He showed them His hands and side. He allowed them to behold that all that He said He was going to do, He did. And now, here He was in their presence delivering them “Peace”.  

We gather here in the house of the Lord seeking that same peace that passes all understanding. Like the disciples, we too have our fears. We fear for our family’s health and safety. We fear for our ‘own’ health and safety. We fear the future. We fear that our sins of the past will come back and haunt us. We fear that our sins are too big to be forgiven. We fear dying. We fear death.

Fear is debilitating. Fear is paralyzing. And that’s exactly what had happened to these followers of Jesus as they gathered behind locked doors…until Jesus came and changed everything with the peace of His presence.

But if you weren’t there, it would have been a struggle to believe it. After all, we humans so often demand to see something before we believe it. And that’s the way it was for Thomas. He didn’t believe. Even though the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he still would not believe. He demanded to see Jesus with his own eyes, and to place his hands into the nail marks and the place his hands into Jesus’ side. He demanded proof.

And that’s what Thomas got. 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 into 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 have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:26-29).

Thomas had been listening to the other disciples tell him for an entire week that they had seen the Lord, but he would not believe it. He needed physical evidence. He simply could not wrap his mind around the thought that Jesus was alive. That is, until Jesus came in and spoke the same words He spoke the other disciples: “Peace be with you.” And then taking it a step further, Jesus met Thomas’ demands. He let him touch the nail marks and place His hand into Jesus’ side. And with that, Thomas believed.

But Jesus’ words of rebuke are as much for us as they were for Thomas and the other disciples: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Jesus tells us to put an end to our lack of belief. He knows that we also struggle to believe the words that testify to Jesus’ death and resurrection. He knows that we also have our doubts and reservations when it comes to the Word of God and it doing any good amidst the fears we have in our lives.

So often, we fall prey to our own emotions and our limited human reason. If we can’t feel God’s peace, then we wonder if it is really there for us. If the circumstances of life that we think should change to end our fears don’t end, then we think that the peace God delivers must not be for us. Or we think it is only some sort of superficial peace, but not a real peace, not a peace that passes all understanding.

And then there’s the understanding part. Because God’s will and His ways don’t make sense to us, and because He doesn’t work in our way and in our time, and we lack trust and patience, we are often left to conclude that the peace of God might be only an illusion of some kind or something that was only for the disciples to have, but not us.

Our weak faith or even lack of faith finds us located in that same room with the disciples. Debilitated and paralyzed by our fears. But it’s more than simply fears that we have for the cares and concerns of this life. It’s the fear of actually trusting in God more than we trust in ourselves. This is where we come face to face with our own idolatry. To trust God means to believe in His Word whether we get to see the physical proof of His resurrection or not. To trust God means to believe His Word and His presence in that Word, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Because that’s what it means to have faith.

And faith is not something that we try and muster up enough strength to produce. Faith is a gift. And the vehicle God uses to deliver His gift of faith to us is His Word. The Word made flesh who dwelt among us. It’s Jesus. The One who rises from death and says, “Peace be with you.”

You see this ‘peace’ is more than just a word, or a nice thought, or a good feeling. This ‘peace’ is a person. It’s the resurrected Jesus who is located in that word of peace. And He is here today to deliver to us Himself. He delivered Himself to us with the water in our baptism when He made us His own. He delivered Himself to us in the holy absolution that the pastor spoke forgiving us of all of our sins. And He will deliver Himself to us in a matter of moments in, with, and under the bread and wine in His body and blood. And it is all so that we may have peace.

You see, peace is not something that is earned. Peace is given to us by Jesus who won it for us. Peace comes in Jesus ending the separation between us and the Father by His death on the cross. Peace comes in our idolatrous sins being forgiven. Peace comes in death being defeated and the victory of the Jesus’ resurrection winning the day. That’s what Jesus came and brought to His disciples, and that’s what Jesus comes and brings to you and I today. Peace to our hearts that are filled with fear. Peace to our minds filled with doubt and disbelief. “Peace be with you.”

That’s what the divine service is all about. God delivers the peace of His presence in His Word made flesh so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name.

Bearing that in mind, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, as He reveals Himself in His Word. Let’s read it, learn it by heart, mark it, and inwardly digest it. For the Word is the reliable vehicle to bring Christ to us, to create and strengthen our faith and to bring us the peace of the resurrection. 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.

 

 

 

Oh, to Have Been There! Pastor Gless

Sermon: “Oh, To Have Been There!”

Lectionary Series C; Easter Festival Service

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:1-12

 

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

Oh, to have been there! What would it have been like? How awesome would it have been to make our way with the women who first arrived at the empty tomb! Oh, to have been there!

When we last gathered on Friday, we considered what it must have been like to have been there at the cross. On that night, we joined with those who witnessed the death of Jesus.

It was on that dark and sacred night, that we sang the first three verses of the hymn, “Were You There”. We sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? And with each verse we sang, it caused us to tremble, tremble, tremble. Tremble at the very thought of having been there.

Oh, to have been there. On that night that we call ‘good’, however, we were left hanging. The story did not end with Jesus being laid in the tomb. There is one more verse that needed to be sung. Here on Easter morning, we just sang: “Were you there when God raised Him from the tomb?” As we consider those who were there on that first Easter morning when God raised Jesus from the tomb, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Oh, to have been there! What would it have been like? How awesome would it have been? To have made that journey to the tomb with a skip in our step as we looked forward to what we would behold with our very own eyes. To get there, and see that the stone had been rolled away. To have seen angels and to have heard them speak of the resurrection. To have looked into the empty tomb. The joy would have been too much to contain. Oh, to have been there!

But unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it went. For those that were there, that’s not the way that it was on that morning that God raised Jesus from the tomb. Far from it, really. In fact, we may tremble at the thought of what did take place that first Easter morning.

Oh, to have been there. The women who made their way to the tomb with spices early Sunday morning in no way expected that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead. Otherwise, they would not have gone with the spices. They went there totally expecting to wrap a dead body. What they thought was going to be a good work done for their Lord, was actually only a reflection of their lack of belief.

They should have believed though, and so should the disciples as well. But when they heard the news of the empty tomb from the women, even they thought the news was nonsense. But they should have believed nonetheless. They had been told otherwise.

Jesus had told them before that He would rise from the dead on more than one occasion. He did not keep it a secret why He had come, and how He was going to accomplish His mission in life. But it didn’t seem to matter how many times He told them, they still did not believe.

Oh, to have been there. Then again, in some regard, we have been there. No doubt each of us have been in the valley of the shadow of death. We have gathered near the graves of those we love who have died. We have stared in the eyes of someone we love as they near their last breath. We have said far too many goodbyes. And when we face the reality of death, believing the words of Jesus seems impossible.

Believing the words of Jesus is so hard when everything appears like we have been let down. When death takes hold of a loved one lost to cancer…A battle is lost with heart disease…A tragic accident occurs...A life is cut far too short. The wage of death stings us to the very core. Death is devastating.

Sitting in those hospital rooms, living rooms, funeral planning rooms, we just can’t believe this has happened. Even though the wage of sin is death, we can’t believe it has come to this. And we can’t seem to believe there is any hope moving forward after this.

So it so often goes while walking in the valley of the shadow of death. Not only can’t we seem to believe our loved one is dead, but we also can’t seem to believe there will be a resurrection either.

Like those who gathered by the tomb, we forget the promises of Jesus. Our judgment is clouded by the darkness of death. So, we turn inward, rather than upward to try and make it through. We try and justify death as something that is natural when that is so far from the truth. We occupy ourselves with distractions, and we try and do anything that will keep us busy in an effort to cope.

But where is God’s Word in all of our sadness and sorrow? What place does it have as we grieve and mourn?

Just like those who were there that first Easter, it is vital for us to listen to the voices of those angels who spoke from that empty tomb. Because those words are just as much for us, as it was for them.

“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. And they remembered his words.”

Oh, to have been there! To have heard those angels proclaim that the resurrection was for real! He was not dead! He was alive!

Those women, just like us, needed to be reminded of the promises of God. While living in this valley of the shadow of death, we need to hear God’s Word again and again. It’s what draws us out of our sorrow and sadness to see what the empty tomb really means.

It means there is hope. A sure and certain hope. A hope that does not disappoint. We may grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We grieve in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything! It means that our sinful debt has been paid in full! It means the sting of death has been removed. It means that death is swallowed up in victory. It means that every time we stand in that valley of the shadow of death…be it of our loved one...or the day we face our own death, we do not need to fear. For all those who die believing in the Lord Jesus as Savior, we will rise as well. That is what the empty tomb proclaims. Jesus’ victory is our victory!

We may have trembled at His death on Good Friday, but that trembling has been exchanged for the trembling of rejoicing and celebrating.

And I know, there are certainly times when it is hard to believe it. There are certainly times when our words would echo that father who cried out to Jesus when he desired his son to be healed of an evil spirit, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” But even as we make that cry, our gracious God is there to help us.

Our God knows that we are helpless to believe in Him and His resurrection on our own. He knows that we simply cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.

But that’s why He called each of us by name to faith in Him in our baptism. And that’s why again and again, He calls us into His house to be reminded of His words, and the truth those angels proclaimed.

He knows that we need to be called by the Gospel. And the Gospel proclamation that we gather in celebration of today is the same those women heard at the empty tomb. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!”

Oh, to have been there! What would it have been like? How awesome would it have been! To have looked into that empty tomb! To know that all that He said He was going to do, He did! He died our death. He forgave all of our sins…all the times we failed to believe in Him, all of the times we failed to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. And then He did what was thought to be unbelievable as He rose from the dead…Just like He said.

Oh, to have been there! And in fact, we are invited there today! We are joined with Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and all those who witnessed the resurrection at that empty tomb. Just think of it! All the generations of Christians for all times will join with us in a matter of moments. In, with, and under bread and wine, the resurrected Jesus will come to us. Countless Christians, as far as the eye can see, as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore will join us in a foretaste of the feast to come in just a few moments. If that doesn’t cause us to tremble, what will?

Here together, we will feast on forgiveness. We will be lavished with life. We will be saturated with salvation. We will gather together with all the saints and archangels to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.

The empty tomb proclaims today, that death does not get the final say! There is a resurrection to come!

And oh, how we can’t wait to be there when that day comes! To know that the last enemy of death has been defeated once and for all. And on that day, there won’t be just one empty tomb. All the tombs will be opened. All will be raised, as we tremble with excitement at the sound of trumpets and the voice of an archangel.

Oh, to be there! … When we will join together in a new heavens and a new earth and the former things will not be remembered. There will be no more weeping or cries of distress. And there in the center of it all, we will see Jesus! The One we’ve been waiting for. The One we’ve been longing to see. The One we just can’t wait to thank again and again for all that He has done for us.

Oh, to be there! …In the presence of our resurrected Savior Jesus for all eternity! “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.

 

Weeping and Rejoicing

Sermon: “Weeping and Rejoicing”

Lectionary Series C; Easter Sunrise Service

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 20:1-18

 

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

When is the last time that you cried? What is it that makes you cry? Tears are a hallmark of this world. Tears and life go together. Tears of pain, violence, frustration, disappointment, sickness, misunderstanding, and death.

If there is anything that makes us cry, it is our sin and the effects of sin in our world. It is only a risen Christ who has the answer to sin and its consequences. Today’s text is all about what gives us good reason to cry and the answer to our tears. Mary had good reason to cry.

As we heard in our text, Easter did not start with rejoicing for Mary Magdalene. It began with tears. It was under the cover of darkness in the early hours of the morning. Such a sad journey it must have been for Mary as she went to say her final ‘good-bye’ of sorts as she made her way to the tomb.

Yet, while it was still dark, Mary saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb, so she panicked. Who would disturb the tomb of her Lord? She ran back as fast as she could to report the alarming news to the disciples. Peter and John, in an instant, made their way to the tomb. John got there first, but Peter was the first to enter the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, the face cloth folded up by itself. John then went in and believed. Yet neither understood the Scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. They then returned back to their homes, leaving Mary all alone by the tomb. (Pause)

Mary, from the village of Magdala. A woman known for having had seven demons cast out of her by Jesus. A woman who had witnessed His crucifixion. She had seen Him breathe His last. Oh, how these images must have stolen her sleep the past couple of days. And now, she was forced to consider the reality that the dead body of her Lord had been stolen. It was all too much! All that was left to do was weep.

No doubt we have all been there. Overcome with a weight of grief and sadness, faced with the harsh reality of mortality. It is a burden unlike any other. There is a sinking feeling in the chest, almost as if there is a pile of rocks on our rib cage. It makes breathing ever so difficult. In fact, each breath is drawn out into long gasps for air, almost as if we are drowning…drowning in our own tears. We can’t help it. The sting of death is just too painful.

It is no wonder that this world is called a vale of tears. We have each had our fair share of good-byes. That severing of body and soul is a felt reality for those who are left behind to mourn. We are left to look upon the tombs and the gravestones of those who once brought joy to our lives. It may sound like a simple statement, but it’s not: death hurts.

The harsh reality is that it is supposed to hurt. It is the wage we pay because of our sin. Where the supposed easy thing to do would seem to be to blame God for death, it is we who have brought it upon ourselves. We are the sinners. We are the ones who failed to meet God’s demand of perfection. And for that failure, there is a price to pay. And like all consequences, that price hurts. Death hurts.

This is very evident as we page through the Old Testament. We hear that the people of God mourned when Moses died for thirty days. We hear that they mourned when Aaron died for thirty days. When Joseph, Jacob’s son died, the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. Throughout Biblical history, there has been an intentionality to take time to mourn.

It’s no wonder that God tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

How sad is it though, that we live in a world that doesn’t afford us such time. This world says we should hurry up and get over death. Employers may only give a couple paid days off, if any, when a loved one dies. Then the expectation is that we return back to work as if nothing happened with all of the same demands placed upon us before the death occurred. It is the mentality that if we simply busy ourselves enough with tasks, the pain will go away. But the pain doesn’t just go away. Oh, we may bury it under a heap of duties and any other thoughts we can muster up, but the pain is still there.

Do you know how long it takes to heal from an ‘expected’ death? Three years. Do you know how long it takes to heal from an ‘unexpected’ death? Seven years. And really, one doesn’t ever really fully heal from death. That pain never fully goes away on this side of eternity because we will always miss our loved ones who have died before us.

So it was for Mary Magdalene as she wept outside the tomb. It was a time to weep, a time to mourn.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The trauma was more than she could bear. It was more than she could handle that her Lord had died, but to try and wrap her mind around the fact that someone had stolen Jesus’ body was just too much. Not even angels could sway her from this sad situation. It was too much to handle.

Death is always too much to handle. We may try to handle it on our own, but only to our own demise. We are inclined to try and press through the grief thinking that if we just focus hard enough, we can get to the light at the end of the tunnel. But, the darkness of death is too daunting.

It looked as though Mary was going to be left in a vale of tears and hopelessness. We can all too often relate. But, for Mary, everything was about to change. And as it did with her, so it does for us.

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).”

In an effort to draw her out of her weeping, Jesus asked her the same question that the angels asked. “Why are you weeping?” What may sound somewhat insensitive was actually Jesus’ way of pointing to the fact that there was no reason for weeping.

But her sorrow was simply too much. She was still stuck in the thought that Jesus’ body had been stolen. It never entered her mind that this could possibly be Him. After all, no one rises from the dead on their own. No one, except for Jesus, that is.

With one word, Mary’s weeping was turned to rejoicing. One word. And that word was, “Mary.” The same Jesus who had cast out seven demons from her body. The same Jesus she had seen die her death. The same Jesus she had seen laid in the tomb. The same Jesus she had come to pay her last respects to. He was now right there before her, and He was calling her by name.

So, it is for all of us. The resurrected Jesus has called each of us by name. In our baptism, we were called by name. We were marked with the cross of Jesus upon our forehead and upon our heart. We were washed with the water and the Word as we were called by name. The resurrected Jesus knows each of us by name because we belong to Him.

And because we belong to Him, all that is His belongs to us. His perfect life, His death, His resurrection. All of it. We who were doomed to face the darkness of death because of our sins are not left to wallow in our weeping. He who died our death now lives. This is a time to rejoice!

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” … “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Yes, there is an answer to our weeping and our tears. It is found in the One who rose from the dead on the third day and calls us all by name. And one day, He will raise us from death and wipe every tear from our eyes. And there will be no more death, nor more mourning, no more crying, no more pain…

All because…“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And giving thanks was all that Mary could do as she clung to her Lord and Savior. It was as if she simply could not let go. Her gratitude and rejoicing was overwhelming her as her hands held tight to the resurrected Jesus.

“Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and Your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.”

What she proclaimed as her weeping was turned to rejoicing is the good news of great joy that we have been given to proclaim in this world. We may live in a vale of tears, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We have the hope of the resurrected Jesus alive and well within us. The very One who has called us by name, has called us to share His resurrection hope so that all those who weep, may rejoice. Rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and Savior!

“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.

Oh, to Have Been There

Sermon: “Oh, To Have Been There”

Lectionary Series C; Good Friday

Sunday, April 19, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 19:17-30

 

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

Each year as we mark this Friday we call Good, we sing the first three verses of the hymn, “Were you there?” We sing it as we hear of the rejection of Jesus, hear the hammering of the nails, and see the extinguishing of the candles. We sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? And with each verse we sing, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. Tremble at the very thought of having been there.

What would it have been like to have been there? To have heard the shouts calling for His crucifixion. To have heard the final verdict. The innocent had been found guilty. The guilty Barabbas had been declared innocent. To have stood on the sides of those streets as the guards drove Him out of the city. To have seen them place that tree upon His whip-lashed back and force Him to carry it with the last ounces of strength He had in Him. Carry that cross to the Place appropriately called the Skull.

Oh, to have been there. To have stood on that mountain, the place where people were sent to die in the most horrific fashion. A place where death was put on display so that people could watch and tremble in fear at the thought of having to face the same fate. To have seen the nails, the hammer, and the tree. Instruments of a carpenter now altered into instruments of death to kill the carpenter’s Son.

Oh, to have been there. To have heard the sounds of the hammer hitting the nails as it rung in everyone’s ears. As it echoed throughout the land. To have seen His body hoisted about three feet above the ground. Just enough to ensure no relief for the one being crucified. To have watched the soldiers nail that plaque declaring Him the King of the Jews in three languages…a further insult of Pilate’s declaring that the Jews’ king had been crucified.

Oh, to have been there. To have heard the four soldiers divide his clothes into four equal shares. Then, to have heard them as they cast lots for Jesus’ seamless tunic acting as if this was like any other public crucifixion. No big deal. Oh, if they had only known that such a garment had touched the flesh of the Son of God.

Oh, to have been there. Imagine how it must have been for those who were there. Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene, and John. Imagine the heart-wrenching anguish as they witnessed Jesus beg for His thirst to be quenched as His body began to shut down. Imagine the anger welling up within them as they listened to the insensitive guards cast lots for the clothes of the man they loved so dearly. How could they do such a thing? Then to see Him suffer so intensely and not be able to do anything about it…oh, how it must have torn them up on the inside.

Oh, to have been there. To think about being there causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble…as we come to terms with the fact that it was because of our sins that He had to die. As we ponder anew what the Son of God did do here on Good Friday, we are brought face to face once again with the reality that it is because of our sinful disobedience that Jesus had to hang there and die while facing the wrath of God against sin.

Oh, to have been there. To have seen Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted. To see Him dying on that tree. Even the mere thought of it sends an overwhelming wave of guilt rushing over us.

And rightfully so. We are the guilty ones. We are the sinners. We are the ones deserving of God’s wrath. Each wound He bore was because of our disobedience, because of our rebellion. Every nail that pierced Him was supposed to be ours. We should have carried our own cross. We should have been left there to die. It is we who should have been upon that cross extended…as we just sang: “I caused your grief and sighing, by evils multiplying, as countless as the sands. I caused the woes unnumbered, with which your soul is cumbered, Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.” Such a reality ‘should’ make us tremble.

Oh, to have been there. To have seen His eyes look ever so lovingly at His mother who had given birth to Him, cared for Him, nurtured Him, and now was forced to say goodbye to Him. To have heard those words of care and compassion as He was suffering so: “Woman, behold, your son!” Then to John, “Behold your mother.” To see a son honor his mother, love and cherish her in the last moments of life. It tears at our hearts to think of such a moment between a mother and her son.

Then to have heard Him say “I thirst” from His cracked lips as His tongue was cleaving to the roof of His mouth. The last drink that He had consumed had been in the upper room the night before. Then to have seen them stretch and raise that sour wine soaked hyssop branch to His lips, a branch of only about eighteen inches or so. We can only begin to imagine how much it must have stung…how much it must have burned on the way down His throat. Then again, its intent was to dull the pain from the nails having pierced the hands and the feet. Perhaps it did a little before the inevitable occurred. Little did those soldiers know, but they were being given a part in fulfilling the very words of Scripture that had been foretold long ago in the Psalms.

Oh to have been there. To have beheld His last words…the final words He would speak before He would bow His head and give up His Spirit into the hands of His Heavenly Father. To have heard Him cry out, “It is finished,” and felt the earth shake and the see the rocks split…even the thought of such a death makes us tremble.

Death is so hard to put into words. It is so final. It seems so unfair. And in this case it was. The innocent Son of God died a criminal’s death. Such is the justice of the Almighty God. He sends His Son to die in our place.

Oh, to have been there. To have seen His love poured out from that cross forgiving all of us who don’t know what we are doing. Loving us to the very end. Giving of Himself, not forcibly, but willingly, voluntarily. What He did on this night, He did with joy as He fulfilled the will of His Father. Here again tonight, we are invited to see that all reasons for our guilt have been removed as far as the east is from the west.

It may be hard to look at the cross yet again, but without a doubt that is where Jesus wanted to be…for you and for me. He wanted to die our death. It was His delight to do the unthinkable will of His Father and lay down His life for His friends. And you are I privileged to be His friends.

So, take a closer look at Him dying on that tree. Look into those wounds. See that in those wounds are our sins. Every last rebellious sin that we have committed is embedded into those wounds. See here that he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Oh, to have been there…and in many ways we were there. We were upon His heart and mind as Jesus bled and died our death on that cross. That blood that we see that He shed is poured out for us filling us with forgiveness, lavishing us with life, and saturating us with salvation.

To think of such unconditional love that poured out from Him causes us to tremble in heart-felt appreciation. We can’t help but be eternally thankful to our God for turning our fate around. To think that we should have died in condemnation, but now because of this perfect sacrifice of the Son of God, we are saved. No longer does the Father look at us in wrath. That wrath has been endured by none other than the Son of God. Now when the Father looks at us, He can’t help but get this image out of His mind. The image of His Son laying down His life on our behalf.

Oh, to have been there. To have heard Him say His last words, “It is finished” and responded with trembling tears of gratitude. How can we not be eternally thankful?

Even as we sit here two thousand years removed from this event in history, we are still invited to behold that it was this moment in time that changed the course for all humanity. When God the Father in His infinite wisdom sent His Son to die for His most prized creation, all of humanity. Then to think that even here and now, God includes us. He includes us in His plan of salvation.

Oh, to have been there. Tonight, we have once again been given the opportunity to ponder upon those that were there. And we are also given the opportunity to rejoice that through His Word, we have been invited as well. Invited to behold our Savior Jesus pour out His endless love as they nailed Him to the tree…for you and for me…causing us to tremble, tremble, tremble. 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.

Love to the End

Sermon: “Love to the End”

LSB Series C; Maundy Thursday

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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

The journey was near its end. The last thirty-three years or so of life had all come down to this. The hour that had not yet come in so many instances throughout His life was now here. The hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father. This is why He had been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. It all came down to this…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

There He gathered with His disciples one last time for one last Passover meal. But unlike the other times they had gathered, this one was different. As the other Gospels proclaim, this Passover was filled with words that had never been spoken. Instituting a new covenant, a last will and testament was established. In, with, and under bread and wine was the body and blood of Jesus. There in that meal was the forgiveness of sins.

During supper…Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus got down on the floor to do the unthinkable. He was their Teacher, their Master, and Lord. Foot washing was reserved for the lowest of slaves, usually a Gentile slave who worked in the household. Now it was apparent that Jesus and His disciples had not been afforded such service upon their entry into the upper room. So Jesus, in most unlikely fashion assumed the role of a slave.

We do not associate one who is called Teacher, Master, or Lord to assume the position of a slave. Think about those in high esteem throughout our land. Fortune 500 CEO’s, large company presidents, government officials. Rarely, if ever, do we hear stories of their assuming the role of someone of servant status. So it was in Scripture. We expect those with titles of high repute to be served by slaves and servants, not the other way around.

Yet, there is Jesus in humble estate, before His disciples. Dust, dirt, dung, you name it. Jesus carefully and lovingly scrubbed the sweat, stench, and soil off of His followers’ feet. It was an act of love that no doubt left most of the disciples dumbfounded.

Has anyone ever done something for you that you did not expect, or better yet, that you did not deserve? When I was in Kenya the first time, in the village of Duca Moja, I was awestruck by the hospitality. In both the evening and morning someone came to me and held a bucket of clean water before me and handed me a bar of soap so that I could wash my hands and my feet. They held the bucket of water while standing up as I washed while sitting down. Outside of the time when I was a young child when I was washed by my parents, I could not think of a time I had been treated that way.

When on one of the servant events with the youth to Wisconsin, during one of the evening activities, we gathered in groups in circles throughout the large room. One person in each circle of people was to volunteer. I raised my hand. Little did I know that I would soon be washing everyone else’s feet. It was something I also had done on another servant event with the youth in Idaho.

I can honestly say that washing the feet of others is a humble task. Feet are not the most appealing things. Quite frankly, I think they are rather gross. I think it’s why we wear socks and shoes.

The disciples, however, did not have socks or shoes. They wore sandals. Their feet must have been very filthy. Their feet must have been in great need of washing.

This is what Jesus does. But such washing goes beyond this break in the action of the Last Supper there in the upper room. It points to what was to come. The place Jesus told His disciples: Where I am going, you cannot come. Jesus humble act of washing His disciples’ feet was pointing them to Calvary.

A love that goes to the end doesn’t stop with one act of humble service. Jesus had loved them all the way up to this point, and He continued to show His unending love for them. He loved them as He prayed the High Priestly Prayer there in the Upper room on their behalf. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which you have given me, that they be one, even as we are one. He loved them even as He was arrested, as He protected ‘them’ from being arrested. He loved them all the way to the cross, and even to His very last breath.

It is as He would say later that night in the upper room: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

The very next day He would do just that. He would breathe his last loving breath for His disciples, for you and for me. In such love He would manifest His glory. He would allow Himself to be put on full display for all people. And there He would bleed and die. There He would show us what love really looks like. It isn’t about love and service of self. It’s all about love and service of others. It’s about putting the needs of others above our own.

Yet how many of us are absorbed with ourselves? How many of us only do something for someone else if there is something in it for us? How many of us when we are asked by a boss, parent, family member or friend for help of some kind are thinking in the back of our minds, “What’s in it for me? I better get something out of this.” Be it payment, applause, or accolade. We want the credit. We want the benefit. We want the reward. And if it isn’t there, then don’t come back asking for help again.

With Jesus, however, we see that He had nothing to gain by doing what He did. He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. By wrapping a towel around His waist and assuming the position of a slave, He put His reputation on the line. But more than that, the love He displayed expected nothing in return. Notice He didn’t get done and ask the disciples to wash His feet. Yet, how sad is it that none of them offered either.

Like the disciples, we too have our limits on love. How often does our love fail? How often does our love end? Truth is, if we might have to do something that would risk our reputation or status in life, then we will most likely pass on the opportunity. Truth is, we make far too much out of what others think of us. And in doing so, we miss out on the beauty of serving others as Christ so served us.

This is why Jesus tells them: Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:12b-17).

Jesus wants His disciples and us to do what He did for each other. Not necessarily wash each other’s feet, but serve each other, and love each other. Put aside that reputation and love people to the end, with no limits whatsoever. Love them as He would display love the next day when He would humble himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.

And this is exactly what happened for many of the disciples. What He told them they would not understand until afterward, nearly all of them learned. Nearly every disciple would die a martyr’s death for the sake of sharing Jesus with others. The loved to the very end.

Jesus calls us to do the same. But like the disciples, He does not love us to the end with an empty love tank. No, He fills us to overflowing. The One who served His disciples by washing His disciples’ feet also washes you and me. He does so in our Baptism. And He does so here tonight.

The Master humbles Himself by wrapping Himself under bread and wine. Here He serves us His very body and blood. Here at His table He serves us His supper which washes us clean. Our conscience is cleansed of guilt, and He forgives us of all of our self-serving sins, for all of the times we put limits on our love for others, for all the times we haven’t loved to the end. Every last sin is gone, washed away forever.

The same blood Jesus shed on Calvary when that hour had finally come is what covers and cleanses us. We don’t need to fear what others think of us when we humbly serve as Christ served us. Our identity is not in what others may think or say about us. Because nothing separates us from His love, and we are not our own. We have been bought with the price of Christ’s holy and precious blood, and now we may glorify Him.

This is what we have been called upon by Christ to do…to sacrificially serve others. We put aside ourselves, our reputation, and our glory so that Christ may be glorified. We decrease so that He may increase. This is the love that is alive and well within us as we dine at the table of the Lord here tonight. It is a love that is never ending, steadfast and sure. It is the love of Jesus, the One who loves us to the very end. In His name. Amen.

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

The Hour of Glory Has Come

What does glory look like? Is it being carried off the court after a last second shot was made? Is it being surrounded by those who cheer your name? Is it standing all alone on the top of a mountain that has been climbed? Is it receiving a standing ovation? Is it crossing the finish line? Is it walking out the door one last time when retirement finally comes? What does glory look like?

Here on Palm Sunday, it may look similar to what we think when it comes to glory. Jesus entered into the city of Jerusalem in an atmosphere of glory and great excitement. It was the time of the Passover, and word had gotten out about the latest miracle Jesus had performed. He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now he was coming into Jerusalem, and the crowds wanted to see if this was the man who would be the promised Messiah.

So, they took off their cloaks and laid them on the ground. They grabbed palm branches and waived them in the air. And all the while people were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” But such a moment of glory would not last.

As we gather here on Palm Sunday two thousand years removed from that first Palm Sunday, we know what took place next. The “Hosannas” faded away. The time would soon come when cries calling for His crucifixion would echo throughout the land.

Palm Sunday may be a joyous day, but it is a somber day of joy. Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The Hour of Glory has Come. The days of Lent are drawing to a close. The time is now at hand.

In the days coming, Jesus would have all His dignity and reputation stripped of Him. The authorities would try him, beat him, and whip him. The sole goal would be to shame Him and demoralize Him. Spit would drip from his face and blood would flow from His back.

The whip the soldiers would have used would have most likely have had pieces of bone or metal or glass embedded in the leather. The whole goal was so that the prisoners’ flesh would be ripped away with each crack of the whip. This would bruise or perhaps even expose the prisoner’s vital organs.

Such torture wasn’t done though. The prisoner then would be forced to carry their own cross out of the town to be put on display for people to see as they came in the city. It was a visual symbol not to mess with the local law.

Once they arrived, the soldiers would drive nails in between the bones below the wrist so that prisoner would remain secure on the cross. Normally, the prisoner would be on that cross for days before death would finally take hold. But not for Jesus. We know from Scripture that He died that same day, probably from all of the blood lost beforehand.

Why should we take time to process a few of the graphic details of a crucifixion? Because that is what the image of glory looks like. When Jesus said that the hour of glory had come, He did not mean that He was looking forward to accolades and applause. He was looking forward to His death. And His death was not pretty at all. But it was most certainly glorious.

It was as Isaiah foretold: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

This is what glory looks like. It’s not in applause, accolades, or atta-boys and atta-girls. Glory comes in sacrifice. Glory comes in suffering and death. The suffering and death of Jesus. He is the glorious One. We are not.

For those of us who are consumed with worldly glory, let this be a reality check. Because all of those trophies and accolades we strive after so hard will all fade away and be forgotten. The only lasting, eternal glory comes in Christ. The One who died for us.

Scripture tells us to “Fix our eyes upon Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” But we sinners only want to look at ourselves. “What’s in it for me?” “Look at me.”

Many of you know that I love the game of basketball. However, I really struggle to see what the game has become. At the professional level especially, there is so much focus on the individual. Though the line goes: “There is no “I” in “Team,” you would not know it if you watched the game. Fundamentals like passing and simple plays to work together for the sake of the team have been thrown aside for isolation ball, where the focus is on one player to get the spotlight. Unfortunately, this mentality has also trickled down into the lower levels as well. The concept of sacrifice and service is lost in a sea of self-glorification. And for what…a trophy that will collect dust somewhere and be forgotten.

That is why for our catechumens who will be going through the Rite of First Communion today, we need to ever keep before them, and before ourselves, what it truly means to live the life of a Christian. It has nothing to do with the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. It has everything to do with Jesus. I really appreciate the prayer: “Lord, may I decrease, so that you may increase.” But, that’s really hard to live out when we are so focused on ourselves and our own personal glory.

Our text tells us, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

So, what will it take to live these verses out? What will it take to truly follow Jesus? What do we tell our catechumens who are going through the Rite of First Communion today if we desire them to “remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of life?”

As we consider the glory of Jesus here today, let’s be honest and admit that the life of a Christian is going to be tough. It’s marked with suffering and death. What’s more, the devil is going to prowl like a roaring lion seeking to devour each of us. With every ounce of his being, he is going to try and keep us away from where God is located. The last place the devil wants us is here in God’s house receiving what we truly need. He is going to do whatever it takes to convince us that our sins are either too big to be forgiven, or they are not that big of a deal. Either way, he is going to lie to try and separate us from Jesus.

And for that reason, what we need every day is to join with those Greeks from our text who said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” No matter how hard it may be to look at Him arrayed in all of His glory on that cross and be faced with the reality of our own selfish, sinfulness that put Him there, we need Him. We are dependent upon Him for survival.

That’s why we need His Holy Supper again and again and again. Constantly. Think of it this way (and many of you have probably heard me say this before): how long can we survive without food? If I asked the teenagers here, they might say, about 20 minutes. No matter how long we say, it is most certainly true that we need food to survive. And so it is that we need to body and blood of Christ if we are to survive unto eternal life.

So, here today, our catechumens will be receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the first time. And I know, the bread won’t taste like much at all and the wine may not taste all that good. But, is that really what matters? What matters is that Christ instituted this Sacrament by joining His Word to bread and wine to deliver to us the forgiveness of sins. Because He knows that’s what we need.

And the good news as we gather here today is that we don’t have to go searching for it. The Greeks in our text were looking for Jesus. That’s not the case with us. We know exactly where to find Him. As I have said before, Jesus is the worst at Hide-n-Seek. He is exactly where He says He would be. He is in His Word and Sacraments. This is where He is ‘for you’ in all of His glory. This is where He shares His glory with us by giving us Himself.

This is where we proclaim His death until He comes again. And what a glorious day that will be when that hour finally comes. Christ will descend. The trumpets will sound. The dead in Christ will be raised. We who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and we will always be with the Lord. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the ‘glory’ of God the Father. 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.

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