Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Spirit of Truth

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, [6] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 (ESV)

“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, even the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
It’s a strange thing that Jesus switches from a present tense, he dwells with you, to a future will be in you, as he speaks about the relationship of the disciples to the Holy Spirit. It’s one of those strange things. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, the day he appeared like a rushing wind and lit flames of fire on the heads of the disciples. Yet, we know that the Holy Spirit was already with the disciples before then. When Jesus visited them in the upper room he breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. And already here he says that the Holy Spirit dwells with them. But when Jesus leaves, the Holy Spirit will come to them with a new task and purpose, and new gifts to help them in achieving that mission. So it is even today that the Holy Spirit is with us, and yet still comes to us ever anew through the word and sacraments to give us what we need in this life to accomplish the will of Jesus our Lord and savior. It isn’t always a fantastical thing, but then again always a miraculous thing. The Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism, he takes up residence within us at that time. And yet throughout our Christian life, the Holy Spirit will continue to come to us through the work of the church in the word and in the sacraments to keep us in the one true faith, to constantly forgive our failings, and sustain our faith, to give us the gifts we need to continue the work of Christ in this world.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love is the fulfillment of the commandments. The greatest two of them being to love the Father with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. But here the commandments of Jesus are so much more than all that. But to keep his commandments is to hold fast to his word even despite our failures.
It’s an odd thing today. Many interpret having the spirit as reason to ignore the words of Jesus and his disciples. “The Spirit is leading us” they say. I’m not sure what Spirit it is they are talking about. But it would not be the Spirit of Truth which Jesus speaks of here, the Spirit of Truth that dwells in the words of Christ because his word is Truth. And Truth is Truth. What is true is true for me and true for you. It is objective and not subject to change. God’s word is truth. And the Spirit is not in conflict with God’s Word. The World however is, and the World is in conflict with the Spirit of Truth whom they cannot receive. So it ought to give us pause when we hear fellow Christians saying that the Spirit is leading them in what seems to be justifying a change to accommodate the world and the world’s viewpoint, to follow along with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the day. Say for instance that without biblical warrant and despite biblical testimony, that which we have received as the word of truth, the Spirit is invoked to justify women’s ordination, or to condone the homosexual agenda and lifestyle, indeed to even bless it. Or perhaps on an individual basis, the Spirit is invoked to justify any sort of sin we might be tempted to. There is a world of difference between condoning and forgiving, by the way.
It should be noted that all too often that just as the Spirit can be invoked and the word of God ignored to justify all sorts of libertine behavior, there is also a danger that we ignore the Spirit and play loose with God’s word to justify purely legalistic matters. Our church body in the past has been subject to rather faulty Biblical interpretation following legalistic patterns popular in the day, the zeitgeist of that period. For instance, 40 years ago, the women of this church would have been invited to cook for our potluck, but asked to remain silent during the voters meeting. I have skimmed through old Walther league journals and have seen condemnations written concerning dancing and playing cards, and sort of like the Mormon Church and Pepsi, we were at one time not allowed to buy life insurance until we decided to have the AAL. This is why we must keep the commandments of Jesus, to hold fast to his word. We must always be searching his word and making sure we are interpreting and applying it correctly in our lives. We must always be ready to repent as individuals and as the church when we are lead astray into legalism or libertinism. It is in the word that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. When we lose sight of his word, then we lose touch with the Holy Spirit.
We dare not confuse the Holy Spirit with our conscience or feelings, nor especially feelings of guilt. This is a danger I see all too often today. “I felt the Spirit.” Feelings of calm, feelings or ecstasy, burning bosoms, liver shivers, being at peace. These things are not necessarily the work of the Spirit, and there is really no way of discerning the Spirit based on feelings, at least not feelings alone. It should be noted here that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete. Thus he is not a fear monger, and when fear is guiding our lives we ought to take a moment to reassess. When we are reading so-called Christian material and it is causing us to despair, we might question which Spirit it is we are listening to. There are other spirits at play in the world, and they love to torture a Christian’s soul, even with the word of God. But the Holy Spirit, he points to Christ. We call him the Holy Spirit because he makes us holy, and he does that by washing away our sins and constantly forgiving them that we might grow in the Love of Christ and keep his commandments, hold fast to his word.
The Spirit allows us to do this, it is the Spirit’s work in our lives. To show us the word of God, the commandments of Jesus and to bring us to repentance when we stray. And this we can do in bold, confidence realizing that with him there is forgiveness, so to admit guilt is to banish guilt and receive forgiveness. And to walk in forgiveness the newness of life being guided by the Spirit in the word, is to walk in repentance, and in the love of Jesus who is the truth, the way and the life who asks the Father to send us the Spirit that we would walk in Truth.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus Our Lord. Amen.    

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jesus, The Way, The Truth and the Life


14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; [1] believe also in me. 2 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? [2] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” [3] 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. [4] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “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’? 10 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. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me [5] anything in my name, I will do it.(John 14:1-14 (ESV)
Thomas said  to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know he way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
So Jesus answers Thomas, who did not comprehend what Jesus was talking about or know the way of which Jesus spoke. We know Thomas as doubting Thomas, but he was no hardened skeptic. He was just a simple man who did not always grasp metaphor, or a larger picture. He was a man who was willing to ask the simple questions that many of us are too afraid to ask. “Where is it again, this place that you are going?”
It could be that it was too hard of a pill for Thomas to swallow, the reality of it behind Christ’s words. Jesus was leaving. He was going to prepare a place for them. He would come again and bring them there, but in the meantime, you know how to get there. Wait, what? Just to be certain Lord, clear this up for us, where are you going, and how do we get there?
One could perceive Jesus was talking about heaven when he starts talking about going to his Father’s house and many mansions and all that. Jesus might know the way to get there, but we often do not. There is a lot of uncertainty out in the world as to how to get to heaven and who makes it there. Most of us are pretty certain no one makes it there without dying. Then again, if we don’t live the right life here on earth, maybe we don’t get there? Maybe we go to that other place? That place so horrendous we teach our kids not to say it so that often they are afraid to even repeat the Apostles Creed in which we confess that Christ himself went to Hell. And he did, and not the city in Michigan that freezes over every winter. Jesus went there on a detour to his Father, he wanted to preach to the souls there, declare his victory, rub it in Satan’s face a little. And why not? It belongs to him, he created hell, not for man but for the devil and his angels.  Hell is not the dominion of Satan any more than this world is. Hell is Christ’s dominion and he created it as a torture chamber for the demons, who are more afraid of the Abyss than we humans are smart enough to be.
Jesus is going to heaven, and he is going there not for himself, but for us. He is going there that we may be there also, to prepare a place for us. He prepares the place for us by dying. Yes, that is how we do get there, by dying, but by dying in Christ.
And that is what it means to believe in the Father and to believe in Jesus also, to die in Christ. To trust him and his death and resurrection for the salvation of your soul. It isn’t what we expect. When Thomas asks for Christ to clarify the way, we are given to think of directions, a list of rules to live by. Jesus doesn’t give them. “Trust in me,” he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The law can’t get you to the Father, only I can, only my atonement.”
It can be a rather difficult thing to do though. It seems simple enough. Just let go. No, it isn’t letting Jesus take the wheel. He has the wheel, already. It’s trusting him. Maybe a bit like trusting the cab driver in Italy last Tuesday night. What a ride! He had the wheel, and I hadn’t had a ride like that in twenty some years. It was a bit exhilarating, as he pulled out into oncoming traffic to ride the center line and push the guy he was passing and the cars coming on onto the shoulder. All the sudden Laura begins to realize why I drive the way I do…. It was where I learned to drive. No one thinks anything of it. But after twenty years, it brought back a rush. I knew he was in control. Life can be a bit like that when we let Christ have the wheel though. Things are thrown at us, and we think we could do better if we were in control. Right. Not a chance. We grab on to the law thinking it is the wheel, but in doing so we drive ourselves into the ditch. We think we can get ourselves to the destination perhaps on our own steam. We can just live the righteous life and avoid death altogether. Jesus knows there is no avoiding death and plunges headlong into it. Then he plunges you into it because he knows you wouldn’t do it either. Plunges you headlong into death in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, buries you into his death, and raises you up again to the newness of life that you can walk with joy in the sun. Now it is no longer you and the law, but Christ who lived the law perfectly in you. Now it is no longer you living by the law, but in the love of Christ doing the law, not for yourself, you already died, but for your neighbor because Christ is the way the truth and the life, he died for you, that you might live in him and he in and through you. And so he gets you to the final destination and you can laugh at the ride.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all Understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

They Recognized Him in the Breaking of Bread

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles [1] from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 (ESV)
“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures and they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem and they found the eleven and those who were gathered together saying “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how we was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”1 Corinthians 11:26 (ESV)
An enigmatic passage from Paul. You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. It is something we perhaps don’t always like to see. Our natural man flees in horror at the sight of death, it is to be avoided at all costs. Oh we talk about how it was time, they had a long life. They were suffering they are better now. It may be true if the person was a Christian and died in the faith. Scriptures speak of another reality, the reality for which Christ died, the reality from which we are saved by his death, when we are buried into it in baptism that we may be raised to walk in the newness of life, the road upon which Christ makes our hearts burn as he explains his victory, speaking to us his gospel from the scriptures, all of which speak of him, our savior. It is upon the road of faith we walk in the newness of life, that the Lord sustains our faith in the Lord’s Supper where we proclaim his death that we might recognize him in the breaking of the bread and all our suffering, all our worries and anxieties may be turned to joy as we realize the victory.
Walking the road of faith in the newness of life. We are on the road, pilgrims to the Promised Land, walking together with one another as we make our way home to heaven. But we aren’t there yet. We still live in this world, and the journey isn’t always an easy one. It is plagued by sin, death and the devil, the prowling lion who seeks to devour us and our faith. We often find ourselves discouraged like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. If Christ is our savior, then things should not be going so badly for us, right? The student is not above the master.
He suffered, but his suffering had purpose and gained meaning in victory, in resurrection. So to now his death becomes a source of joy for us. I knew nothing among you but Christ and him Crucified, Paul says to the Corinthians. It is the very gospel itself. That God died for our sins, Christ was crucified for you. It is why the depiction brings such joy for so many Christians and is displayed in so much art. But of course if Christ had not risen from the dead then the pain would have been meaningless. Perhaps the same way defeat has the power to bring on such depression. Was it all meaningless? I think of races which we try hard to win, we train and train, no pain no gain we tell ourselves. But when it was all for not… Cancer patients can find solace and comfort in the midst of their pain if they know it is working, the chemo, the radiation. The good news from the doctor that they are in remission, it makes it all worth it. So it is for the Christian, for we suffer here, not for ourselves but for Christ who is our life, who works in and through all we do, and even all we suffer to accomplish his purpose in and through us here in this world. His purpose is our salvation, but not only our salvation. If that were the case, he might actually drown us in baptism that we die not only the spiritual death of the old Adam, but the physical death that is brought about by the cessation of our hearts. If he were only worried about our salvation we might become nothing more than a death cult bent on a grand suicide mission, all taking a cocktail or purple  Kool-Aid, before meeting Hailey’s commit in the sky. I mean what is this world to us if heaven is our home? This world is Christ’s world, the world in which he toiled and suffered and died for our salvation that we might live in him and him in us. This world and all who are in it, our children who give us fits, our parents who drive us insane, our coworkers who seem as inept as we are at getting it all together, our friends who suffer without knowing their hope, with no burning in their hearts, without recognizing Christ in the breaking of the bread. We suffer this world for them, because Christ suffered this world for their salvation, and so he still suffers in and through us for them. Our suffering is his suffering.
But we are not alone on this road. It sometimes feels a lonely way. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had each other but felt alone. Alone is how you feel in despair, when you suffer without hope. It often doesn’t matter who is with you or not in the hospital, if you have no hope. We’ve all suffered that melancholia, have we not? So many friends, we go through motions, faking it until we make it. Perhaps they provide a diversion from our worries, and that is a wonderful thing to do for a friend in need. Luther recommends it over and over again. It is part and parcel of what he means when he talks about the mutual consolation of the saints in his letters. That you grab your friends and celebrate life with them in the midst of depression, but then give them something to celebrate, give them Christ! Proclaim his death until he comes. Because he is with us in this journey, and it is he who comes to us through or Christian friends speaking encouragement and hope in the life eternal the resurrection of the body, in the salvation of our souls through the forgiveness of sins for which he died. He it is who comes to us in scripture, and the spoken word, the glad tidings of comfort and joy amidst a dark and dreary winter night, that he might make himself known to us in the breaking of bread.
Christ makes himself known to us in the breaking of bread, because it is there that he gives us the forgiveness of sins that he won for us in the death we proclaim until he comes, and then it is with joy having all sins of body and soul forgiven. The disciples, their hearts began to burn as Christ talked to them, but there was uncertainty. Who was this man? What was he speaking about? Yes, the scriptures did speak this way about the suffering servant. But was it really true? Then Christ broke the bread and they recognized their salvation, their Lord, the forgiveness was for them. Jesus is for them. Jesus is for you.
Here is his body given for you. Here is his blood of the New Testament, the Testament in which he makes you coheirs of salvation and victory with him, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Here is the certainty of salvation, that he reaches out his hand to you and says: take eat, take drink. Here you receive the benefits of his death, here you receive the forgiveness of sins and share in his victory that you might return to the road in the midst of night running for joy as you walk in the newness of life.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Unlocking Doors Locked by Fear

Second Sunday in Easter
19 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.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, [3] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
 26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31 (ESV)
“Peace be with you.”
It is with these words that Jesus breaks open the locked doors.  The Disciples are afraid of the Jews, and so the doors are locked. It would not have stopped an actual raid with soldiers, but it at least kept them safe from random mischief. So they shut and locked the doors in such a way that they would have to open them if anyone wanted to come in from the outside.
And then there is Jesus. Standing in their midst. Saying peace be with you. Sending them out to do the same to forgive sins, to give the Holy Spirit and burst open doors. This is what he continues to do to this day through his church, through you the body of Christ.
This morning we baptized Ryker and we see this work happening again. Jesus Christ giving peace. Jesus Christ giving the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ breaking down the doors of unbelief even as he rolled away the stone of death the sealed his tomb, and put aside the condemnation of the law of Moses written in stone that you and I may have peace, that you and I could receive the Holy Spirit.
It's fear that locks doors. But it is Jesus who does away with fear. Peace be with you. This is what he comes to give. Probably a translation of the common Jewish greeting shalom. But with Jesus there is power in the words. It is much more than a peaceful feeling that he comes to give. He comes to give the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. He comes to declare peace the cessation of hostilities between God and man in the forgiveness of sins.
Unbelief is often nothing more than an expression of fear for that which people know to be true. The demons know that God is one and they tremble. We can’t do anything for them. But for man? We can give them Jesus. People know that they are sinners. Fear often keeps them from acknowledging it though. It’s irrational, fear. Sometimes I look at how it has worked in my life and the life of others. I remember overhearing a conversation my dad had with mom once about grandpa. He was afraid to go to the doctor because he thought he might have cancer. I thought that was the stupidest thing in the world. But in my early twenties I put off going to the doctor for three months out of the same fear. The idea is if we don’t acknowledge it then it won’t be true. People know they are sinners, and therefore know there is a God and they are afraid, because they are naked and exposed before God. They run and they hide. They put their head in a hole. If I don’t see the lion, maybe the lion won’t see me. Irrational. It locks the doors to faith.
But this is why Jesus came to the disciples. And this is why he comes to you. To dispel fear and to give us peace. That we would unlock the doors and go out to forgive the sins of others even as Jesus sent the disciples with the Holy Spirit that his church would be built and be built up through the forgiveness of sins, upon the confession Thomas shares with Peter. My Lord and my God.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesu our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid, He is Risen


28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he [1] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10 (ESV)
And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” and they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”
Jesus had told the disciples earlier that they should meet him in Galilee. I don’t think they were expecting to meet him there any longer. The women certainly were not. That morning they expected to find a cold and stiff body lying on hard rock, dead in a tomb. But they found, just as the angel had told them, that he was not there. He has risen.
Instead Jesus meets them on the road as they go back to the disciples to tell them what had happened. When the women do see Jesus the grab hold of him.
They grabbed hold of him. He was real. He had a body that could be touched, hugged, and kissed. This is the hope of the resurrection. Just as Jesus was risen from the dead, so too will you be raised. Not a phantom, not a ghost, but you with your body. Oh it will be changed. Jesus’s body was changed and yet it was the same. It will be glorified and changed so that we are not vexed even by the little things that are so annoying to us here on earth. But we will have bodies with which to hug and kiss our loved ones, with which to sit down at the feast of victory of the Lamb and eat and drink and make merry and rejoice for he has risen.
They worshiped him. Oh this is where he is to be found today. Rather this is where he finds you when you listen to the words he has entrusted to his messengers. Here it was the matter of angels. The women, perhaps they still were not certain of what was going on. The different gospel accounts are filled with the confusion you would expect surrounding such an unexpected event. But they do what the angel tells them, and on the way Jesus meets them to confirm them in the faith that he might meet them and grant them peace, give them courage to continue to believe, to continue with the faith.
They worshiped him, as we do today. It was not something that happened before the resurrection as he wandered about the countryside doing good and making people well. But now something had happened. The resurrection says something about Jesus and who he is. Not was, but is. For he is risen. And that he is risen means that he is God and worthy of worship. This is the decisive thing upon which the whole of Christianity stands or falls. His resurrection. Paul tells us in the 15th chapter of Corinthians that if he had not risen we would be most of all to be pitied. We would have made God out to be a liar. If Jesus had not risen, we should continue to worship and trust in the law as our only hope. But it would be a hope that was guaranteed to disappoint. The law will leave you in the grave.
But Jesus is risen, so we have no reason to be afraid, no reason to fear.
Alright. I’m not going to act as if I never have any fears. I have a family, and all the cares and worries that come with this world. I have a sinful heart that does not want to trust these fears to Jesus who cares for me more than I care for myself, even as he loves you even more than you know to love yourselves. And he has risen from the dead. Now you have eternal life. And when this world passes away with all its cares and worries, then we will all see just how foolish our fears were.
But Jesus did not come to give us a spirit of fear. Do not be afraid he tells he women who have worshiped him.
Afraid of what? The context here indicates that perhaps the women were afraid the disciples would not believe them. Fear threatened to silence them. This is why Jesus came, to encourage them and to take their fear away. And not just their fear of not being believed. But their fear in general.
Death rules through fear, the law rules through fear. And those two rule together. The Law bringing to death. But Jesus has overcome the law, fulfilled it for us. He conquered death and rose from the grave and tells you that you too will also rise from the grave. We have nothing to fear. Not anymore. And what of it if others don’t believe us? What of it if they laugh at us? Let them laugh. For our Lord has risen and the last laugh is his.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Baptism, the Living Water that Wells Up To Eternal Life

5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. [1] 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. [2] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”(John 4:5-26 (ESV)
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And the woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
The Samaritan woman does not get what Jesus is talking about, or is purposely trying to avoid the matter at hand. Jesus is offering her forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life that comes with faith in him. He talks about it in terms of water, living water. This is what our baptism is, living water the wells up to eternal life. This is what Jesus is talking about with the woman in an enigmatic way. It is what he just finished talking to Nicodemus about. He had just left the Judean country side where he was baptizing, well not him, but his disciples. And now John wants to talk about what this baptism means at the beginning of his gospel, so that everyone will understand its importance for the Christian life.
It’s peculiar to John’s gospel. The Synoptics have Jesus being baptized and then the temptations and then his ministry in Galilee and a person gets the impression that there was nothing else. But John lets us understand that Jesus worked for a time with John the Baptist and was baptizing, well not Jesus but his disciples. So we learn something even from that little throw away line of John, when the disciples do the work of pouring water, or dunking or otherwise applying the water and saying the words, it is not the disciples that are baptizing but Jesus. He is greater than the disciples. They do this at his command. He gets the credit then. It is his baptism. But here it wasn’t quite the same thing as the baptism that Christ would institute after his death and resurrection, but a precursor to it.
John is an odd gospel, he wants to leave a gospel that will clarify things for people to come, fill in the gaps the gnostics of the time were exploiting, the gaps in the life of Jesus that had thus far been written, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Synoptics. But he isn’t really concerned with chronology. And he is called John the Theologian because his gospel blends his interpretation with the events of Christ’s life. Sometimes it is hard to understand where the words of Jesus have stopped and where the words of John explaining what Jesus meant start and vice versa. He doesn’t merely record events as they happen in order, but pieces the life together to give a presentation of the Christian gospel, the good news the forgiveness of sins, and all that it means. So there is mystery that remains. A person can blend the Synoptics and John’s gospel as to the course of events, but there is always a bit of mystery to doing this.
So when John remembers this discourse with the Samaritan woman, as with Nicodemus, he is realizes that Jesus was talking about this baptism that would come. He does the same thing with the Lord’s Supper from time to time. Though the Lord’s Supper has not yet been instituted, John lets events like the feeding of the five thousand stand in as opportunity to then talk about what the Lord’s Supper is. So Jesus has not yet instituted Christian baptism, and yet there are parallels between what John was doing in the desert, what Christ was doing with him, and what would become of it. Jesus is training his disciples for a ministry to come that will have at its heart, baptism the birth from above that comes with the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, a well that doesn’t run dry, grace that overflows, living water that wells up to eternal life.
And here he is offering it to everyone as if it did not matter a bit who they were or what a mess they had made of their lives. And this woman certainly didn’t have it all together, her life was almost as messed up as your pastor’s, and she knows it. Here it is the seventh hour, that would be noon our time. They started counting the hours with the rise of the sun, more or less. The sun is high, and no one is at the well. Women went to the well in the morning, and in the evening to get water. Generally, that was there job. That is when they would all gossip about the goings on in town. Probably, about which one of their husbands was hooking up with this woman now. She seems to have made her way around the village. One can only speculate as to why. We don’t really know the backstory, but she’s been kicked to the curb enough that she doesn’t really care to hear what the other women have to say about her. Feeling used and abused, she comes at noon to avoid the stares, the cold shoulders, the tongue lashings. She’s alone with no one to love her. There’s a man in her life, but he refuses to be her husband. Probably a pay to play sort of scenario, but a woman’s got to eat. It isn’t like there were girl Friday positions open at the local office pool, or employment agency. Women like her without a husband were vulnerable, and men took advantage.
Then there is Jesus, true man born of a virgin, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He stands here before her with nothing but love, love that would win for her the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He knows who he is talking to. But unlike the other men in her life, he isn’t there to take advantage of her. She doesn’t even know what to do with it. She’s shocked that he is even talking to her. Jews didn’t normally talk to women they didn’t know, and they didn’t talk to Samaritans either. She was both. And then, a man of God? She was used to the Pharisees. These were the men of God. Heads held high they looked down their noses at women like her. But here was a true prophet, who could tell her her whole life. And he talked to her as if she was a human, someone to be loved, someone to be cared for, someone worthy of eternal life. This is the true humanity of Jesus, the humanity that was created in the image of God, to share his love, his knowledge and his grace. It was a humanity so true that the rest of humanity could not abide with it but had to kill it out of jealousy, out of hate, out of evil that inhabits our hearts, sin that can’t see past our own wants and desires. Jesus was a true man, whose manliness would not be measured by the things of this world, those things with which the men of the world even men of God like the Pharisees measure a man’s manliness. It wasn’t in his beard, or his physical fitness, it wasn’t in his ability for sexual conquest, but in his love for humanity that would put all his own selfish desires aside for sinners who knew their sin, and desired forgiveness. To them he gives the living water that wells to eternal life.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all Understanding Keep your Hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Unfathomable Love of God

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus [1] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [2] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [3] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You [4] must be born again.’ 8 The wind [5] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you [6] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [7] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, [9] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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 3:1-17 (ESV)
For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten 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.
In order that the world might be saved through him, his only begotten son, Jesus Christ. This is the unfathomable love of God. That he actually loves this world. Oh, we love it too, don’t we? Except for when we don’t. Our love is so conditional. I loved yesterday. Sunshine, greeting good friends at Bible Study, an afternoon listening to the hum of a chainsaw, and well it was the day after pay day, so the living was easy. Somehow I managed to spend a whole day without the news. It was glorious. Of course it’s when we turn on the news that we begin to see the other side of the world. The side we don’t love. Would be axe murderers in Germany, terrorists all over the place, invasive pat downs at the airports which we suspect don’t do anything for our safety no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel. Rapists, Child abusers, pornography, and protesters looking for something to picket. Yes, it is being confronted with that world, that one begins to wonder how it is God can love this world. Or maybe it is when we start searching our own souls. There is a world of hell packed away down in there, isn’t there? Sins of the past just screaming. I mean this honestly, there are times I search my soul and I hate myself. I can’t imagine how it is God could love such a person. Oh, not the person I present to the world. That selfish person inside of me that can remember two million times where I broke some social rule, blew missed opportunities, flew into unwarranted fits of anger, conned others into degrading acts of depravity all in the name of a good time, broke taboos before I even really understood why they were a taboo. I think of the pain that I must have caused others, second guess parenting decisions, wonder if I have ever made a right decision in my life. Then I begin to wonder. That’s the unfathomable love of God, that he so loved this world, this fallen sinful world full of hate, sin, and ungodly people, that he sent his only begotten son, that the world might be saved through him.
His only begotten Son. As a kid I memorized it that way. Newer translations figure not only do you not know what begotten means, you have also lost your dictionaries. I mean sometimes, it is in the contemplation of Bible translation that I have the hardest time fathoming, comprehending the love of God for this world, and people who are so flippant with his word, and so condescending towards his people that they try to dumb his word down to make it more comprehensible. God himself is beyond comprehension, it stands to reason that perhaps his word should require study. The word they translated only is monogeneis, mono meaning only as in monotone, and geneis being the same word from which we get Genesis, often translated the beginning, but also generate, and generation.
Only begotten is an important distinction in my estimation. It specifies in which way Jesus is God’s only Son. This is important because there is another way in which you are his children, his sons, his daughters, and in that manner of speaking Jesus is not God’s only Son, but we might say that Jesus is God’s only natural born son, if there was anything natural about God begetting God from all eternity, outside of time and place, and encompassing all of time and place. There is mystery there beyond all comprehension, but it does have comparison. It is comparison that fathers comprehend when they look at their children. Incredible love, and it does not come close to the love of God the Father for God the Son, and it does not even come close to the love of God for you. God is perfect, holy and without sin. Our love is always tainted with a degree of selfishness. We see this in even the best father/child relationships. It is what causes strain and estrangement in this sinful world. The sins of the fathers are visited to the third and fourth generation of those who hate God. And in our sinful nature that is what we do, we hate God. Every sin ever committed is an act of hate for God. Hate breeds hate, generates hate, begets hate. But love begets love, and God is love so he begot a son who is love. And love overcomes hate, conquers hate, swallows up hate, and begets love within the haters.
So love comes to save, the only begotten Son of God, that he might save the world through him. The perfect love of God taking upon himself all the sin of the world. He most certainly did not come to condemn the world. There isn’t a person who has ever lived in this world that hasn’t understood that it is condemned, that it is broken, that it is not as it should be. It insults even the shadow of divine justice that lives within us.  But it was precisely this world and everyone in it that the Father wanted to save when he sent his only begotten son to die for you, that you would believe in him, and believing would not perish but have eternal life. And so that you could believe in him, this is why Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to baptize us, the whole dialogue that precedes this deals with baptism, being born again, being born from above in water and the Spirit. To believe in Jesus Christ is to be baptized, because it is in baptism that we are buried into Christ’s death and raised again to walk in the newness of life, life that is further sustained, eternal life that is sustained even today in the forgiveness of sins that we receive as the fruit of the cross, the body and blood of the Son of Man raised up for us, that we would live in the love of God.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.