Hearing Our Lord – Sermon for May 7/8, 2017

Hearing Our Lord
John 10:1-10
4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)
May 7th/8th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The human eye is an incredible creation composed of over 2 million working parts. There has never been a successful eye transplant because the eye is so intricate, connected to the brain by more than 1 million microscopic nerve fibers. But the eye incredible not only because of how precisely and intricately designed it is, but because of the impact it has on us as people. Sight is the primary sense in human beings. Some people estimate that 80% of our memories are determined by what we see, and 80% of what we learn is learned through the eyes. The only organ more complex in the entire body is the brain itself, but over half of the brain is devoted to processing visual stimuli. Vision is the primary sense for the vast majority of human beings – it forms our most basic understanding of the world around us. Of course, the bodies and brains of those who are blind learn to rely on other senses to make up for the lack of vision. But generally speaking, sight is the primary sense in people.

But what about the children of God? What is to be the primary sense for the children of God? Which sense are we to rely upon most for our understanding of the world around us?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Epistle reading reminds us that we were at one time straying like lost sheep, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. The Psalm for today is Psalm 23, one of the most beloved sections in all the Scriptures. The Lord is my shepherd; I am his sheep. The Gospel reading for today records for us words of our Lord that have become known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. The image of shepherd and sheep is one of the consistent images that runs through the entire history of God’s people. It’s a prominent image in the Old Testament. It’s a prominent image in the New Testament. It’s a prominent image in the church today. It’s in our hymnody. It is in our artwork. Here at St. John we have a painting by the elevator depicting Jesus as a shepherd, and we have a stained glass window dedicated to the same idea. Today’s Gospel reading helps us understand a bit more about why this image is a favorite one of our Lord, and why he consistently places it before us. And believe it or not, it has a lot to do with sight.

Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 follows on the heels of an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where sight was the main topic. John chapter 9 records for us the account of a man born blind who had his sight restored by Jesus. The man is questioned by the Pharisees, as are his parents, and eventually he is cast out of the synagogue for confessing Jesus as Christ. When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out of the synagogue, he went and found him and said, “For judgment have I come into the world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When the Pharisees heard this, they asked Jesus, “Are we also blind?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say you see, your guilt remains.” He then immediately launches into the Good Shepherd Discourse, including this discussion about how true sheep hear the voice of their shepherd, relying on their ears, not their eyes.

That’s our call as the children of God: to rely on our ears, not our eyes.

Our eyes will deceive us. Our eyes will fill us with fear. Our eyes will fill us with anxiety and doubt. Our eyes will look out at the world around us and see rising unrest. They will see a polarized political existence in our country. They will see racial tensions. They will see professional baseball players subjected to racial slurs in a Major League Ballpark. They will see tensions rising between those fighting for religious liberty on one side and those fighting for SOGI laws on the other. Our eyes will see flooding in Missouri and Texas. They will see tornados and earthquakes and hurricanes. They will see cancer and disease and death within our own families and church and school. Our eyes will give us every reason to fear.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.  Christ our Shepherd invites us to cast all our anxiety on him, for he cares for us. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He leads us to the still waters. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He fills our cups overflowing with his mercy. Though the mountains crumble and the earth gives way, the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. Behold, the Son of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to him. Don’t let your eyes fill you with fear. Let your ears fill you with peace.

But our eyes are powerful. We’ve learned to rely so much on vision. We’ve trained ourselves that seeing is believing. It is not only fear and anxiety that our sight tempt us to believe more than we believe the promises of God. It is greed and lust. Our eyes see the fruit of the world, and seeing that the fruit looks good for eating, we are tempted to take a bite. Our eyes take in the new car our neighbor drives, the new house our friends purchased, the new phone, the new Apple watch, the new iPad, the new this the new that. Our eyes gluttonously devour all the toys and possessions that are not ours, and our eyes tell us that we deserve more, that we deserve better, that we want what others have.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. Our ears hear the voice of our Shepherd saying , “Do not covet.” It those words is more than a command; in those words is a promise of freedom. The one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The one whose eyes are addicted to greed becomes a slave to greed. But if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free from the worry that comes with discontent and coveting. Free from the temptation that is always hiding in the shadow of those shiny new things. The temptation to cut back giving to God so that we can afford a nicer car or more extravagant vacation. The temptation to neglect quality time with our spouse or children because we are spending so many hours working for a bigger paycheck. The temptation to play with the numbers a little so that the government doesn’t really know how much we make. The growing hatred in our hearts as we look at the possessions of the people around us and, rather than rejoicing in the good gifts our Lord has given someone else, hating them for getting what we want. The temptation to tear down the reputation of another person or to speak ill of them or to sabotage them because we are jealous.

Our Lord’s Word sets us free from all of that when it says, “Do not covet. But receive from the Lord with thanksgiving that which is yours.” Our ears give us the peace of a thankful heart. Our ears hear the Lord’s call to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” And our ears trust that our Lord will give us such bread, neither giving us so much extra that we think we have no need of our Lord, nor giving us so little that we fall into theft and so dishonor the name of the Lord. Our ears hear that our heavenly Father knows we need food and clothing and shelter, and that he desires to give us these things. Our ears, not our eyes, fill us with such peace.

Our eyes see the pleasures of the world around us. Our eyes lust after the flesh, after the bottle, after the next high or the next thrill. Our ears hear the voice of our Lord calling us back to his fold. These other voices are not the shepherd. They have not entered our lives or our hearts or our minds by the door, but have climbed in by some other means. They come to steal and kill and destroy. To steal our joy and kill our relationships and destroy the life our Lord has designed for us – a life of faith toward him and love toward others. Jesus has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus has come, and he speaks. He comes with his Word. He comes to our ears, not our eyes.

He comes in a splash of water on a baby’s forehead. The eye sees tap water. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that by itself that water would be plain water, but because it is combined with God’s Word it is the life-giving water of baptism.  The eye sees bread and wine. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that the crucified and risen Christ himself is present in this meal to bring us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It is our ears, not our eyes, to which our Lord makes his appeal. It is through our ears, not our eyes, that our Lord is present among us today.

When a person loses their sense of sight, their body responds by directing some of the parts of the brain that would normally be used to process visual stimuli to process sounds, smells, tastes, and touch instead. That’s partly why people close their eyes when the kiss or when they take a bite of a particularly tasty steak or when they take a long deep breath to absorb the smell of flowers in the springtime. Our other senses are strengthened when sight is taken away. Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Those who trust the eyes more than the ears will never see the Lord for who he is. As far as we trust our eyes, the painful and disappointing circumstances of our lives, the temptations and siren songs of the world around us, more than we trust the Word of the Lord in our ears, so far will we miss Jesus for who he truly is.

Repent of idolizing your eyes. Hear the voice of your Shepherd. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd. When you hear the voice of another, do not follow it. Flee. Learn to hear the voice of your Shepherd in the proclamation of his Word, and follow that voice. For he alone is the Good Shepherd. All others are thieves and robbers. Do not listen to them. Hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you to repentance. Hear the voice of your Shepherd promising you forgiveness. Hear the voice of your Shepherd and follow him. For He has come to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.

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Waiting to Be Revealed – Sermon for April 23/24, 2017

Waiting to Be Revealed
1 Peter 1:3-9
2nd Sunday of Easter
April 23rd/24th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Everyone loves going on vacation. A little time away is often medicine for the soul. A trip someplace warm in the middle of winter, a visit to a national monument, or just a few days with family who live out of state.  But when does your vacation actually start? If you’re going on a particularly special trip, the tendency is to count the days. For the last week or two before your vacation, you count down to the moment when the clock strikes five and you’re done with the last shift. Maybe you’ve got an app on your phone. Maybe you’ve literally circled the date on the calendar on your wall. You have the date in your crosshairs, and your excitement grown with each step toward that day.

But that’s not when vacation starts. Usually, that’s when a whole new slate of headaches starts.  If you’re flying, you’ve still got to unload your car and get all your luggage onto the little shuttle bus that takes you to the airport. Then you’ve got to get in line and make it through the baggage check. Then comes the TSA line and trying to get through security. All of that usually adds up to one of two extremes – you’re either running to your gate trying not to miss you flight, or you’re sitting at your gate 3 hours early. There’s usually not much in between. Driving can be even worse. You count down the minutes at work until that last day is done, but what are you really counting down to? Trying to fit all those suitcases into the back of your car? Sitting in construction or rush hour traffic? Stopping for bathroom breaks and snacks? Trying to stay awake as you push on toward your destination? The pain in your back from driving for so long?

The point is – we often count the minutes to vacation, but we tend to count to the wrong place. We tend to count to the moment work ends, not the moment vacation begins. Those usually aren’t the same thing. Of course, loading the car and walking through the airport on your way to vacation have an air of excitement, much more than having to do those things for the trip home. But they aren’t the best that vacation has to offer. That comes at the end of travelling. That comes at the destination itself. That’s when vacation really starts.

In some ways, that’s how the Christian life works. Our life as the children of God in this world are like that time between leaving work the last time on your way to vacation and actually arriving at the resort. That’s what Peter says in today’s Epistle reading. He says that we have been born to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He says that we have been born to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That’s the vacation part. But Peter also says that this inheritance is being kept in heaven for us. It’s in heaven, we’re on earth. Peter says this inheritance is being kept for us who are being guarded for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The hope is ours. The inheritance is promised. But it hasn’t been revealed yet. And Peter says that we rejoice in this inheritance, but also that until we actually receive it we will be grieved by various trials that test our faith. It’s like we’re on vacation, but we haven’t actually gotten there yet. Instead, we’re struggling to make it to our destination.

The reading from Acts today is an example of one such moment from the life of Peter himself. Peter and the other Apostles were fulfilling the commission Jesus had given them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. They were taking the good news of the resurrection out into the towns and villages, and they were performing many signs and wonders to validate their words. But not all wanted to hear. Peter and the other Apostles faced trials. In today’s reading from Acts, they were arrested for proclaiming the gospel. They were beaten. They were chased out of the Temple. But they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. They would not be deterred. They did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. With their eyes on the imperishable, unfading inheritance being stored for them in heaven and waiting to be revealed, they were able not only to make it through the trials of the moment, but to rejoice in them.

The fact is, our life in this fallen world is marked by similar hardships. Our life in this fallen world is confusing. We have the great joy of the forgiveness that is already ours, but we aren’t in heaven yet. It’s like we’re done with our last day of work before vacation, but we still have to load the car. Or we’re stuck in traffic. Or we’re the 178th person in the TSA line. Except it’s not minor inconveniences that we’re dealing with. It’s real burdens. It’s death and disease. It’s perpetual temptation and the threat of falling away from the faith. It’s the hostility of the world around us as the animus toward Christianity continues to grow. And what is our response to these threats?

Often our instinct is to lock the world out like the disciples did on that first Easter. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were afraid that they were going to be hunted down and executed just like Jesus was. And their fear blinded them to the promises Jesus had made before his crucifixion. But Jesus came and stood among that fear-filled group and brought peace. He brings the same peace to you today – the peace of knowing that you have an inheritance stored up for you, waiting to be revealed. Often we want to lock out the world, afraid of the dangers outside our door. But Jesus comes and speaks peace. He speaks peace and then sends us back out into the world. He knows we will face hardships. He knows we will face temptation. He knows our life will not look particularly comforting. He knows we won’t be able to see ourselves as being all that different than anyone else in the world around us. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Blessed are those who realize that there is something more than this life in store for the children of God.

We are often tempted to lose hope. We are tempted to let the challenges of life overwhelm us. In these moments of despair, our Lord gives us the gift of a living hope. He comes to us through the proclamation of his Word and calls us to remember the promised inheritance. When death fills us with fear, our Lord reminds us that we have an inheritance that is untouched by death. When the evil of the world fills us with fear, our Lord reminds us that we have an inheritance that is unstained by evil. When the fleeting and temporary nature of this creation fills us with fear, our Lord reminds us that we have an inheritance unimpared by time.  This inheritance is yours. Moth and rust will not destroy it. Sin and evil will not defile it. It will never wither. It will never fade. It will never wear out. For it is being guarded by Jesus himself.

The trials of this life will not destroy you, for you are a precious child of God. Instead, they reveal your true character, like fire reveals the true character of gold. The true character of the Christian life is faith in the promises of God. It is not financial security. It is not perfect health. It is not perfect family life or relationships. The character of the Christian life is not defined by things of this world. Our Lord has not promised us that life will be easy. He has not promised us that we will always feel good. He has not promised us that we will be immune from the effects of sin and decay in a fallen creation. What he has promised us is the outcome of our faith: the salvation of our souls.

That is your final destination. Salvation is yours, right here and now. You are on vacation, so to speak. But you aren’t all the way there yet. You will be soon, but not yet. And yet all the sufferings of this life are nothing but a small drop in the ocean of eternity. So rejoice in the life you have now. Rejoice even in your trials. Rejoice if you are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of your future resurrection Much like even the longest TSA line can’t totally kill your joy when you’re on your way to Disney World, the promise of resurrection fills you with a joy that is inexpressible. Let the word of Christ fill you with a living hope, one that will sustain you in the trials of this life until our Lord brings you home.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus Lives, the Victory’s Won – Sermon for Easter 2017

Jesus Lives, The Victory’s Won!
Exodus 14:10-15:1
Easter Dawn
April 16, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” What?! Talk about a tone-deaf! That’s not the gratitude Moses was probably hoping for after marching in to Pharaoh’s palace and demanding he “Let my people go!” That’s the perspective of a teenager who screams at her parents that they never give her anything as she goes stomping off down the hallway of the house they pay for, flinging herself onto the bed they bought her and crying into the pillow they gave her before texting or Snapchatting or Instagramming her friends on the smartphone she got from, you guessed it, her parents! And those texts and Snapchats will all be bitterly and angrily written to let the girl’s friends all know how awful her parents are and how they never give her anything.

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  Did God bring you out of Egypt to kill you? No! Of course not! If he wanted to kill you, he would have directed the 10 plagues at you instead of against the Egyptians. If he wanted to kill you, he wouldn’t have given you the Passover Lamb whose blood painted on your door posts protected you from the Angel of the Lord, he would have left you ignorant and let your firstborn die too. If he wanted to kill you he would have left you to suffer in Egypt under the whips of your slave masters. “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die?” No! What had God done to this point that could possibly give you that impression? “What have you done in bringing us out of Egypt?” What do you mean, ‘What have you done?!’ I’ve set you free from a life making bricks with no straw. I’ve set you free from those who would drown your sons in the Nile. I’ve set you free from slavery and oppression. That’s what I’ve done! And now you want to go back?

Talk about short-term memory loss. Talk about selective amnesia. The Israelites were blinded by the threat of Pharaoh’s army closing in. And, to a certain extent, I can’t say I blame them. I mean, each and every one of them had been conditioned from a young age to fear the Egyptians, to cower before the whips and swords of their captors. Now, just a few short days after leaving slavery behind, here was Pharaoh’s army threatening to recapture them. A lifetime of conditioning doesn’t just go away overnight. So to a certain extent, I can understand the fear of the Israelites. They looked at their situation and processed the information according to the only reality they had ever known – the reality of slavery in Egypt.

But God had something different in mind. The Angel of the Lord who had been leading the people in the pillar of cloud and fire moved to the rear guard to protect the people from Pharaoh’s army. God had Moses stretch out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back, and the people of God passed through on dry ground. Of course, the Israelites didn’t stop complaining once they were on the other side. Instead, before they ever reached, Mt. Sinai they accused God of freeing them from slavery only to starve them in the desert, a complaint he answered by giving them miraculous bread from heaven. Then they accused God of bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them with thirst, a complaint God answered by bringing forth water from a rock. Then, while at Mt. Sinai, they thought God had killed Moses up on the mountain, so they demanded that Aaron build them a golden calf to replace the God who had supposedly abandoned them. When they left Mt. Sinai they refused to follow God into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the people who lived there, even accusing God once again of delivering them from Egypt only to kill them by the swords of the Canaanites. And none of these example even touch on Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering. These are all accusations against God that happen in the same year as the 10 plagues and deliverance from Egypt. It’s like Israel was completely blind to the many times God had delivered them. All they could see were the challenges and fears before them.

Does that sound familiar? Do you see yourself in the story? Do you see yourself in the Israelites? You should. Each of us should. We are all guilty of stunningly selective amnesia. Here we are today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Re-sur-rection! Life from death. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. More than that, he lives! He has defeated death. Christ is arisen from the grave’s dark prison. All our hopes would be ended had Jesus not ascended from the grave triumphantly. But he did ascend from that stone cold tomb. Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

Yet how often do we, like the Israelites of old, respond to our deliverance by ignoring the manifold ways God has revealed his love for us, focusing instead on the challenges and problems and fears in our lives? “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but money’s tight this month. Have you conquered death only to starve me in this life?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but my cancer isn’t getting any better. Have you conquered death only to give me over to an army of murderous cells?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but look at how many people are turning their backs the church today. Look at how few there are left. Have you conquered death only to abandon me in the middle of this desert?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but it’s getting harder and harder to live as a Christian in America. Have you conquered death only to destroy us with the swords of those who inhabit this land?” Are we any different from the Israelites of old? “Have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? To kill us with starvation or thirst?  To destroy us with the sword of our enemies?”

A lifetime of conditioning doesn’t go away overnight.

We do, indeed, live in a world that attacks us our whole life long. We live in a world that gives us reason to fear. So our Lord’s response is as simple as it is merciful. He calls our gaze away from the problems. He calls us to look at the deliverance, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. O Israel, why are you frightened by the hunger or the thirst or the army closing in on you? Look at the manna and the water from the rock and the Red Sea being pushed back for you to cross! O Christian, why are you focused on the chaos and disease and evil in your life and in the world around you? Why are you focused on chemical attacks in Syria or capricious politicians or the storm clouds brewing in the relationship between church and culture. Yes, in this world you will have tribulation, but take heart. Jesus has overcome the world. This world threw all it could at our Lord. Satan and his demon host attacked our Savior in every way they could conjure. And our Lord bested them all. Our Lord bested death itself. The grave could not hold him.  He has triumphed gloriously. The hosre and his rider have been thrown into the sea! Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

And in your baptism, you live too. You live in him. In this life we will still have hardship. Jesus never promised us anything different. What he promised us is that this life is not all there is. This life is a desert wandering. We are free from the slavery to sin and death, but we have not yet arrived in the promised rest. Like Israel who had been delivered from Egypt but was not yet in the Promised Land, our time in this desert is filled with reasons to fear, with death and disease, with enemies both physical and spiritual, with temptation and despair and doubt. But the gift of today is that our Lord has given us something else to look at. Rather than looking at the problems, look at the cross. Look at the empty tomb. Look at your deliverance. Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on, nor about the things the people of this world will say about you, what they will call you and what you will suffer on account of being faithful to Christ. For the Gentiles seek after these things. But you have a Heavenly Father who knows you need them. And you know he will provide them. You know he loves you, for God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And now Christ lives. And no matter what this world throws at you, your Lord will deliver you.

Jesus lives, the victory’s won. All you need, God will dispense. Let this be your confidence. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. Death’s reign is done. Brighter scenes will soon commence. Let this be your confidence. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. And now even death itself is but the gate to life immortal. Let this calm your trembling breath in the face of life’s challenges. Let this be your confidence.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

 

Salvation for Body and Soul: Easter Sermon – 2016

Salvation: Body and Soul
Job 19:23-27
Easter Sunday
March 27, 2016
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

The human body is a fascinating thing.  Did you know, for example, that your tongue print is as unique as your fingerprints. Or that your nose can remember around 50,000 different scents? Not just the ones you want to remember like the smell of lilac blossoms332494efda5e31c9f1894833f70ee129 or freshly brewing coffee, but even the unfortunate memories of skunk and rotten milk: your nose knows which is which. Did you know that the average human heart pumps around 2000 gallons of blood each day through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in your body? Think about that: that’s enough fluid to practically fill a pool that’s four feet high and twelve feet in diameter being pumped through enough blood vessels that you could wrap them around the earth two and a half times at the equator. I find that personally mind blowing and a little hard to believe, but I read it online, so it must be true! And it’s all in your body.  And we are here today to celebrate that Jesus redeemed all of it.

You see, sometimes we get the idea that Jesus simply died to save our souls, or that the soul is somehow more important than the body.  But the reality of being a human is that your body and soul are inseparable.  You are not a body with a soul or a soul with a body; you are body and soul together, joined as one like nothing else in all creation.  There are those in our world who would argue differently. There are those who would tell you that the body is irrelevant at best, or at worst a mistake. It is not a particularly new argument, it has been argued by different religions for millennia. However, it is picking up steam in popular culture once again.  There are those who would argue that the body is a burden or a crutch that must be overcome in order for your soul to be free.  There are those who would argue that the biology of one’s body could be a mistake, saying one might be a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body.  There are those who would argue that the body is irrelevant, that one’s gender or biology has no bearing on who a person truly is.  This is yet another symptom of the sad fact that we live in a culture that has, by and large, bought into the lie that what matters most is reality as you see it, not reality as it actually is.

And yet for all the talk about how unimportant the body is supposed to be, we spend an awful lot of time as people trying to save it.  Think of all the technology, medicine, surgical procedures, and cosmetics that are dedicated to the preservation of the body.  If we are really just souls trapped in a fleshy cage, why is it our instinct to spend so much time, effort, and resources decorating, repairing, and even remodeling that cage, when we should really be trying to escape from it?  Because deep down inside we know that the body is important. The truth is hard to kill. We may want to believe that our body is not a very important part of who we are; we may love the supposed freedom of choice we think that gives us, but try as we might to drown reality under a sea of our personal opinions and the ideas we would like to be true, the actual truth has a nasty habit of popping back up to the surface.  And today is a celebration of the truth; it is a celebration of reality.  Today we jesus-died-for-you2celebrate not the symbolic or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus. Today we celebrate his actual flesh and bone resurrection. Today acknowledges the importance of the body both to us and to God himself.

There is great joy to be found in acknowledging reality as our Lord created it.  You and your body are not an accident. Your body was created for you and given to you as God’s gift. Now, there are certainly cases where sin has corrupted God’s once perfect creation, no one is arguing against that sad reality. There are cases where disease or other ailments have made some bodies harder to live in than others.  That’s why when Jesus walked the earth he healed people, putting back together what sin had broken. He healed the blind and the lame and the mute and the diseased. He gave them back their bodies because the body is important, essential even, to human existence. Jesus restored what sin had corrupted.  But those corruptions are the exception, not the rule. The design for creation remains. God has given you a body and has designed it for you. He has given you specific talents and abilities to be used for the benefit of others.  He has made you good at certain things, maybe you’re good with your hands, or maybe you have a knack with machinery or accounting or art. Whatever the case may be, believing in the Creator means we believe that these skills are not ours by chance, but are God’s design for us that he will use in service to others.

Today is a celebration of the fact that not only has God created your body for you, he has redeemed it. That’s why Jesus took on human flesh. Jesus came to earth not simply to teach us how to live, he could have done that from heaven. In fact, he did just that when he wrote the Law into our hearts and clarified it from Mount Sinai. Jesus did not come to earth to reveal some secret or esoteric knowledge reserved for the select few. No, Jesus took on human flesh in order to redeem human flesh, he took a body in order to redeem the body, to redeem your body. And that’s exactly what he did, he who for the joy set before him endured the cross, something, that he needed a body to do,  despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God,[1] he who did not consider his equality with God a thing to be clung to at all costs, but who made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and being made as a human, fully human, body and soul, he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.[2] And he did it for you, to redeem you, the whole you, body and soul.

Your body is important to God. It is a gift, not a curse.  Yes, there are a multitude of problems that our bodies face in this life: hunger, deformity, disease, pain, and eventually death.  There are temptations and misunderstandings about gender and sexuality. But these temptations come not because the body is bad, but because it is a good gift from God that Satan is out to destroy.  Satan wants us to believe in the separation of body and soul.  He will tempt us to ignore the body and focus on the soul, tempting us to believe that our salvation is found by thinking the right way or found in the strength of our believing.  He will tempt us to believe that it doesn’t matter what we do with our body so long as our heart is in the right place.  He wants to drive a wedge. Or he’ll take the opposite track and tempt us to believe that salvation is found only through the body by living the right way and making the right choices. He will tempt us to believe that it doesn’t matter what images go into our eyes so long as our body does not act out the lust, or that it doesn’t matter what hatred or bitterness we harbor in our hearts so long as our body does no harm to another.  But his end game is the same: separate body and soul in our thinking.  Today undoes Satan’s web of lies and reminds us of the reality that salvation is found nowhere in ourselves, body or soul, but only in he who is the way, the truth, and the life:[3] in Jesus, the only name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved[4], in Jesus who became body and soul for us.  It’s not our actions or inactions that win us salvation; salvation is found in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, today we rejoice with Job.  For we too know that our redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth, and that even after our bodies have been destroyed by disease or death or decay, yet in our flesh we shall see God.  And our own eyes, the eyes that belong to this very body, will see him for themselves.[5]  We rejoice in he_is_risen_wallpaper__yvt2the knowledge that our bodies are not irrelevant or burdensome, but rather a gift, a gift so important to God that he would take one himself to suffer in our place. Your body is a gift so important to God that he brings the gift of salvation to that body today, not merely in theory, but in physical and fleshy ways, bread and wine that fill our mortal stomachs with the food of immortality, salvation for our bodies as well as our souls.  That’s why when we stand before the grave of a loved one waiting for the moment when that casket is lowered into the earth we pray that God the Father who created that body, that God the Son who by his blood redeemed that body, and that God the Holy Spirit who sanctified that body to be his temple would keep those remains until the resurrection of all flesh.[6]  That’s why at the end of communion we pray that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ would strengthen and preserve us body and soul unto life everlasting. For body and soul together is life. It is our life in this world. It will be our life in the world to come.

So rejoice today that your body is not an accident, it is a gift – the gift of life itself. Whatever temptations or afflictions you face, whatever diseases or ailments have attacked your body, know that Jesus died for all of it. He redeemed you from all of it. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”[7]  May our Lord continue to provide for all our needs of body and soul as we celebrate his resurrection, and as we wait for him to come again.

+INJ+

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Hebrews 12:2

[2] Philippians 2:6-8

[3] John 14:6

[4] Acts 4:12

[5] Job 19:23-27

[6] Blessing from Lutheran Service of Committal. Pastoral Care Companion p. 134

[7] Philippians 3:20-21

Joy in the Fray – Easter Sunday 2015

Joy in the Fray

1 Corinthians 15:12-25

Easter Sunday

April 5, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Today is a day of joy. The lilies are out in full force. The tympani and brass are here. The voices of God people fill the sanctuary and threaten to shake the rafters with joyful singing. Today is a day of joy, and nothing will rob us of that joy. For today is the daychurch_easter_2007-139-web.gifof resurrection. Earth, tell it out abroad. From death to life eternal, / from sin’s dominion free, / Our Christ has brought us over / with hymns of victory.[1] And here’s the best part about the joy of resurrection: it’s not for today only. It’s for tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that, and each and every day we walk this side of heaven. Today may be Easter Sunday, but the joy of the resurrection is ours every day. And nothing can rob us of that joy.

Although, if I’m going to be completely honest with you, I have to admit that I’ve felt my joy has been under attack lately. Our theme for this past Lent was “Life in the Fray,” and I’ve been feeling the fray lately. Maybe you have too. I’ve been bombarded with summons to sadness. I’ve been frustrated and hurt and even angry. Some of it is due to the way our country and the people around me have been portraying Christ and his Word in the ongoing debates about religious freedom in our country. I’m not one who usually gets drawn into political debates or the accompanying social outrage, but this past week I haven’t been able to pull my eyes away.  The current debate strikes me to the core, for it seems that everywhere I look the teachings of our Lord and of his church are being misrepresented in order to set them up as vicious straw men. It’s frustrating to sit by as our Lord and his Word is dragged through the mud by those who don’t care to understand it past a snide headline or picture they can forward on to their followers.

But it’s not really the present circumstances that have been trying to steal the joy from my life; it’s fear for the future. It’s the realization that if things continue down the path they are currently on, there will be a day in the not too distant future where I and every Christian pastor across this country will face the choice to either capitulate to the demands of a secular society or face jail time, crippling fines, or worse. Once all the Christian bakeries and pizzerias are out of business, the Church could be next. Christian pastors have already been subpoenaed in Texas to turn over their sermons as evidence of hate speech. It seems that we are at the dawn of a new witch hunt, of a new inquisition, and man-with-tape-over-mouthbecause I cling firmly to the unchanging truth of our Lord’s Word, I’m now a target. I honestly fear for my future as a Christian pastor, and for the future of all who publically confess the truth. I fear for your future as Christian men and women in a world that is no longer content to simply mock and deride Christians by lobbing insults from the cheap seats, but rather seems intent on stomping out the confession of the truth all together. That fear has been trying to steal my joy this week

But that’s not the only would be thief looking to snatch my joy. There’s the poor woman in Colorado whose unborn baby was ripped from her womb and left to die in a bathtub. And while I grieve for her loss, I’m frustrated and angered by the fact that the woman who did this to her will not face murder charges.  It frustrates me that our society decided long ago that the unborn are not worthy to be considered people, that they can be aborted or killed with no consequence, as long as the mother herself is the one doing it. It saddens me that this recent tragedy is simply the next logical step in the progression, that if the unborn aren’t considered people when their own mothers want them dead, why would it be any different if a stranger takes their life?  It saddens me that we live in a world so determined not to control its lust and greed that it would rather see innocent children murdered than reign in the passion of the flesh or put a career on hold. It is hard to be joyful in a world that so casually embraces death and turns a blind eye to the consequences of its actions. It’s hard to be joyful in a world that clamors and complains about the rights of one person who can’t get the cake they want while at the same time largely ignoring the brutal murder of the unborn. How can we be joyful in a world whose priorities are so distorted?

There’s also the things that strike closer to home that try to take our joy. There’s the onslaught of cancer and death that keeps popping up not in the nightly news, but in our own lives. We’ve had more than our fair share of it around here. Young children and parents of young children.  Older men and women who had dedicated years of their life to this church and school. The banner of names we had last November for All Saints’ Day was as full as I’ve ever seen one. Death and the threat of death has spread its cloud over my family recently. I’m sure you’ve had to deal with it too. Family members. Close friends.01109800.interactive.a Coworkers. There is not a single person alive today who has not been scarred by cancer, disease, or death in some way. And it gets tiring. Seeing the pain on people’s faces as they grieve, or feeling the hurt in our own hearts gets to be too much to handle. It tries to suck the joy out of our lives.

But that’s why today is so special. For today we are reminded that even amid the fray of life in this fallen creation, amid the daily battles and struggles of our existence, nothing can rob us of our joy, for Christ lives. And because Christ lives, we know the victory is won. Because Christ lives, we know paradise awaits us. Because Christ lives, and because we know that we too shall live in paradise, we know each and every day of our lives here and now is filled with meaning and purpose. Christ lives, so now we set out to live the lives he has given us to live, in the families he has given us, in the jobs he has given us, in the neighborhoods he has given us.  If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and our faith useless. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our lives have no meaning beyond the present hardships. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then Christians are the most pitiful people on earth. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then neither will we be raised from the dead. Then this life with its sorrow and heartache and bitterness and bickering will be all there is. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then the loved ones who have died in the faith and whom we look forward to seeing again are in fact truly gone for good. If Christ is not raised from the dead, then death has won. Then we are all just food for worms, circling the drain in this toilet bowl of life, waiting for our number to be called and our time to be up.  If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiful people on earth, for we would have placed our hopes in an empty dream. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then we have no hope, and we have no joy.

But Christ has been raised from the dead, and that changes everything! Christ lives! And He is but the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His resurrection was the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last. He’s the firstfruits, and we’re next. When this world tries to rob us of our joy, we rejoice that this world can’t touch our joy, for our joy is safe with Christ, as are we. Politics and media misrepresentations and slander and hatred and name-calling and mudslinging cannot take our joy, for Christ lives. A culture of death cannot take our joy, for Christ lives. A world marred by disease cannot take our joy, for Easter_Christ_is_risenChrist lives. Christ lives, which is why the people of God are now, and always have been, a people of joy. As our own President Harrison notes, joy is everywhere you look in the Scriptures. There’s joy in the Psalms, even the penitential ones. There’s joy in Moses and the Prophets and the wisdom of Solomon. There’s joy in the Gospels and on the lips of Jesus, and on the lips of those whose life he touched. There’s joy in Mary and Elizabeth and at the manger and at the empty tomb. There’s joy in life and joy in the midst of death. There’s joy in worship and joy in hardship and persecution and suffering. There’s even joy in God himself, for there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 self-righteous people who feel no need for repentance.[2]

Our Lord is a Lord of joy. Our Lord is the one who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame.[3] He endured it for you, to win you back from this melancholy world mired in misery and mourning. Redeeming you is what fills our Lord with joy, and he has done it. He has won. He lives! So now with Paul we rejoice at all times,[4] even in the midst of suffering and persecution,[5] for Christ lives. The victory has been won. Let the world rant and rave and rage all it wants. They are but the death throes of a conquered foe.  They are the last frustrated outbursts of an enemy whose ship is sunk. The sufferings of this present darkness are not even worth comparing with the joy of the life to come.[6] Yes, they still hurt; and yes, they still produce tears. But all the tears of this life added together are but a drop in the ocean of eternal joy that awaits us as the people of God. For Christ lives, and if Christ is for us, who can be against us? What shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[7]

So rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice.[8] Scatter the darkness, break the gloom; / Sun, reveal an empty tomb / Shining with joy for all our sorrows, / Hope and peace for all tomorrows, / Life uneclipsed by doubt and dread: / Christ has risen from the dead![9]

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

______

[1] “The Day of Resurrection” (LSB 478 st. 1)

[2] Harrison, A Little Book on Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World p. 2-3

[3] Hebrews 12:2

[4] Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16

[5] Romans 5:3

[6] Romans 8:18

[7] Romans 8:35-39

[8] Philippians 4:4

[9] “Scatter the Darkness, Break the Gloom” (LSB 481 st. 1)

Peace Be With You – Sermon for Quasimodo Geniti (April 27th/28, 2014)

 

Peace Be With You

John 20:19-23

2nd Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)

April 27th/28th, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Fear.  Hiding.[1]  They seem to go together hand-in-hand.  Where there is fear, there will be hiding.  It’s been that way since the beginning of time.  There in the garden were the first man and woman, naked, exposed in their sin, and hiding.  But from whom are they hiding?  Do they really think that they can hide from the all-seeing eye of the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe?  I’d hope not.  But then again, that’s probably exactly why they’re hiding.  They know he is the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful adam_eve230212_02creator of the universe, and they know that they have sinned against him.  They know they have eaten from the tree of which the Lord said, “You shall not eat.”  They know they have been bested in a battle of wits against the serpent.  They know they are naked.  They, like God, now know the difference between good and evil – and they know which one they are.  They know they have sinned.  They are ashamed.  They are afraid, so they hide.

Fear.  Hiding.  They go together hand-in-hand.  The disciples hide for fear of the Jews.  The disciples hide for fear that they will be the next ones to be captured, the next to be put on trial before the Sanhedrin, the next to be sent to the kangaroo court before Pilate, then Herod, then back to Pilate again.  The disciples are afraid that they are going to be the next ones whipped and beaten within an inch of their lives, forced to carry the instrument of their own torture to the place of their death, nailed to a wooden cross and executed, condemned to endure one of the most excruciatingly painful forms of death ever conceived in the gruesome mind of sinful man.  The disciples are afraid, so they hide.

Fear.  Hiding.  They go together hand-in-hand.  We hide out of fear.  Like our first parents in the garden, we know our own sin.  We know all too well, better than anyone else, how sinful we really are.  We know the inmost desires of our hearts.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” wrote the prophet Jeremiah.[2]  We may be unable to fully understand our hearts, but we know all too well what they are capable of.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, hatred, lust, sexual immorality, greed, lies, slander.[3]  These come from our hearts, and we know it, so we hide.

We hide behind walls of rationalization by lying to ourselves, saying that any desire we feel must therefore be natural or we wouldn’t feel it.  We hide behind walls of self-justification by playing the card of the Pharisees and measuring ourselves against other 20110312021240-bricksinners rather than measuring ourselves against God’s holy Law.  “I’m better than so-and-so,” we tell ourselves in a vain attempt to bury the guilt our conscience feels over our true condition.  “At least I don’t do drugs.” “At least I don’t cheat on my spouse.”  “At least I go to church.”  We hide behind a self-constructed wall of good intentions and bad excuses.  “I would have spoken up and defended my neighbor, but I didn’t know what to say.”  “I know that I technically cheated on my taxes, but it was only a little, and money is really tight this year.”  “I know that I watched that movie with lust in my heart, but it’s not like I said or did anything wrong.” “I know I really hate my boss, but he’s asking for it.”

Hiding.  All we are doing is hiding, hiding because of our fear.  Fear of being held accountable to a higher standard.  Fear of having our sins and shortcomings brought to light.  Fear of being seen for who we truly are: sinful and unclean.  Hiding and fear go together.  But like Adam and Eve could not hide from the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe, where do we think we can hide where our Lord cannot find us?  There is no place that is safe, for our Lord Jesus is not Superman and our acts of kindness and charity are not lined with lead.  Our Lord sees right through our so-called good deeds to the truth of our hearts.  There is nowhere to hide.  He will find us, just like he found Adam and Eve.

And thanks be to God for that.  Thanks be to God that he does find us, even when we hide, just like he found Adam and Eve, just like he found those hiding disciples.  For remember that when our Lord found Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, he comforted them with the promise of the one who would crush the serpent’s head.  He made them garments of skin to clothe their nakedness.  He escorted them from the tree so that they would not eat of it and be trapped living in their sin forever.  When our Lord found Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, he had mercy on them.[4]  Remember what happened when Jesus found the disciples locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews.  The resurrected prcas2184Christ did not come in to interrogate them for their cowardice or scold them for their lack of faith.  He came to speak peace into 10 lives burdened with the oppressive weight of fear.  There stands the risen and victorious Christ in their midst, come to show them his wounds not to say, “Look what you did to me,” but rather “See what I have done for you!”

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says.  When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Not afraid.  Joyful.  Mission accomplished.  10 lives now overflowing with peace where fear once ruled the day.  Death has been defeated, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Sin has been overcome, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Satan has been conquered, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Where there once cowered 10 fearful men who amounted to little more than a heap of lifeless bones, the Lord spoke
words of life.  Bone was joined to bone, flesh came upon them, and the breath of life filled their souls.  Jesus is risen, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Jesus is living, and through the power of his Word, now his Apostles were alive in him too. So alive, in fact, that our Lord sent those apostles out from their hiding place to share the peace they have received.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  JesusOnCross_01As the Father has sent me, so also I am sending you.”  As the Father sent me?  How exactly did God send his Son into the world?  “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world
might be saved through him.”[5]  God the Father sent his son into the world to save the world.  Jesus sent the apostles into the world to save the world, not by dying for it again, no, Jesus had already done that.  Rather the disciples were sent out to save the world by delivering to it the peace just delivered to them through the Word they were given to speak.  Our Lord doesn’t want his gift of peace to stop with 10 souls, but wants it delivered to every person everywhere.

As Jesus sends them on their way, he gives them the tool that they need for their task.  For having sent them, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  The peace that the apostles speak is not of this world – it is the peace of the Spirit himself, for it is the Spirit himself.  Into these men Christ breathes his Spirit and sends them out into the world to use that Spirit to deliver the gift of peace.    And so they did.  The disciples took up the ministry of reconciliation and began preaching Christ crucified all over the ancient world.  And churches began to sprout up: in Ephesus, in Galatia, in Corinth, in Rome.  In whatever places the Apostles delivered the message of peace that they themselves received, other lives were filled with peace.  And having delivered that peace, the Apostles then sent other men to do the same.  And so the Word of the Lord was sown.  The peace of the Lord was delivered as more and more people heard the message of reconciliation.  That very same peace has been delivered into your life by the spiritual descendants of the apostles, by the pastors who have baptized you, who have fed you the body and blood of the risen Lord, who have catechized you and preached to you from this very pulpit, who have stood before you in this place to declare your sins forgiven in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But as with the apostles, so with you.  As Jesus delivered peace into their lives and then sent them to carry that peace to others, so also he has delivered peace into your life and sent you to deliver that same peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

keep-calm-jesus-is-the-risen-kingAnd yet so often we are hesitant.  So often we are too afraid.  While our Lord would have us go, we hide like Jonah.  Fear and hiding go together hand-in-hand, and so we often hide from the opportunities to speak our Lord’s Word of peace.  Maybe we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.  Maybe we’re afraid of being called a hypocrite.  Maybe we’re afraid of not having the answers to the questions that so naturally arise in discussions about Jesus.  But never forget that before Jesus sent the apostles to deliver the message of peace, he first delivered it to them.

That is how our Lord works.  He didn’t send the apostles out to undertake an impossible task, but gave them everything they would need.  He does the same for us.  We can’t hide from our Lord, so instead we kneel before him in humble repentance.  He takes our doubts and fears and shame and bitterness and makes them his own.  He takes his faith and his hope and his life and his joy and gives them all to us.  He breathes his Spirit onto us through the words of the Gospel spoken through the voice of his pastors, spoken through the voice of your fellow Christians, written for you in the pages of Holy Scripture.  He does not send us out unequipped, but gives us the gift of forgiveness and new life in him, the exact things we need to go forth with no fear.

And so we do go forth.  We go forth from this place and bring reconciliation and peace into our relationships, into our families, into our school, into our workplaces, into our world.  Fear and hiding go together.  They always have, and they always will.  But our Lord comes into our hiding places with words of comfort and of peace, with his own crucified and resurrected body and blood to strengthen and preserve us body and soul as we take his words of comfort to a dying world.  May the Lord who has so graciously given us this gift of reconciliation and peace grant that by his Spirit we too may proclaim the good news of salvation so that all who hear it may receive the blessing of the peace that surpasses all understanding.

In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

 

 

[1] This sermon draws on a sermon by Pr. Tony Sikora entitled, “Upper Rooms, Fig Leaves, and the Resurrected Christ.” I liked the correlation drawn between fear and hiding in the scriptures and in the lives of God’s Children today.

[2] Jeremiah 17:9

[3] Matthew 15:19

[4] Genesis 3:15, 20-24

[5] John 3:17

In Our Flesh, We Shall See God – Easter Sermon (April 20, 2014)

In Our Flesh, We Shall See Godjesus-resurrection-tomb-mary

Job 19:25-27

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.    Job 19:25-27

             Job was a man who understood the meaning of the word pain.  He understood what it was to suffer.  He knew firsthand the hurts and trials that life could hold.  Here was a man who, at one time, was wealthy almost beyond measure.  In the words of Scripture, “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.”[1]  But at the hand of Satan, Job

Job-wife1lost everything he had on this earth.  He lost his children to the swords of his enemies and the collapse of their house.  He lost his flocks to fire from heaven and a band of thieves.  He lost his health, becoming deathly ill, so ill that even his wife chided him, saying, “Do you still hold fast your integrity?  Curse God and die.”[2]  With his life in shambles, his children dead, his wife telling him to throw in the towel, and his friends offering not words of comfort or assurance, but rather trying to uncover some secret sin that they could blame for his misfortune, Job speaks words of unwavering faith.  “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”[3]

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this joyous Easter morning, these are our words too, for in Job we see a picture of ourselves.  Like Job, we find ourselves surrounded by death and suffering.  We too live in a world where our loved ones get sick and die.  I would venture to guess that there’s not a person in this room today who hasn’t had their life or their family touched by a major disease of some kind.  I would venture to guess thathe_is_risen_wallpaper__yvt2 there’s not a person here today over the age of 21 who has not grieved the death of a loved one.  If I’m wrong, if there is someone here who has never tasted the bitterness of sickness or death, then I’m truly happy for you.  But even you will not avoid it forever.  Even if you’ve managed to avoid it to this point, you haven’t avoided all its effects.  If a casket at the end of the line was the only problem we face, that would be bad enough in itself.  But to add insult to injury, like Job we too live in a world where enemies threaten us daily from all sides.  There is the threat of unemployment or underemployment.  There are those who daily find their joy being eaten away at by mental illness or depression, by loneliness or fear. There are coworkers and neighbors who seem to have made it their sole purpose to make your life miserable.  There is the guilt or shame that we feel over a poor choice, shame that we can’t get rid of, shame that clings to us like a strand of hair charged with static.  There’s the feeling of inadequacy that is so hard to shake.

We live in a world where there is so much pain, so much suffering, so much frustration that it would be futile to try and describe it all, and no one knows better than you the scars it has left on your own existence.  We live in a world of disease and famine, a world that promises to be many things to many people, but ultimately delivers only one thing to all its inhabitants without bias: death.  For in this world all things die.  Plants and animals alike share one fate.  Governments and empires and political initiatives fade away.  Even towering buildings and impressive monuments of great men will one day be reduced to trunkless legs of stone and a face half-buried under the sands of time.[4]  We spend our days in a dying world victimized by constant decay, and here comes Satan whispering in our ear, “What’s the point?  Life is too difficult.  Curse God and die,” or perhaps, “Life is too short, indulge that passion, indulge that lust, embrace the greed.”  He promises that it will make the hurt go away.  He promises it will make life truly worth living.  “Eat, drink, and be merry,” he says, “for tomorrow you may die.”

Tomorrow you may die.  In those four words you have the heart of the conflict: the world simply cannot answer the question of death.  Actually, it doesn’t even try to.  Instead of addressing the problem of death, the philosophies of this world dodge the question put forth the idea that death is natural, simply one more step in the circle of life. The world’s theory of origin requires the presence of death so that the fittest species may survive while the weaker genes are weeded out by predators and disease.  This world’s view of pleasure stems from the belief that because we will all die one day anyway, we should enjoy life as much as we want right now, carpe diem,seize the day, for at your back you always hear time’s wingéd chariot drawing near,[5] chasing you down so that it can bury you six feet under.  But if death is natural as the world claims, then so also is the suffering struggle-e1354743825180that leads to death.  Yet our instinct refuses to believe this.  No matter what the philosophies of the world tell us, suffering still hurts.  Death still hurts.  People still cling to life and fight to stay alive.  God’s fingerprint buried deep down inside us will not allow us to embrace suffering as natural.  That’s why it is so tempting to try to hide from the pain through countless distractions and medications and self-medications, trying to drown the sorrows, or at least dull the senses so that it doesn’t hurt as much, all the while ignoring the 300lb gorilla in the corner whose shadow looms over us all and whose name is death.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, says Satan, for he knows the man behind the curtain is no wizard.  He’s the grim reaper.  Satan knows the world cannot answer the great question of death, so he has taught the world to ignore it.  His ultimate goal in all of it is to have us lose hope.  The devil wants us to curse God and accept death, to give in to the despair and live for this life only.

But like Job, we know that there is more to our existence than the pain and suffering and decay around us.  We know that even though physical death awaits us on this earth, paradise awaits us when we leave this veil of tears.  For like Job we know that our Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon the Earth.  And after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we shall see God.  We shall see him for ourselves.  Our eyes shall behold him.  This is the joy of the resurrection.  This is the joy of Easter.  When it comes right down to it, this is Christianity.

So often the world treats Christianity as if it is nothing more than one system of morality among many.  So often we in the church are tempted to act in the same way.  So often we are tempted to act as if the main purpose of the church was to eliminate a particular cultural sin like homosexuality or pornography or abortion, as if that would eliminate sin altogether.  So often we are tempted to act as if the main purpose of the church is to eliminate poverty or end world hunger or stop pollution, as if that would bring about peace on earth.  So often we are tempted to act as if the purpose of the church was to help us get our families in order or help us manage our finances or teach us to live our best life now, as if that would provide lasting happiness.  But each of those misses the point.  It’s not that our Lord is silent about sin in the world or about acts of charity or about our vocations in our families, but each of those is fruit of the tree.  The tree itself is the resurrection of Jesus.  If our message is for this life only, then we are of all people most to be pitied.  For this life ends in death, regardless of which president you voted for or how many plastic bottles you recycled.  No matter what kind of family life you had or what your bank account looked like, death is the penultimate chapter in every person’s story.  Then what?  What’s the final chapter?  At the last our Redeemer who lives will stand upon the earth.  And after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh shall we see God, whom each of us shall see for himself, and our eyes shall behold, and not another.[6]

The resurrection makes all the difference.  It gives us a perspective that gets us
through any earthly trial or tribulation.  As I’ve told you before, I love watching football and basketball on TV.  But there’s something different about watching a classic game when you already know the outcome.  When I watch sports live, I get all worked up when my team turns the ball over or commits a foolish penalty, as I’m sure will happen when I sit down to watch the Red Wings this afternoon.  But when I’m watching a game I’ve seen before, one that I know my team will win, I don’t sweat the small url-2stuff.  I may not like the turnovers or penalties, but they don’t bother me as much because I know how the game will end.  So also the life of a Christian in light of the resurrection of Jesus.  You know how the story ends.  Jesus is the firstfruits, we are the harvest.  Jesus is already risen from the dead, we too will be raised on the last day.  At that point, whatever money problems or relationship issues or sicknesses we have in this life will be washed away as we cross the river of life to enter paradise.  Whatever shame or guilt gnawed at you on this side of the grave will be gone forever.  The resurrection of Jesus is your guarantee from God that such a future awaits you, and the anticipation of such an eternity gives us the strength to face any challenges this life throws our way.

Such is the joy of the resurrection.  Such is your life in Christ.  As we arrive at the end of Lent and Holy Week, we rejoice that we are Easter people.  More than a one day celebration of an empty tomb, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the foundation for our whole existence.  While the world clamors for us to lose hope, we cry out with Job, “No.  You cannot take my hope, for I know that my redeemer lives.”  When Satan tempts us to curse God and embrace death, we join our voices as the people of the resurrection and proclaim: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

 May our resurrected and living Lord Jesus guard your hearts and minds in the true faith through whatever this life throws your way until the day of your resurrection.

Easter_Christ_is_risen

[1] Job 1:3

[2] Job 2:9

[3] Job 19:26

[4] Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelly

[5] To His Coy Mistress – Andrew Marvell

[6] Job 19:25-27