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Joy in the Lord - John 15:9-17 Pastor Woodford

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Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

            If there is one thing that this world needs more of it is joy. More times than not the news is depressing; money gets tight so you start obsessing; and our culture is going down the drain so you are distressing.

Yes, joy seems hard to come by these days. It’s easy to become disheartened and worried. We ask, “Where has all the joy gone?” Far too many and far too often we are walking around with glum faces, seeing only the dark and dreary places.  It’s like the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled The Rainy Day:

 

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; 

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,

But at every gust the dead leaves fall,

And the day is dark and dreary.

 

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,

But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,

And the days are dark and dreary.

           

Perhaps the words of this poem are fitting for you. You know or have known what it is to wake up each day saying, My life is cold, and dark, and dreary. Of course, you would rather it not be, but unrest returns day after day. You are heartbroken by the harshness of life, and lament the unfairness it brings, not to mention the inevitable and impending death of your mortal body. It leaves you looking for some hope and longing for some joy.

What you need is some Good News. In fact, you need some pure unadulterated 200 proof Gospel Good News! In the Gospel there is a compelling story that brings mountains of joy and oceans of hope: Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

The heart of Christian astonishment is the mind-boggling goodness of the Good News. It’s the understanding that joy in life comes from Christ’s presence in your life. This means joy is far more than the fleeting and arbitrary moments of happiness. Happiness is nice, but happiness comes and goes. Joy, however, is lasting and capable of being present when you are anything but happy. Even in suffering, as miserable as it can be, (and believe you me I know it can get pretty miserable), joy can still be found.

So amid all of the days that are cold, and dark, and dreary, you and I want some JOY. We want something that when you hear it you can’t but help respond with exuberant jubilation. So lets test this thought. You want joy? You want hope? You want astonishment? Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

            There is something utterly invigorating about the joy of the resurrected Christ. No, He doesn’t promise you a rose garden, but there is something immensely powerful about a Savior who walks through death, comes back to life, walks right to up to you, baptizes you in his name, wraps the arms of His Holy Spirit around you and says, “I know you. I know you inside and out. I’ve laid down my life for you. These things I’ve said to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full.”

            Yes, the resurrected Jesus is on the loose, running wild, pouring out His Holy Spirit, speaking His Word of grace, baptizing babies and adults, forgiving sins, speaking hope, bringing joy, and feeding the spiritually hungry with His presence under bread and wine. And He’s come for you today.

That’s the Gospel! It’s the Good News. Jesus loves you day in and day out. Amid every failure, flop, and fault of your life, you live under a banner that says, “It is Finished!” Christ has conquered. He shed His blood. He’s paid your price. He forgives your sins.

So look to Jesus, say the scriptures, look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2).

Where has all the joy gone? It’s in Christ and He brings it to you this day. He invites you to revel in His love and rest in His affection. This is the astonishing goodness of the Gospel. It renews your mind. It restores your soul! Amen? Amen!

“Amen!” We say it often and regularly. But have we paused to take in what it means? Amen is a word of solemn assent given to the words spoken in a congregation. It puts the exclamation point on our prayers and gives closure to our praises. Amen closes the doxology. It frames the liturgy—beginning and end. It’s often the joy bursting out of the mouth at the sound of God’s goodness and the hope of Christ’s forgiveness.

True, LCMS Lutherans usually just smile as loud as we can rather than let the joy of an “Amen” fill the air. Nonetheless, we do say our Amens. The Small Catechism reminds us that when we say “Amen” we are saying, yes, yes, it shall be so! Thus, the Amen is the bold concluding affirmation of God’s promise that in Christ it shall be so!

In fact, Jesus Himself uses the word. He uses “Amen” to vest a statement with special authority. “Amen, Amen I say unto you…”  “Truly, truly I say to you…” He actually says it just before the Gospel text for today in John 14.

Yet, “Amen” is often said with difficulty, in tears, and amid hardship. But even so, it still carries with it the recognition that, come what may, be it darkness, disease, or death, joy is there in the middle of that mess by the power and presence of the living Christ. So when you hear the Good News, and your soul stirs inside because the pure unadulterated 200 proof goodness of Jesus Christ just washed over you, you can’t help but say “Amen!”

Most of the time we just say it internally because saying it out loud might distract the preacher or draw attention to yourself. As I have said before, don’t you know you can’t interrupt a preacher when you say “Amen!” It’s merely the affirmation that the Good News is the Good News; that there is JOY to be had in it! No preacher is going to stop that. 

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” If you are looking for joy, look to Jesus. Stop looking in mirrors, walking the mall, or counting your money to find JOY. If you want joy, look to Jesus. He puts joy in your soul so that your joy may be full; that your cup runs over; and your spirit takes flight.

            The third and final stanza of that poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a helpful reminder of the hope that still lies behind those dreary and weary days:

 

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;

Thy fate is the common fate of all,

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.

 

Jesus knows this. He experienced it. The darkness of Good Friday was especially thick and heavy for Him. Yet, that’s why He’s your Savior. He bore the cross and shed His blood for you in the darkness of that day. But then He walked out of the tomb alive to come and get you.

Behind the darkness of your days the Son (of God) is still shinning. He’s the one who made you, redeems you, saves you and stops at nothing to love you wholly and completely.

You see, Jesus is enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful. And He’s come for you today. Where has all the joy gone? It’s in Jesus. Look to Him!

Jesus is the best friend you’ll ever have. He won’t back down. He won’t give up. He’s the greatest phenomenon that’s ever crossed the horizon of this world.

He’s God's Son. He’s the sinner’s Savior. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He stands second to none. Amen? Amen!

He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He is the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He is the supreme problem for skeptics. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology. (S.M. Lockridge).

He’s the miracle of the age. He is the superlative of everything good you choose to call Him; And today He’s come for you!

You want JOY? Jesus gives it! He’s the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior. He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted. He stands by the tried. He shines light into your dark days and He’s come for you today!

He forgives sinners and He discharges debtors. He sympathizes and He saves. He strengthens and He sustains. He guards and He guides. Jesus brings JOY!

 He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He heals the sick. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He beautifies the meek. And He’s come for you today.

            You want joy? Jesus brings it. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible. You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t stop His love. You can’t out live Him, and you can’t live without Him. Even on the rainy days there is JOY in Jesus, and He brings it to you!

The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him.

Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn't handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

            Where has all the joy gone? Jesus Christ brings it in abundance! “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.”

This JOY He gives to you here and now. It will remain forever. In fact, it will be forever and ever—in His kingdom, in His glory, forever and ever. And when you get through with all the “forevers”—just as Jesus teaches in the Lord’s prayer, “for Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever—then comes, AMEN!

Stay Connected to Christ

nullJesus said: I am the vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:1-4).

          My fellow branches, stay connected to the Vine. Stay connected to Christ. I do not say that as some overbearing demand to be placed upon you. I say that as your pastor who loves and cares for you in the name of Jesus.

          You see, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, He looked in love upon His disciples. He knew it would not be long and He would not be there with them. So, in love for them, with His Word, He painted a picture to tell them to stay connected to Him and they would live and bear fruit.

          Staying connected to Christ sounds so simple. Simply listen to Him. Listen to the Words that He has spoken. That’s all He asks. Listen to what He has to say to you, for as Scripture says, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So, how are your listening ears doing when it comes to hearing God’s Word?

          I can’t help but think about a little boy and his mother when it comes to the topic of listening. Whenever she opens the car door to get her son out, what is the first thing she says to him: “Stay right next to me. There are cars on this road and I don’t want you to get hurt, so I want you to hold my hand.” Yet, for some reason, it is as if that simple message of the mother goes in one ear and out the other. Before you know it, that little boy is doing laps around the car as if he were a horse at the Kentucky Derby instead of doing what he was told.

          Listening. How many of us are like this little boy when it comes to listening? How many of us have selective listening and only hear what we want to hear? So it must have been for that little boy. Little did he know that his mother was telling him to stay connected to her by holding her hand so that he would be kept safe from getting hurt.

          As Jesus looked at His disciples, He wanted the same thing for them. He wanted them to stay connected to him by listening to him so that they would be kept safe. In a matter of hours, one of His friends would betray Him over to die. On the very next day, a mob of people would call for His death. Then, shortly thereafter, He would be facing thirty-nine lashes with a whip at the hands of Roman soldiers. Bleeding profusely, He would have to carry His own cross to which they would nail him to die.

          Jesus knew all of this. He knew it was going to happen. What’s more, He knew He would be leaving them. There would be the joy of Easter as we are celebrating now, but it wouldn’t be long after that and He would be ascending into heaven. It wouldn’t be long and they too would be facing suffering like His. And He knew there would be only one way that they would endure it all.

          And that is by staying connected to Christ. Christ is the Vine. He is the source of life, eternal life. His roots are firmly planted, and from Him comes all that is needed, all the sustenance and the nourishment to be able to face all the obstacles that they would have to face. If they would stay connected to Him, they would have all that they needed to bear fruit for His kingdom and make the good confession in the face of any persecution. But without Him, they would be doomed…and so would we.

          Jesus said: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:5-6).

          It sounds so simple to our ears. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. If the branch doesn’t stay connected to the vine, it will die, and because it is dead it won’t bear fruit. It is almost the type of message that demands a “Duh” at the end of it. “Well, come on Jesus, everyone knows that a branch can’t survive or produce fruit if it isn’t connected to the vine. Couldn’t you have come up with a better illustration for your disciples?” I am sure that He could have. But He didn’t need to. Because what seems so simple is all but that, when it comes to our living it out.

          Abiding in the vine and staying connected to Christ is not so simple for us. Listening to Him is not so simple for us. How often do we just think we have better things to do with our time? How many of us are regularly tempted to skip our daily devotions, our time of prayer, even Sunday worship? How many of us have laid there on a Sunday morning and come up with a myriad of other things to do? How many of us have been tempted to disconnect from Christ who is the Vine?

          At times of temptation like these, we ought to give careful consideration to this: Have we ever really thought about the implications and risks of disconnecting from Christ? Have we really thought about how slippery the slope is to disconnecting ourselves from the Vine? Then, have we ever really thought about that branch all on its own, wilting, drying out, baking in the hot, hot sun, only to get picked up in a pile of other dried out branches and thrown into the fire? It’s a harsh image to consider, which is why we so often choose to suppress it for our own convenience.

           We don’t like to think about all the things we prioritize in our lives that take us away from hearing His Word. Be it our excessive smartphone usage or sports and extracurricular activities, our excessive work schedules as we pursue more money and more things for the garage, or even our vacation time where we are tempted to think it should also be a time for vacation from the worship of God.

          We don’t like to think about it because we would rather justify that a little disconnect from time to time is alright. Be it for us or for our kids or both. We tell ourselves that we can always reconnect next week. And that’s just how easy it is to take for granted what God gives in weekly worship in His Word and Sacrament. Since it is offered every week, it is such a slippery slope to justify skipping one or two services here and there. But then before one knows it, there is the risk that it becomes more than one or two. Before one knows it, they might only be coming to church one or two times a year…say Christmas and Easter? We may tell ourselves, oh that will never happen. No doubt that’s what such Christmas and Easter only attendees probably told themselves as well. (Pause)

          My fellow branches, I have good news for you. In your baptism, the True Vine connected Himself to you. He saw you as a branch that was dead in your trespasses and sins. He joined you in your death by taking it upon Himself, and He raised you up it. It’s what the Easter season is all about. It’s what Jesus is all about. The resurrection from the dead and the life everlasting. Just as the Father raised His Son from death, so He has raised you also, and He has grafted you into the Vine so that you may have life everlasting. And in no way does He ever want you to disconnect from Him. He loves you far too much!

Stay connected to Christ, my fellow branches. Jesus said: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (John 15:7-8).

So like the disciples were encouraged to do, let us stay connected to Him by praying without ceasing and constantly hear His Word. Let’s listen to His Word in worship, study it in Bible Class, learn it and mark it in daily devotions, and inwardly digest it as if our life depended upon it…because it does. Like a plant needs water and sun to survive, so you and I need what the Vine gives in order to survive. So, let’s listen to what He has to say.

          For in a matter of moments He is going to say through the pastor: “Take and eat. Take and drink.” So take it, and eat of the fruit of the Vine for the forgiveness of your sins. In doing so, you will have the resurrected Son of God coursing through you, cleansing you of all the times you disconnected from Him. You will have the life of the Vine pumping through you, literally gushing through you. You will have the resurrected Christ flowing through you so intensely that in no way will you be able to contain it.

          Like it says in the 23rd Psalm; “your cup will be running over.” You will produce fruit, beautiful abundant fruit that will be an absolute delight to the eyes of your heavenly Father.

Yes, your heavenly Father delights in what you do as you listen to His Word and live in the vocations He has placed you in. I know some of us are leaving for Africa tomorrow. But you don’t have to go to Africa to produce the fruit the Father delights in. He delights in the farmer tending their land. He delights in the accountant filing taxes. He delights in a mother caring for a sick child. He delights in a teacher instructing their class of students. He delights in a child obeying their parents. He delights in all that you do according to His Word that He has ‘spoken to you.’

          That’s the joy of being a branch. Thanks to the Vine, we get to bring glory to God by producing the fruit of the Father. In no way do we deserve it, but such is the privilege of being a branch connected to the vine. We get the perk of producing the fruit. It doesn’t get any better than that! So, let’s stay connected to the Vine, my fellow branches… Let’s stay connected to Christ. 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.

         

Talking Points with Pastor - May 2018

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“The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Matthew 28:5-6

 

The snow is finally melting, the ice is thawing, the grass is showing and the days are growing warmer. The anticipation of spring finally arriving has been building for some time given this long winter. “Spring is here! Spring is here!” We chant every day those remaining snow piles grown smaller. We are tired of being contained by winter’s long and dark grip.

With spring, there comes a change in mood and energy, especially after a long cold winter like this past year. The days are now longer, the sun is warmer, people begin emerging from their winter hibernation and taking walks outside. We look forward to the change that is coming with eager anticipation. 

The church year can often feel similar at time. The season of Lent kept us contained in the period of repentance and self denial. But now that Easter arrived we are able to burst forth with the resurrection joy given by our powerful Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, it is no small thing to have a Savior who can walk through death back to life! 

As spring is a welcome relief from the bitter cold and darkness of winter, so the resurrection message of Jesus Christ is a welcome relief from the darkness of the sins that afflict us and the devil who oppresses us. As the stone was rolled away from the tomb and the darkness gave way to the light of life, we too can now live in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. 

We have a Savior who was raised from the dead! Contemplate the power of this Savior and the might of this miracle worker for a moment. If He can suffer, die, be buried in a tomb for three days, and then walk out alive, imagine the power He has dwelling within Him.  

            As He rose from the dead, so He promises to raise all believe in Him! Even more, if He can rise from the dead, and promises to raise all believers back to life, do we believe He can raise dead relationships, dead marriages, and dead end lives? Or are we suffering from a spiritual winter that keeps us in the cold of unbelief and sin?  

The truth is, if Jesus is able to give sight to the blind, heal the sick, give hope to the lost, and raise the dead, He can most certainly work mightily in our lives right here and right now. With spring there comes new life and growth. With spring there also comes Easter. And with Easter there comes new life and growth because we have the resurrected Jesus Christ breaking out of the tomb and wrapping us in His almighty resurrection power. 

So rejoice in the season that it is! Rejoice in the power of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Pastor Lucas

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.

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