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"Going Out in Glory"

Sermon: “Going out in Glory”

Lectionary Series A; Seventh Sunday in Easter

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 17:1-11

 

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

In 1939, this famous speech was given as one of the greatest athletes left the game of baseball. I share with you a portion of that farewell address: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.” He then went on to acknowledge his fellow players, coaches and family members before closing with: “So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Lou Gehrig died two years later from ALS, a nervous system disease that weakens the muscles and impacts physical function. Most of us now know it as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

I am left to wonder what went through his mind as he tried to put into words what to say as he left the game that he loved. In watching the footage, he was so overcome with emotion, that he didn’t even want to approach the microphone. After some encouragement, he made his way to the microphone to wish farewell before going out in glory. (Pause)

What does one say when they know they will be leaving? What are the right words to share with those one cares about in a farewell address?

I looked up some suggested quotes that one might use in a farewell address, and these were some of the popular ones. 

Ernie Harwell, sports broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers, whose voice I heard each time I was in the garage with my dad or at my grandmother’s house while I laid it bed at night, he said: “It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.”

Elwyn Brooks White, author of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan once said: “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss once said: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Alan Alexander Milne, author best known for his books about a bear named Winnie-the-Poo said: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Saying goodbye is hard. Jesus sat there in the upper room and he went on saying farewell for four chapters before He came to our text for today. And then, when it was time to draw things to a close, he spoke the words that have now become known as the high priestly prayer.

Jesus, our prophet, ‘priest,’ and king, said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1-5).

Here He was about to go out to the Garden of Gethsemane and be betrayed and arrested by one of His own. But before leaving the upper room, He gave His disciples one last gift as we was about to go out in glory. 

Jesus prayed for His disciples. Where so many times He had gone off on His own to pray, this time He welcomed them into the conversation between Him and His Dad. Just imagine what that must have been like to sit and listen to the Son of God speak to His Heavenly Father.

Then, just imagine what it must have been like to hear what petitions Jesus placed before His Father’s throne. It was all about them. Jesus was concerned about them, not Himself. Here He was about to go and die for the sins of the world on the cross, but what He cared about most in that hour was them. And not just them, but if you keep reading His prayer beyond our text for today, He even included those who believe because of the Word spoken through the disciples. That includes us. 

In a time, where anyone else would have only been thinking of themselves, Jesus lays aside His glory, and focuses His attention in prayer on those for whom He is about to die. 

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for His friends (John 15:13). Indeed the disciples were His friends, and so are we.

Jesus continued to pray for those He loves, that they be kept in His Word, that He be glorified in them, that the Father would keep them in His name, and that they would be one. 

It was His prayer for all of us as He went to manifest His glory for the entire world. But where worldly glory would only draw attention to the self, Jesus did quite the contrary. He showed us what true glory looks like. It doesn’t come in the spotlight being shown upon us. It comes in suffering for the sake of others. It comes in sacrifice.

Going out in glory for Jesus meant laying aside His crown in heaven to be fitted with a crown of thorns. It meant removing His royal robes to be stripped of His clothing and beaten and spit upon. It meant forfeiting His throne next to His Father to be fastened with nails to a cross next to two criminals. And yet then and there, His prayer remained for us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He did it all for us. (Pause)

How often do our prayers focus on what is best for others? How often do we get caught up in a list of worldly wants and desires, and neglect what our neighbor needs? How often are our prayers just down-right selfish as we manifest before the Almighty God how discontent and unsatisfied we are with His gracious provision?

We hear a prayer from the lips of Jesus here today, and we ought to ask ourselves, where is our prayer life at? Are we fervent in prayer and pray without ceasing, or is prayer like a last life-line only to be used in utter desperation?

The Catechism teaches us that prayer is speaking to God in words and thoughts.

So what is on our minds as you pray? Is it others? Is it ourselves?

From the upper room to the cross, we can be thankful that Jesus’ thoughts and prayers were not for Himself. What remained upon His heart and mind was doing the will of His Father. What remained upon His heart and mind was doing what was necessary to forgive our sins. What remained upon His heart and mind was journeying to that cross, through the empty tomb, and returning to His Father in heaven.

And that is where He is now. We confess it week after week. “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.” 

This past Thursday was Ascension Day. On that great and glorious day, while surrounded by His disciples Jesus went out in glory and was raised up into heaven. This was the coronation of the Son of God. No longer was He to wear a crown of thorns. Once again, a crown of high esteem was placed upon His head, His royal robes were placed upon Him just as they once were, and he sat down on His throne right where He belongs.

And from that very throne, He continues to do the unthinkable. He exercises His authority on our behalf. He prays for us, He pleads for us, He petitions for us. 

Jesus’ prayer for us is that we would go out in a blaze of glory…that we would be people concerned about God's glory and not our own…that we would be people of prayer…that we would be focused on others…that we would share what we have been given to share…and that one day we would see His glory face to face.  

Oh yes, at the Father’s right hand, Jesus is there interceding on our behalf, and the Father delights in what He has to say because the Father loves to hear from His Son.

And all the while, even though He has gone in glory into heaven, He has not left us. As we heard last week, He keeps coming to us…in His Word…in His Sacraments. He does not leave us or forsake us...ever!

For all those who are struggling with feeling alone and isolated right now, please take that to heart. As Jesus goes out in glory, He does not abandon us. He never will. Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). And He keeps coming to us to shed His light into the darkness of our lives to deliver us the peace of His presence and the hope of life everlasting.

And that is what we all look forward to as we look to His return. Where He once went out in glory through cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension, there is a day that we look for in joyful anticipation.

What a day that will be! To look into the clouds. To see the Son of God descend. To witness the dead raised back to life. And to always be with our Lord. 

On that day great and glorious day, we will see with our own eyes that His farewell address was no “good-bye,” but rather, “until we meet again in glory.”

And we will meet again. Jesus, our King who went out in glory, is coming soon. And so we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus! And come quickly. 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.

Help Is On Its Way

Sermon: “Help Is On Its Way”

Lectionary Series A; Sixth Sunday in Easter

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 14:15-21

 

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

There was once a man who was stuck on his rooftop in a flood, so he prayed to God for help.

Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, "Jump in, I can save you."

The stranded man shouted back, "No, it's OK, I'm praying to God for help, and he is going to save me."

So the rowboat went on.

Then a motorboat came by. "The fellow in the motorboat shouted, "Jump in, I can save you."

To this the stranded man said, "No thanks, I'm praying to God for help, and he is going to save me."

So the motorboat went on.

Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, "Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety."

To this the stranded man again replied, "No thanks, I'm praying to God for help, and he is going to save me."

So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. While there, he finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, "I prayed to you for help, but you didn't save me! You let me drown! I don't understand why!"

To this God replied, "I did send you help. I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter. What more did you expect?"

          We are nearing the end of the Easter season, which means that Pentecost will soon be here when God sent His promised Holy Spirit to the apostles. In today’s text, Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples before He would die on the cross. There in that room, Jesus promised that they would not be left as orphans when He would return to His Father. He promised to them that He would send the Helper. He promised to them that help was on its way.

We all need help from time to time. Help with homework, help with finances, help with home projects, help with technology, help with reaching the top shelf, help with the dishes, help with cleaning the house, help with filing taxes, help with planting and weeding the garden. We all need help from time to time.

          Just a couple of weeks ago, I was informed by Nora’s kindergarten teacher that I was supposed to help her with the gift she would be giving to her mom for Mother’s Day. Before I knew it, I was helping her with coloring, cutting, taping, and more.

          Nora also told me a joke about help as well. “Where can you always find a ‘helping’ hand?” … “At the end of your arm.” J

          The church down in Janesville, Minnesota, where I vicared had a men’s Bible Study group. While there, they changed the name of the group. They changed it to “Men Who Need Help.” It was a fitting name that most would probably agree with.

          Safe to say, we all are in need of help as we navigate this life. Jesus promised that help was on its way to His disciples. Indeed, they were ‘men who needed help.’ But help for what?

          Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (John 14:15-16).

          Simply put, we need help to obey. God calls us as Christians to obey His commandments. He says: “If you love me, you will…you will keep my commandments.

          We need help to obey. We are not good at following commands. We want to do what we want to do. All too often we do choose to be orphans. Instead of living in the security of His love and care, all too often we do choose to run away and do things our own way. We don’t like to be told what to do. We certainly love to live by the Frank Sinatra line of “I did it my way,” and that’s exactly what we do. And no one better tell us otherwise. Forgive us, Lord.

Beyond that though, we need help just to receive help. Let’s be honest, we typically don’t like to receive help. To admit that would be to say that we need something, or that we aren’t capable of doing something on our own. And we like to think that we are completely capable people on our own. 

          Just think, when was the last time someone offered you help? And when they offered it, what was your response? How many of us said to that person offering a hand of help, “No, that’s alright, I can do it. I got this.”

          Would we not agree that we struggle with receiving help? And why is that?

Well, to ask for help is a sign of weakness. It is a sign that we don’t have things under control. And none of us likes to think that we are weak and perhaps don’t have control. We would much rather put on the façade that we have it altogether.

          It is interesting when we consider this nature of ‘help’ that when we choose to refuse help from someone else, many times we are cutting them off from following the command of Jesus when he said that we are to love our neighbor. What might our community look like if we were all willing to give and ‘receive’ help? Just something to think about the next time you see someone in need, or  someone offers to help you.

          Jesus said that the Helper was on His way because He knew that His disciples needed it. He knew that we needed it. As God’s commandments are placed before us, we fail every time. We are not ‘good’ people as so many tend to think. We do need help. We need someone to be obedient, even to the point of death…in our place. Without this, we would all be doomed to die. 

          This is why we need Jesus. Jesus was obedient in every way and He gave His life on that cross of Calvary. He shed His holy and precious blood to cover us for all the times ‘we’ have failed to obey His commandments. We need His innocent suffering and death, because had it not been for His sacrifice, that would have been us left to die to face the wrath of God. But Jesus, who loves us beyond measure, came to do what we were not able to do. He did die our death.

          He came to die, and He came to rise, and He came to ascend back to His Father. But through it all, He promised that He would not leave us or forsake us. He promised that He would keep coming to us. And that is exactly what He does.

          He keeps coming to us by way of the Helper, the Holy Spirit. With water combined with God’s Word, we were baptized into the name of the Triune God. Then and there, the Holy Spirit came to us. Then and there, we were given the gift of faith in Jesus. 

          This is the help that we needed so that we would not be left as orphans left to fend for ourselves. By the grace of God, our Savior keeps coming to us to feed us with all that we need so that we will be sustained unto eternal life. His Word. His body and blood. His forgiveness.

          You see, He knows just how frail and fragile we truly are. But, with the power of the His Spirit alive and well within us, He makes sure that we have all the help we need to keep loving, obeying, believing, trusting, and hoping…He gives us all the help we need to endure unto eternal life.

          That’s the beauty of the way the worship service begins every week. It begins with our remembering our baptism by making the sign of the cross, the same cross that was placed upon our foreheads and upon our hearts to mark us as redeemed by Christ the crucified. And then, we immediately go into confession and absolution. And why? Because the reason we come to the Lord week after week is because we need help.

          Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. The Kyrie is our cry for help. We are sinners in need of a Savior. 

So God calls us into His presence, and the Spirit who helps us in our weakness, leads us to confess that we need help. We don’t like to admit it, but we do. We need help. We are sinners and we can’t save ourselves. We have failed to obey His commands. We do deserve to die. We are helpless. We are doomed to be damned.

          But our God graciously hears and answers our call for help. Like the Israelites who were stuck by the Red Sea with the Egyptians advancing, only to have God pave a way through the sea for them to safely cross. Like Jonah who was running from God and thrown overboard in a storm, only to be swallowed by giant fish and vomited on land. Like Peter who was walking on water and then took his eyes off of Jesus and started to drown, only to have Jesus reach out and pull him safely into the boat. Like so many before us, so it is with us. Our God is all about hearing our cry for help, and responding with just that…help.

By the power of the Spirit, the Helper leads us to confess our sins, and by the power of the cross of Christ, they are taken from us. Hear it, and hear it again, your sins are forgiven. Every last sin that you have committed, all those that you have held on to for so long, all those sins that you keep in the deep recesses of your heart, they are all gone. You are a forgiven and beloved child of God.

How is all of that possible, you ask? It’s because in His infinite wisdom, God said that help was on its way, and He delivered. The Helper, the Spirit of truth dwells with you and in you…forever. Our Help IS in the name of the Lord. 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.

Jesus is the Way to...

Sermon: “Jesus is the Way to the Father because Jesus and the Father are One”

Lectionary Series A; Fifth Sunday in Easter

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 14:1-14

 

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

          Several years ago while I was still living at home I was supposed to meet one of my dad’s co-workers in a parking lot to pick up some cherries. This employee just happened to live in Traverse City, Michigan, home of the famous cherry festival. Now we had perhaps only seen each other once or twice before, but we were to meet up nonetheless. The cherries were that important. I walked up to the person I thought I was supposed to meet and introduced myself as Adam Gless and asked if her name was Brenda. She said it was, and then told me, “You didn’t need to introduce yourself.” I recognized you a long way off. You look just like your father. Now I have never really thought I look that much like my father. That is probably because my two brothers look much more like him than I do. But I guess when you factor in our body structure and our inability to grow facial hair, then yes, I guess we look alike.

          I tell you that story because I want you to know that as we are told in Scripture to fix our eyes upon Jesus, when you look at Him, you are looking at the Father. Jesus is God’s Son, and Jesus is the only way to the Father because Jesus and the Father are one.

          Now the question is, do you recognize Jesus? Brenda was able to recognize me from a long way off because of how well she knew my dad. She and my dad had been working together for a long time. But, she did not know me that much at all.

          For us, the only way we know the Father, the only way we get to the Father, is if we know the Son, and if we know Him intimately.

          The disciples no doubt thought they knew Jesus quite intimately. They had been journeying with Him for the past three years. They probably knew His favorite foods, what His laugh sounded like, His sleeping patterns and whether He was a morning person or a night owl. But did they really know Him?

          Our text reveals that even though they knew a lot about Him, they really didn’t know Him and who He was. Both Thomas and Philip revealed this to be true. 

Just after Jesus said, Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going,” Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

          Then Jesus responded with: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” But Philip told Jesus, Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.” 

How well did they really know Jesus? Apparently not well at all, which is why Jesus continued: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

          How do you get to know someone? You converse with them, right? You talk, they listen. They talk, you listen. Three years had gone by, and it was like the disciples hadn’t heard a word that Jesus had said. Like a child failing to listen to their mother more often than they would like to admit, so it was for the disciples with Jesus. And here we are on Mother’s Day. Perhaps, we could all strive to do a better job of listening to our mom. After all, mama knows best, right?

          Jesus sure did. He knew best. He’s God after all. Then again, the disciples failed to realize that. They still equated him as a prophet, a teacher, a man, a mere mortal. How often do we do the same thing?

          Do we listen to Jesus as if His Word is the voice of God, or do we think His is just another voice in the midst of a bunch of voices we listen to in our lives? Do we listen to His Word as if it is a lamp to our feet and light to our path, or do we so often disregard it thinking that we know the best way to go in life? Do we long to hear what He has to say day in and day out because He is the Word that was made flesh and dwells among us, or do we think that we know Him well enough already? Do we read His Word, then take it to heart and inwardly digest it, or do we think we simply have better things to do with our time?

          For most of us lately, time is something we have been afforded. Many people have shared and posted that they have had more time for conversations with family and friends, more time to spend as a family, more time to work on projects that have been pushed off for far too long. And since we have time, all who are able, better take time to call and wish their mom a Happy Mother’s Day.

          But even more important than that, now is the time to get to know intimately our Savior Jesus Christ who bled and died for us. Here we are in the midst of a pandemic forced to stay in our homes, what better time is there than now to establish some in-home routines that we can continue long after this pandemic has passed?

          And even though it’s Mother’s Day today, this is a special note to the fathers out there. As the head of the household, God has given us the blessing and privilege to lead our families in getting to know Jesus day in and day out. Dads are to set the tone with their personal devotion to Jesus while at the same time guiding their family through devotions as well. If Dad is not able to be present, then Mom steps in.

          Parents, what ‘do’ you want most for your kids? Dads can ask the same thing too. What do you want most for your kids? It’s faith in Jesus, is it not?

Kids, be it child or adult, what would most of us say we are most thankful that our parents passed on to us? 

It’s Jesus, is it not? It’s faith in the Son of God who is the one and only Way to the heavenly Father. 

So, let’s be bold to share the good news of great joy…parent, child, or whatever our vocation we serve in now. So many others need to know what we know…that Jesus is the ‘only’ Way to the Father. 

And right here and now, we have been given this awesome opportunity to get to know Jesus all the more. We have this chance to become more equipped in our witness. 

So, don’t despair the past. Don’t get caught up in missed opportunities gone by. Confess them, and let’s seize today and press forward into the future knowing that any such missed opportunities are forgiven in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Now is the time to study anew the perfect life He lived for us…to ponder anew the sacrifice on the cross He made for us…to appreciate anew the resurrection that He won for us…to rejoice anew in the love He has for us.

          And all the while, as we read His Word and share it, Jesus says: Let not your hearts be troubled. Don’t be afraid. The Way to the Father has been paved. Jesus laid down His life for us. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Our sins are forgiven. Our salvation is secured. It is finished. The Son of God is now in heaven busily preparing our room in heaven.

And don’t worry about what the room is going to look like. He knows each of us intimately. He loves us beyond measure. He listens to us all the time. He has presented countless requests of ours to the Father. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows our tastes. He knows us inside and out. 

You see, He can’t wait for the day that He will be coming to take you to the place that He has prepared just for you. It has your name written all over it…because His name is written all over you.

On your forehead and upon your heart, you were signed and sealed with the cross of Jesus and His name was written upon you. In your baptism, you were made a beloved child of God, and on that day Jesus became your brother. 

Jesus is your brother from another mother with the same Father. The same heavenly Father. 

And when the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. He sees His Son. And when He sees His Son, He rejoices, because His Son and Him are one. Yes, that is right, you are now ‘one’ with Jesus and His Father. 

So, how well do you know your brother Jesus? How well do you know your Father in heaven? In and through the Word made flesh, you have been given to know and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…and that by believing…you may have life in His name (John 20:31). Amen. 

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

The Good Shepherd

Sermon: “The Good Shepherd”

Lectionary Series A; Fourth Sunday in Easter

Sunday, May 3, 2020; Good Shepherd Sunday

Psalmody: Psalm 23

 

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

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23).

We have this way of romanticizing and even softening the image of the Good Shepherd. Pictures and paintings often depict the Shepherd as this man who guides His flock with ease to green pastures and quiet waters. He often looks clean and unharmed as if no trial or tribulation has ever come about, as if he has never faced a moment of adversity in any of His duties.

Scripture depicts the Shepherd in a much different light than what artists have often displayed. Comforting as those pictures may be, I would like to posit a different image for you. I would like you to think of the Shepherd as One who finds Himself in a battle between life and death, as one who journeyed through both Good Friday and Easter. Though the Shepherd serves as care-giver and provider, He is also the sole protector of His flock. (Pause)

The Shepherd is rugged and well-worn. His face is darkened by both the tanning from the sun as well as the sweat and dirt that have mixed from countless days in search of pastures for His flock to graze. His eyes are focused and sharp as He directs His attention this way and that keeping a look out for possible dangers. At the same time, His eyes are weary due to constant interrupted nights of sleep and being on the lookout for prey. His hands are scarred and calloused from the tight grip He has held upon His staff and rod, often in times of great turmoil as His sheep have been in the thick of danger. His clothes are well worn, ragged, and dirty from the filthy terrain, the dust in the air, the rains, and the navigating of rivers and streams. His figure reveals that this vocation is not one for the faint of heart. The Shepherd knows no bounds when it comes to caring for His flock.

He knows no bounds because His flock seems to have no boundaries. As much as He loves His sheep and they know His voice intimately, it does not keep them from wandering. It is unfortunately what sheep do. With far too great of ease, they take their eyes off of the Shepherd and go in search of greener pastures. Never satisfied with what is presented before them, never content, they look for something, anything, that will provide them something more, something better.

The Shepherd knows this about His sheep. It is what has often left Him battered and bruised. Be it rocks that He has had to navigate while falling along the way, or a mountainside where He has struggled not to fall to His death, or a fast moving river. Whatever the terrain, He has navigated it before, knowing that whatever it takes, He will care for His beloved sheep. They are ‘His’ sheep, and He loves them dearly.

He loves them so much so, that He will not hesitate to throw His own body in between His flock and a pack of wolves. Their teeth glistening in the moonlit night, snarling with saliva dripping from their lips, they will stop at nothing to stalk their prey. But, the Shepherd knows their tactics. He knows how they prowl about to gang up on His sheep, and He will have none of it. With rod in hand, He fights them off, one after the other, until they flee into the night. But it always comes at a price. Sometimes too much of a price.

The Shepherd’s appearance is so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind (Isaiah 53). No matter how bad His wounds may be, He knows in His heart that it was worth it. To look out and see that His beloved flock is safe and sound…nothing is more important to Him than that. (Pause)

Nothing is more important to the Shepherd Jesus than that we, His sheep, are safe and secure. Nothing. Good Shepherd Sunday gives us an opportunity to pause in the Easter season to reflect upon the beautiful image of our Good Shepherd and behold the great love that He has for us.

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. We, who have wandered from Him again and again. We who despised and rejected Him and esteemed Him not (Isaiah 53). We who are never satisfied with what He provides…never content. We who constantly look for something more, something better. We who long for greener pastures. 

And even in our sinful wanderings, He never fails to follow us, to come running after us, even if it means leaving the ninety-nine sheep just to save us… He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t hesitate, even if it means laying down His life for us.

Scripture says: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53).

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep because that’s what it took to carry our sorrows. That’s what it took pay the price for our transgressions and iniquities. That’s what it took to heal us and to save us (Isaiah 53). 

But the Good Shepherd loves us too much to abandon us to the grave. He laid down His life to take it up again. He came so that His sheep may have life and have it abundantly (John 10). Rising from death, alive and well, the Resurrected Shepherd leads us to green pastures and quiet waters. With His Word, with Baptism, with His body and blood, He restores our soul. He leads us and carries us through the valley of the shadow of death. He prepares a table for us. Our cup overflows with His goodness and mercy, and He ensures with His very life given and shed for us, that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23).

This is what our Good Shepherd has done and continues to do for us, His beloved sheep. In no way was His job an easy one. But behind all of the ruggedness and battle-worn scars He endured as He died our death and rose from the grave, there is a tenderness that ever remains as we are held within His everlasting care. And it is with that image that I would like to close our sermon for today so that we may rest in the peace of our Good Shepherd’s love and protection. (Pause)

Much is shared on-line these days, probably now more than ever. I am not sure the source of this story, but it was found in a recent post on the internet. 

Every once in a while, an ewe will give birth to a lamb and reject it. There are many reasons she may do this. If the lamb is returned to the ewe, the mother may even kick the poor animal away. Once an ewe rejects one of her lambs, she will never change her mind. These little lambs will hang their heads so low that it looks like something is wrong with its neck. Their spirit is broken. 

These lambs are called ‘bummer lambs.’ Unless the shepherd intervenes, that lamb will die, rejected and alone. So, do you know what the shepherd does? He takes that rejected little one into his home, hand-feeds it and keeps it warm by the fire, He will wrap it up with blankets and hold it to his chest so that the bummer lamb can hear his heartbeat. Once the lamb is strong enough, the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock. 

But that sheep never forgets how the shepherd cared for him when his mother rejected him. When the shepherd calls for the flock, guess who runs to him first? That is right, the bummer sheep. He knows his voice intimately. 

We are those bummer lambs. We hear the Shepherd’s voice and we come rejected and broken by our sin. But He is the Good Shepherd. He cares for our every need and holds us close to His heart. We may be broken, but we are deeply loved by the Shepherd. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23). Amen.

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

Walking and Talking with the Resurrected Jesus

Sermon: “Walking and Talking with the Resurrected Jesus”

Lectionary Series A; Third Sunday in Easter

Sunday, April 26, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:13-35 

 

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

Lately, I have seen a lot more people out taking walks. Some people are walking on their own enjoying some peace and quiet. Others are walking with family members enjoying time together. Though this time of staying at home has certainly been difficult and has presented many challenges, it would seem one of the elements of silver lining in it all, is that many are taking the time to be more active. Now, it sure would have helped not to have had three days of snow on Easter and the days following, but at any rate, it has been nice to see people walking and talking while social distancing as well.

In my office is a painting of two men walking and talking on the road to Emmaus. I have looked at it numerous times. There is a grove of trees. There are some clouds in the sky, but enough sun gets through to cast shadows throughout the painting. There is a dirt path, and as crazy as it sounds, I have noticed that the men in the picture are not six feet apart. That’s especially because of who is standing in between them: It’s Jesus. 

Just imagine what it must have been like to be walking and talking with a friend, and then all of a sudden have Jesus come up and draw near to you and your conversation. How awesome would that be?

Many of us can probably relate though. How many of us use walks as time to be in God’s creation, take time to pray, or perhaps listen to God’s Word on our phones as we journey down a path or the street? How many of us already take time walk and talk with the resurrected Jesus? What a joyous journey that is!

Now this walk these two men went on did not start out so joyous though. The text says that when Jesus drew near to them and asked them what they were discussing, they stopped, stood still, and looked sad.

Many of us are probably struggling with a bit of sadness these days. This stay at home order has gone on for quite some time, and we don’t know yet when it will be over. It is safe to say that for many of us, some discouragement has begun to set in. Kids long to see and interact with their friends. Who would have ever thought that kids who usually long for a ‘snow day’ are longing for a ‘school day’? And now, unfortunately, that won’t happen until the fall. But can the adults blame them? We long for the same thing. We long for the day when we can gather again and have social interaction as we once did. 

One of the most agonizing realities for me during this stay at home order are the tears that I have shed because I can’t gather with you. I say that very sincerely. You are my people, my family. By the blood of Jesus, we have been made blood brothers and sisters in Christ, and it simply aches not to be able to join with you in the house of the Lord and to dine at His table together. What’s more, being the huggy guy that I am, I can’t help but think: “Can a brother just get a hug?”

Cleopas and the other man walking with him who remains nameless on that road to Emmaus, were looking for some comfort as well. No, it wasn’t because of a pandemic or a stay at home order. But the text does say that they were sad. Jesus had been condemned and crucified at the hands of the chief priests and rulers. And they had placed all their hope in Jesus. And now He was dead. Cleopas said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Hopes dashed. Ever been there? My heart especially goes out to high school seniors when I think of hopes being dashed. The senior year of high school is full of countless hopes. Hopes of going to prom. Hopes of throwing that ridiculous hat in the air at graduation. Hopes of a graduation party. Hopes of gathering with friends before life changes in the fall. And now, who knows if any of that is going to happen? We are saddened with you seniors, and we are praying for you.

If we think about those men walking in sadness with dashed hopes, we can all relate to their emotions. We have all had hopes of something more, only to have them wrecked by some unforeseen circumstance. It breaks our hearts to have to endure such a reality.

That is where those men were at on that seven mile walk to Emmaus. Their hearts were broken, and in their minds, there was no one who could ever pick up the pieces and put them back together again. 

          And Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

          Here life had thrown them a terrible curveball. So much of what they had held on to was gone. Life just seemed flipped, turned upside down. I am guessing we can all relate to some extent with that is going on these days. 

          But now imagine the resurrected Christ coming up alongside you. And with His calm and soothing voice, He recounts for you all the stories of Scripture…the ones you have heard all your life, ever since Sunday School…Moses and the Red Sea, King David, Elijah, and so many more. Then He stops, pauses for a moment, looks at you as you wait on baited breath waiting for more, and He says, “All of that, everything you just heard, everything you have known your whole life, from little on, it was all to point you to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.”

          My brothers and sisters in Christ, we may be in the midst of a pandemic…we may have had all of our Holy Week services in our homes…we may be separated from each other, we may have hopes dashed for a myriad of reasons, but nothing, absolutely nothing could change the fact that Jesus…our crucified Savior…is now our resurrected Lord.

          Death couldn’t hold him and the grave couldn’t keep him. Our Redeemer lives! And because He lives, we shall live too. And the message that is proclaimed loud and clear on this road to Emmaus is that He does not abandon us no matter how many hopes we have had dashed in recent weeks, no matter how many hopes we have had dashed in our lives. The hope of the resurrection forever remains, because Jesus forever remains. He promises never to leave us or forsake us. 

          Whatever dashed hope you are facing in your life right now, see here today that Jesus has not abandoned you to pick up the pieces on your own. No that doesn’t mean that everything is just going to start going your way and everything will return to normal. But what He does promise is that the life He lived, He lived for you. The death He died, He died for you. You are a forgiven, beloved child of God, and He promises to be with you always. He walks alongside you. He listens to you. Through His Word He speaks to you. And His Word brings comfort like nothing else does.

          So, it’s no wonder that the Emmaus disciples begged for Him to remain with them as the evening set in. The Words He spoke were like a soothing balm to their hurting hearts. They couldn’t get enough of Jesus. 

          If ever there was a silver lining in this pandemic, it is that with all the activities and extracurriculars cancelled or postponed, we have all been given an opportunity to prioritize what is of utmost importance. It’s Jesus. It’s being in His Word. It’s the people of God seated at their tables or in their living rooms or wherever holy ground is in your house, and being in the Word of God and in prayer.

          That’s why the services, the Bible classes, the devotions with our School Administrator, Sunday School materials, and the Journey with Jesus discipleship challenge have been made available to you. It is so that we can take this time to be at peace in the presence of Jesus. And not just for now, but for the future as well. When this stay-at-home order is lifted, what will we have learned? Will we maintain the priority of being in worship, reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer, or will we quickly fill our calendars and lose sight of what is of utmost importance?

          Those disciples in Emmaus quickly had their eyes opened to the truth of what was most important. And that moment came to them when Jesus took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. The text says, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.”

          Their eyes were opened. That phrase was used another time in Scripture. In the Garden of Eden, right after Adam and Eve fell into sin. Only that time, their eyes were opened to their sin and shame. This time, the Emmaus disciples’ eyes were opened to see the resurrected Christ. They saw with their own eyes that the very death that Adam and Eve had brought upon humanity had been defeated. Jesus lives!

          As we wait for our time to once again dine at the table of the Lord as those Emmaus disciples did that evening, we join with them on their walk (or run rather) back to Jerusalem. They wasted no time and went back to Jerusalem to proclaim that the crucified Christ was now the risen Christ. May we waste no time in doing the same as Jesus walks and talks with us and comes alongside of us in His Word. 

People of God, in this world filled with discouragement and hopelessness, we have in our burning hearts and upon our lips the message that death has been defeated. There is no greater message of comfort that we can share. So let’s share it…be it on a walk, on the phone, however and wherever we are permitted to do so at a time like this. Because just like us, we all need to hear: “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.

Seeking the Savior for Comfort

Sermon: “Seeking the Savior for Comfort”

Lectionary Series A; Easter Sunrise

Sunday, April 12, 2020 

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. 

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 weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 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? (John 20:11-15a).

Whom do you seek for comfort when you grieve the death of someone you love?

When someone we love dies, it hurts. There is no other way around it. It just hurts. There is this pain that literally doesn’t compare to anything else. Breathing, vision, direction, concentration, and all of life really, can be drastically and negatively impacted. And all too often, there is this almost uncontrollable need to cry.

 Throughout our country and throughout our world, there are a great deal of people hurting. There are a great deal of people in pain whose lives have been drastically and negatively impacted by the coronavirus. There are a great deal of people in tears as they grieve the death of loved ones because of this ongoing pandemic. (Pause)

Now most of us would probably admit that we don’t like crying. Even when someone dies, we don’t like to cry. We like to put on this façade that we are strong and that we have it all together. But nothing could be further from the truth. 

When death strikes, we all are forced to come to terms with the fact that we don’t have it all together. We are mortal. We are sinners, and we will die. We not only ‘live’ in the valley of the shadow of death, but there will be a day that is yet coming that we will have to face our own death. That very notion has a way of humbling us and scaring us.

We don’t like anything that humbles us or scares us. We don’t like to turn on the news or look on our phones and see just how fragile life truly is. We don’t like when something rattles our cage enough to expose us for the weak people that we truly are. 

But when those moments of weakness come, when death strikes in our lives, to whom do we turn for comfort? Who is it that we seek out for solace in the sea of sorrow that surrounds us? (Pause)

Mary Magdalene found herself all alone, weeping. Now weeping is not just shedding a few tears. It can be an ongoing, breath reducing, almost violent bodily experience. The body can’t seem to control itself. The flood of tears can’t seem to stop from coming. Ever wept before? I know I have, and it’s overwhelming.

For Mary Magdalene, how could she not be overwhelmed with emotion and weep when she considered all that her life had once been apart from Christ? Consumed with the torment of seven demons, her body and mind had been afflicted with the torture of the satanic foe. With no hope of recovery in sight, she had been doomed to a life of misery, despair, and isolation. After all, who would ever want to be around a demon-possessed person? Who could ever love her enough to even get within close proximity of her?

We don’t know the full story of Mary Magdalene’s exorcism from those demons. All we know is that the One who healed her of this affliction was the One whose tomb she now knelt beside while weeping, and now His body was no longer there. Her great love for Jesus for all that He had done for her was now replaced with a pain that was felt at an excruciating level.

When we gather beside the grave of a loved one, it is almost impossible not to feel the same way. Death is excruciatingly painful. Be it a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, a child, a friend. They brought so much to our lives and now their absence can make it feel like we can’t go on. Looking at what is ahead in life can seem so hopeless.

Hopeless. That’s one way to describe what Mary must have felt in her heart that morning. The One who had healed her had died. And to make matters worse, someone had the audacity to desecrate His grave and steal His body. To her, the situation could not have been worse. 

But then Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? (John 20:15).

Whom are you seeking? It is a question for us all to wrestle with as we live in this vale of tears. We who have wept at the gravesides of loved ones, where do we seek comfort when our deathly sorrows seem endless?

I can remember when my grandfather died about twenty years ago. It was my mom’s dad. There we were at the wake, and I had convinced myself that I was not going to cry no matter how much it hurt. I was going to be strong, and I was going to bury my emotions no matter what. I was going to be that strong shoulder for my mom to cry on. I look back and all I can recall is how much torture I endured as I buried my hurt down deep. How many of us have done the same? 

When death strikes, some of us seek comfort in ourselves by burying our emotions down deep, like I tried with my grandfather’s death. Some of us seek out addictions such as drugs and alcohol hoping to numb the pain. Some of us seek to busy ourselves so we don’t have to think about all that was lost. Some of us seek to isolate ourselves. But do any of those methods actually work? Do they actually bring comfort in the valley of the shadow of death? (Pause)

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? (John 20:15).

When death strikes, either for a loved one, or when we face the day of our own death, there is only One who can truly provide comfort. It’s Jesus. And why? Because only Jesus can and did do something about death. Only Jesus.

Only Jesus came from heaven to earth with one mission in mind…to die our death on the cross of Calvary. Only Jesus laid down His perfect life so that our sin-stained selves would be forgiven. Only Jesus took on death and the devil and taunted them by saying: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Only Jesus, who by His very death on the cross, swallowed up our death in victory. Only Jesus by His resurrection gave us His victory over the grave because death couldn’t hold Him and the grave couldn’t keep Him. Only Jesus. Only Jesus.

So, whom do we seek for comfort when the sharpness of death strikes? Only Jesus!

There on that first Easter morning it was the resurrected Jesus who came to Mary Magdalene as she wept there beside His tomb. And like a tender shepherd, He gently and lovingly drew her to Himself. He didn’t leave her to drown in the depths of her tears all alone. He comforted her…by name.

Listen again. 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) (John 20:15b-16).

Instantly the sorrow and sadness was gone. For there before her stood the very One who had conquered death. Jesus! No doubt tears of sorrow were exchanged for tears of joy at that very moment.

In fact that is much how Scripture describes what the resurrection on the Last Day will be like: It will happen “in the twinkling of an eye.”

St. Paul writes: Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed (1st Corinthians 15:51-52).

So it was for Mary Magdalene, and so it is for us. We are not left to drown in our tears of grief and sorrow. We are not left in a state of hopelessness. There is a day yet coming when all the tears of this world will fade into the distance and they will be no more. 

In fact, God promises it in the book of Revelation: He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will pass away (Revelation 21:4).

So tender, so compassionate, like a mother who kneels down to wipe away the tears of her son who just scraped his knee after falling off of his bike, so it will be with you and me. He will call us by name, and with the very hands that were pierced with nails for us, Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes. 

See here on this early Easter morning that while we live in this vale of tears, this will not be the end of the story. One day our voice will echo that of Mary’s who proclaimed: “I have seen the Lord!” And we will. We will see the Lord! You see, death does not get the final say. Jesus does.

Easter morning proclaims that we who weep, need weep no more. Jesus is not dead. He’s alive. It is as we sing: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” And because He lives, there is a day yet coming when we will be raised, and our sorrows will be turned into joy, and our heartaches will be exchanged for laughter, and we will join with all the saints to rejoice in the resurrection. (Pause)

So whom do we seek for comfort when we grieve? The only One whom death could not hold and the grave could not keep: the Resurrected Jesus! “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.

The Suffering Servant

Sermon: “The Suffering Servant”

Lectionary Series A; Good Friday

Sunday, April 10, 2020 

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

 

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

Every Sunday as I face the altar, I stare at it. It is a constant reminder of what this congregation has called me here to preach. When I look at it, I am captured by its beauty. But on a night like this one, that beauty seems to fade into the darkness. On a night like this one, what this image reveals is of absolute reality. It is not just a sculpture. It is depiction of what really took place.

Nails driven through hands, through flesh, through nerves, sending searing pain throughout the entire body. Nails driven through feet, crushing bone as they went into the wood beneath. This is not just a picture. This is not just a sculpture. It is our Savior and Lord, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, dying on the tree.

A crucifix, which sits just above our altar, and is here before this lectern tonight veiled in black, is a constant reminder of what this night is all about. In a world that has been shocked and shuttered by the pandemic of the coronavirus, Good Friday is a night for us to direct our attention to the suffering and death that Jesus endured to accomplish the mission He was sent on by His Father to save us. Though it may be hard to focus with all that is going on around us as fears, anxieties, and stressors abound, through the prophet Isaiah, God directs us to look at the Suffering Servant. Look at Jesus. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Him, and  behold the great extent our Savior went to in order to save us from our sins and sure and certain death.

What we see here tonight in the book of Isaiah is hard to look at. His face had been beaten with a reed, struck again and again. The swelling and bruising were visible in extreme form. It is said that the whips that were lashed against His body were cords containing fragments of bone, metal, and glass. With each whipping, the whip itself would have stuck into the body and ripped away flesh. Blood poured out everywhere. Many who were subject to such a penalty did not even survive the whipping, and never made it to the crucifixion. It was not uncommon for organs to be exposed as the flesh was torn away. So when Isaiah says that his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind (Isaiah 52:14), it is safe to say that He was so battered that he was unrecognizable as a human.

And yet this Suffering Servant was human nonetheless. Jesus came down from heaven to earth, conceived as a human in order to save humanity. He came humble, meek, and mild. Born into a poor family in a stable and placed into a manger, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7).

As Isaiah wrote: For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).

This Suffering Servant was not desirable in the least. He did not come in pomp and circumstance. He did not spend his time with the rich and famous. No, He made Himself lowly, choosing to spend his time with the unclean and sick, to dine with the tax collectors and sinners. He dove in head first with those of ill repute. And though He was innocent, He was treated like those with whom He spent His time. Like an outcast.

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 (Isaiah 53:3).

          How have you despised and rejected Jesus? Staring at that crucifix, seeing the Suffering Servant upon that cross, begs the question of all of us, what sins do we need to confess? What sins are we gripping ever so tight, thinking we are justified in our thoughts, words, or deeds? 

May we never forget, and especially on this night, that the reason Jesus went to the lengths He did was because of our sin. Staring ahead at the sufferings of the servant Jesus forces us to come to terms with just how serious our sins really are. Where we have this tendency to brush off our sins as if they really don’t do any harm, this night brings us face to face with just how harmful they really are.

Sin kills. Period. Let’s not mince words about it. It is as our hymn we just sang stated: “Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ‘tis the Word the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God!”

Even though we are two thousand years removed from what took place on Calvary, it does not negate the fact that the Son of God actually gave His life into death for us…because sin kills, and that price had to be paid.

Gold or silver would not do. Blood had to be shed. And not the blood of lambs, bulls, and goats like the generations had been doing before, but the blood of a human. A perfect, spotless human…the Lamb of God.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Though we don’t like to think of how the Suffering Servant did suffer, we are reminded on this night that it is because of His suffering and death that we are healed. He placed our needs above His own, and willingly laid down His life for us. This is the vicarious atonement that was demanded by God Himself. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, was the perfect substitute sent for the sins of the whole world. Your sins and mine. So, what sins do you need to confess?

“Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?”

Whatever the sin, confess it, for this is where sins are forgiven. At the foot of the Suffering Servant whom we have despised and rejected again and again. He calls us here on this night to His cross to come and confess our sins, come and be forgiven, come and be healed.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:8-9).

God is faithful to forgive us. As we look at the image of the Suffering Servant on the cross, we see the faithfulness of our God. We see it on full display, and He did it because He wanted to, because He loves you. Isaiah writes: Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him, he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10a).

It was God’s plan to send His Son to suffer and serve in this way. For God so loved the world He gave…He gave His Son… In a love that is beyond measure, our God willingly and voluntarily allowed His Son to “pour out His soul to death, to be numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12b). Because all of that was necessary. He had to bear your sins and mine in order to make intercession for us the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12c).

We are the transgressors. We are the sinners. We were doomed to die eternally. And He became One of us in order to save us. He set His life aside in order to serve us what we could not serve ourselves: Forgiveness, life, and salvation. That is what the Suffering Servant does for you, and He does it because of His great love for you.

We may not like to look at a crucifix because we come face to face with the fact that it is reality. But it is because it is reality that we are blessed to behold just how beautiful the Suffering Servant is upon that cross. For there in those piercings, in those wounds, in that blood that was shed, is our sin. Every last one of them has been taken into His very body. They are gone. No more. Like He said from the cross, “It is finished!” Our sins are forgiven. Death and the devil are done for. Thanks be to God!

As our hymn we just sung stated: “Here we have our firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost: Christ, the Rock of our salvation, is the name of which we boast; Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded, who on Him their hope have built.”

What I did not tell you at the beginning of the sermon is that every time I look at the crucifix above the altar, I see something else. There, in the cross, I see my reflection. It is a constant reminder that what Jesus did there on that cross, He did for me. He did it for you. The Suffering Servant suffered and died, and it was all to save you. You. For God so loved you! And He does, and He always will! 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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