Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dead Men Don't Rise?

March 31st, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
DEAD MEN DON’T RISE?     Luke 24:1-12     Vicar Jason Toombs

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  Let’s say that again, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  It brings joy to my heart to hear this wonderful Easter Day proclamation.

But it’s also strange; unbelievable, even.  It’s strange to say this because we know that dead men don’t rise from the grave.  They knew this too.  The disciples knew that dead men don’t rise from the grave.  The women knew that dead men don’t rise. 

Frightened.  Alarmed.  Shocked.  Many thoughts were going through the minds of the women when they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  But they did not think that He was risen.  This is beyond all understanding.  Dead men don’t rise from the grave.  They went into the tomb to see if the body was still there.  But no body was there.  The burial cloths were neatly organized and the body was missing.  If we were there, we would have thought like they did, “We saw Him placed into this tomb, not a different one.  Was the body stolen by grave robbers?”  We too, we would have thought anything but “He is risen from the dead.”

They should have known.  They should have believed Him.  They ministered to Jesus while He was teaching.  They heard Him say that He would be crucified and on the third day rise from the dead.  But they didn’t understand what He said.  How could they, they knew nobody died and came back to life.  The dead aren’t raised, ordinarily speaking.  They should have believed Him.  They saw the signs that Jesus performed.  They saw as He raised the widow’s son.  They knew of Him raising Jairus’ daughter.  They were with Him as He spoke to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out.”  They knew that He could raise others, but they couldn’t, they wouldn’t believe His prophesy about His own death and resurrection.

Who could really blame them?  We’ve seen horror movies where zombies come back to life, but that’s fiction.  We know that dead men don’t rise from the grave, that’s a fact.  This we can clearly explain by science: not sleeping, not swooning, not pretending to be dead; He was dead.  Spear thrust into His side, blood and water flowing out.  Dead.

Hastily buried in the tomb.  The women were coming to make sure that the burial was done properly.  With burial spice in hand, as they scrambled to find the body of their Teacher and Lord, “behold, two men appeared in dazzling apparel.”

It was strange and dreadful.  Fear gripped them.  The women hear from the two men the Easter message, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  That wonderful, perplexing message, “He is not here, but has risen.”  Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Why do we?  Why do we dwell on death instead of life?  At the death of a loved one who has died in the faith, why do we act like we are never going to see them again?  Why do we dwell on this?  Why do we live as though all there is to life is this life?  Why do we seek life in dead works, dead religion, dead ideas, dead philosophies, dead pleasures, dead passions, dead entertainment?  Why do we seek the living among the dead?  Simple, like the women on that first Easter morning, we know that dead men don’t rise.

Except this one did.  This Jesus rose from the dead.  He is the exception to the rule that dead men don’t rise.  And He’s the only exception.  No religious leader, no other god has done what our Lord and Savior did.  Better than Babe Ruth, Jesus called His shot.  He spoke plainly and clearly, I will die and rise from the grave on the third day.  He said this not once, not twice, but thrice.  Three times He said that this was going to happen.  But the people closest to Him didn’t remember what He said until after it happened.  He rose from the dead.  Empty grave, no body to be found.  Just as He said.

What does this mean?  What does this mean for you?  It means that not only is Christ raised from the dead, but you too will be raised.  It means that the dead will live in Christ.  “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  Christ is the firstfruits, the first to be raised.  And you will be raised too, raised when He comes again at the end.  The old Adam brought sin and death, the new Adam brings forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

This is the Christian hope: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.  Jesus came not to take away all our earthly problems, not to exempt us from suffering for our faith, not to be a band-aid to life’s boo-boos.  If this is what you’re looking for in a religion, you’re in the wrong place.  Paul clearly states, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  It’s not about this life that Christ ultimately came for.  Christ did not come to be our invisible, heavenly “Get Out of Jail Free Card.”

The empty, open tomb gives us much more hope.  Christ is risen and in Him the dead will rise!  Our last and greatest enemy, death itself, lies conquered, vanquished under the cross-bruised heel of Jesus.  The reign of death and the grave is ended; the reign of Jesus Christ has begun on earth as it is in heaven, all things have been put under His reign.

The women and Peter have been to the tomb.  They have seen with their own eyes the empty tomb.  They saw the neatly laid linen burial cloths.  They have marveled at the things that they have seen and heard.  These are the eyewitnesses of the faith.  And they can’t help but spread the news.  Death and the grave have been conquered; forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus has begun, and these these women hurry to tell the eleven everything they have seen and heard.

Do you fear death?  Fear it no longer, for Christ has triumphed over your greatest enemy.  Do you dread the grave?  Dread it no longer, for Christ has made your grave a sabbath place of holy rest, resting for His return.  Do you grieve the death of a loved one who died believed in Christ?  Grieve in hope and trust in Christ.  Christ has triumphed, He is risen and in Him the dead will rise to eternal life.  Are you suffering and despairing in this life?  Hear and believe this: Jesus Christ has died and risen from the dead and through His suffering and death, you are forgiven, and so the evil of this world has no lasting power over you.

His resurrection is our only hope.  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. ... But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”  This is the church’s proclamation on Easter morning and every day since:  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why Do It?

Palm and Passion Sunday – Confirmation Sunday
March 24th, Year of Our +  Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Why Do It?  Matthew 27:11-66

     Why do we do it?  There’s a nice crowd here today, on a big day, with Confirmation , and also Palm & Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  We’re coming into a season when more people attend Christian church services, as once again we remember and celebrate the central events of the work of Christ, His institution of the Supper, His Suffering, Crucifixion, and Burial, and His Resurrection.  And the world, as always,  is looking on, full of questions, often scornful, and maybe a little envious, since no matter what His enemies say about Christ and His Church, the world still counts their years from His birth.  The Church, for all her warts, for all her divisions, is still the most influential force in history. 

     But why do we do these things?  In a few minutes our confirmands will, Lord willing, make solemn and serious promises.  Adults and youth study their way through the Catechism to get to this day, to be received as communicant members.  Family comes from near and far to celebrate baptisms and confirmations.  Active members set aside time, and donate money, and confess truths that the world mocks.  Others may not come regularly, but they make sure they attend once in a while.  Gathering as Christians seems to be important to a lot of people.  But why do we do it? 

     This is a hard question to answer, with potentially as many different answers as there are people in this room.  Even more problematic is the question of the quality of our motivations, and our understanding of the reality in which we live.  Think about how many things we do, without really knowing why we thought they were good ideas.  “A Rottweiler puppy, to keep us company in our apartment?  Sure, that will be fun!”  “Tear out the wall between the kitchen and dining room, to open up the space?  Let’s do it, we’ll knock that project out in no time.” 

     Sometimes we do things, even though we know they are terrible ideas.  “Why did I have that third beer, even though I knew I had to get up early, and three beers so often leads to four, and so on?”  “Why did I blurt out the insult that popped into my head, insulting  my boss, or my spouse, or my friend, why, when I knew my anger was not really at them, but at my lousy day?”   “Why did I keep driving, even though I knew I was falling asleep?”  Why, why, why? 

     Our motivations for being here this morning might be mixed up, too.  Perhaps for some, all this church stuff is an unpleasant necessity, an outward show someone important to you expects.  Whether you are young or old, perhaps you feel like someone is forcing you to be here.  Maybe some of us are Pharisees, convinced that by showing up here, be that every Sunday or twice a year, I am making God love me.  Or maybe I’m  facing some trouble, and so I think I’ll strike a grand bargain with God:  I’ll come to Church a few times, and He will take away my problem.  Or maybe I just need a social outlet, and I love organ music and potlucks.  Depending on how life is going, our motivations can be good, or mixed, or not so good.  Examining our motives will not end well, I’m afraid.  So let’s ask a better question:  Why did He do it?  We just heard the story of Jesus’ trial, condemnation, suffering, crucifixion, death and burial.  Why did the Son of God go through all of that? 

     First, Jesus did all of that, because He knows what is at stake, … for us.   Regardless of what people believe concerning Jesus and the God He reveals, everyone still suspects that there is a judgment day.  In every religion, in virtually every philosophy, and most importantly, written on every human heart, regardless of what people claim, there is some idea of morality, of right and wrong, and of accountability, that there will be, or at least should be, some sort of moral reckoning, a judgment day when all the wrongs are addressed, and all the righteous are rewarded.

     Now certainly, each of us, much of the time at least, tries to live like there isn’t any judgment day, like there are no consequences for our actions.  Satan happily encourages the world to convince us this is true, that all that God stuff is a bunch of hokum.  But life again and again reveals that we don’t believe God is merely a fable.  Even when we try to run away from Him, certain events intrude on our “eat, drink and be merry” world, events that make it obvious God is real, or events that make us demand a world where good is rewarded and evil is punished.  I’m talking about events like... falling in love, or having your heart broken.  Events like having a baby.  The birth of a grandchild.  The death of a loved one.  Or disease comes, robbing the pleasure from life, and yet making us treasure life all that much more.  All of these life events, and many others, cause believers and unbelievers alike to pray to God for help, to worry about the future, and about forever, to hope that there is going to be justice some day, and at the same time to fear judgment day.   

     Yes, certain events break us out of our self-absorbed shells, and make us at least suspect that there is more going on than we usually want to think about, that there is a higher power, and right and wrong, and a day coming when good will be rewarded and evil will be punished.  Well, our suspicions are true, and this day of reckoning is a big part of why Jesus did what He did.  We imperfectly and perhaps only occasionally realize the stakes we are facing.  But Jesus completely and perfectly knows what the stakes are for us.  And so, He did what He did. 

     You see, every religion and every philosophical system is an attempt to understand the world that Jesus created, and still rules.  Our innate sense of justice, the moral code that everyone has, at least somewhat, this is a dim reflection of who Jesus is, along with His Father and His Spirit.  Yes, Jesus knows the stakes for us, that there is a Judgment Day coming, when every wrong will be punished, and every good rewarded, when all the delays and second-chances and excuses will be swept aside, and each one of us will face the consequences. 

     Jesus knows that day is coming, for every person, and He knows that none of us can handle it.  None of us can fully understand, let alone meet, God’s moral standard.  Jesus knows that left on our own, judgment day is going to be a complete disaster for all of us, an eternal disaster, a never-ending ruin.  So Jesus does what He does, in order to face judgment for us.  His unjust arrest and false conviction, the whips, the crown of thorns, the beatings, the mocking and spitting, the crucifixion, the death, all of this suffering is only the visible side of something much worse, something we can’t see, something hidden in the eternal relationship of God the Father and God the Son.  On Good Friday there was a much greater, invisible suffering, the wrath of God against all human wrongdoing of all time, including the punishment deserved by you and I for our sins, all of it poured out on Jesus, so that it doesn’t need to be poured out on you and me.  Jesus willingly faced this unthinkable suffering, because He knew that only He could take our place, only He could take all our suffering.  Jesus did what He did, because He loves you and wants to save you from judgment.    

     Jesus did what He did, also because He knows what is at stake… for His Father, and so also for Himself.  The Father’s desire, which is also the Son’s Desire, is to have a people, a countless throng of faithful people who rejoice in all the gifts of God and sing His thanks and praise forever.  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit perfectly love and serve each other within the unity of the Godhead.  So also God desires to give His love, His life, His joy, His glory, to His people.  Sin, introduced into this earth by the fallen prince of angels, Satan, threatens God’s Desire.  Sin contradicts God’s goodness and draws His wrath.  Sin, infecting every man, woman and child on earth, made it impossible for us to please God.  And yet God would not allow Satan to ruin His plan to have a holy people filling His heavenly courts.  And so, Jesus did what He did, in order that God’s plan be realized.  And it has been realized, salvation is complete, in Jesus.  For all who believe that, despite my sin, despite what I deserve, Jesus suffering and death have taken away my judgment and earned my place in God’s kingdom, all who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation have it, a free gift, received by faith, completely apart from any works on the believer’s part. 

     That’s it.  There are a lot more details, a lot more distinctions that need to be understood and maintained  if we are to avoid messing up the faith Christ has taught us through His Apostles.  But in a nutshell, Jesus did what He did because apart from His self-sacrifice, we are all doomed to eternal judgment, something no one in their right mind would want, but even more, something that God does not want. 

     You may have your doubts.  Certainly the devil is working overtime through what we watch, read and listen to day after day, trying to convince us that this basic Christian message is full of errors, or disproved by science, or is narrow and bigoted and unloving towards all those other great religions out there.  There are even many preachers and teachers who claim the name Christian and yet deny this basic foundation of Christian faith.  They are wrong. 

     If you have questions, doubts, and problems with this doctrine of Christ, by all means, ask them.  Call me up, take me out for coffee, and tell me all your biggest objections.  I’m always happy to tackle the tough questions, not because I have all the answers, but because I know that God through His Word can and will defend Himself just fine.  For two thousand years, the teaching of Christ has been under attack, and yet it  goes on, because God is behind it.  God, along with all His faithful people, will prevail, in the end.

     Believe what Jesus has said.  Believe in what Jesus has done.  There’s nothing you can do to change the facts of your sin-caused doom, but Good News, there is also nothing you need to do, because in Christ, and through His ongoing work, the facts have been changed for you.  Indeed, God Himself, who completed our salvation on Calvary, continues to do all the work, delivering His forgiving victory to sinners, day by day, and week by week, through His Word and Sacraments. 

     Whatever your motivations might have been for coming here this morning, they don’t matter very much, because God’s motivation for arranging this meeting is to deliver to you grace and peace and eternal life, through the forgiveness of your sins, won for you on the Cross, and delivered to you by the Holy Spirit, working through His Word, today, right here.  Why should sinners seek Baptism, for themselves and for their children?  Why should people gather to hear God’s Word, every Sunday?  Why, as these confirmands are doing today, why should anyone study, learn, and publicly confess the faith so they can rightly receive the Lord’s Supper?  Because through these things, through these means, Jesus delivers Himself to us, today, overcoming our sins, removing our guilt, calming our fears, and lifting our eyes, to see the love of God and His completed plan, hidden in the suffering of Christ crucified.  God through Jesus has done all of these things, for you, that He might bless you, today, and forever and ever, Amen. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

My Father

Fifth Sunday in Lent - Judica - March 17th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
My Father – John 8:4-59                Vicar Jason Toombs

Last week, if you were fortunate enough to be at our 3rd midweek service, Pastor preached a wonderful sermon based on the Lord’s Prayer.  Beginning the sermon by calling God, “Father, Abba, Daddy,” he reminded us how Jesus addresses God the Father at all times.  It is only the Son, and those who are found in Him, who can call God, “Our Father.”  Apart from Jesus we have no right to call God, Father.  We can call Him: the Judge, the Righteous One, Holy, Lord, God Almighty, Jehovah, the Great I AM, but we cannot call Him Father except through the Son.  And the Son is the One who shows us who the Father is: the One who seeks us, the One who judges us.

The Jews tried to judge Christ, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father-even God.”  They claimed that Jesus was an illegitimate child, that Mary was an adulteress and was found to be with child.  In the Talmud, a second or third century Jewish writing, Jesus’ father is said to be a Roman Soldier named Pantera or Stada.  This was the oral tradition that was passed on from generation to generation among the Jews.  They thought they knew who Jesus’ father was.

They also thought they knew who they were, judging themselves and their actions.  “We have one Father-even God.”  They could track their genealogy back to the great father of the faith, Father Abraham.  They were sons of Abraham, sons of Isaac, sons of Jacob.  They were children of the promise, the promised son of Abraham was their father, Isaac.  They knew their family tree and said, “We are sons of Abraham.”  And through Abraham they could track their lineage back to the first man, the God breathed man, the son of God.  They thought they were sons of God.

But the Son of God, the Truly breathed Son of the Father, was standing in their midst speaking with them.  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me.”  It is as if Jesus told the Jews who spoke against Him, “You do not love God the Father because you do not love the One whom He sent, rather you are judging the Sent One.”  The Sent One, Jesus Christ, said, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 Lent 2).  He was sent by God the Father to redeem Israel, to rescue and redeem the children of the promise.

Jesus came to rescue and redeem us from the devil.  Jesus rightfully judges the Jews and says to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”  The devil’s goal is to defeat Christ and he tries to align himself with anyone he can.  So he gets the Jews to do his bidding, all while thinking they are doing God the Father’s bidding. 

The Jews think that they will be judged gloriously by God, all while following the devil.  They are doing the will of the devil instead of the will of God. 

We also do the will of the devil.  When we speak evil of our neighbors, our family, and our friends, we are not obeying God’s law.  We all seek our own glory: on the field, in the classroom, at work, and at home.  We exalt ourselves over our teammates, our classmates, our coworkers, even our own family.  We look down at those who we perceive as lower than us: those dirty oil field workers, those lazy town dwellers, those people needing assistance, just barely getting by on handouts.  We have an us versus them mentality.  We are exalt ourselves, and those close to us, all while putting other people down. 

We judge one another on a sliding scale, “as long as I’m better than them,” “I may be a sinner, but I didn’t do that one sin they did.  That sin I’d never do.”  This is the way it is with fallen humanity, judging one another and not realizing that we are being judged likewise.  But our judgments are nothing compared to God’s judgment.

We all stand convicted; we are all guilty in His presence.  But before He can pronounce His eternal guilty verdict, in steps the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our only advocate, our only defender.  He alone can stand before the Father as the innocent party.  He was judged in our place.  He paid the punishment that we deserve: DEATH!

Jesus alone does the will of God, being sent down from heaven, traveling to the cross, face like flint toward Jerusalem.  This was why Jesus was sent, sent to die on the cross.  There, on that cross, He took God’s judgment, the full wrath of God, upon Himself.  God’s judgment has been poured out upon Jesus on the cross.  He took the judgment that we deserve, that the Jews deserved, and paid for it.

He shows the Father His nail printed hands, His pierced side, His empty tomb.  And the Father reads the verdict: acquitted because of Jesus.  Acquitted.  Not Guilty because Jesus has paid the punishment, taking the death sentence that we deserve.  All our punishments were paid for by Jesus on the cross.  Everything that we deserve, all of our sins, has been paid for by Jesus. 

The Father’s wrath toward sinful humanity has been fulfilled, fulfilled in His Son’s holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  The Righteous Judge’s wrath was paid for by Jesus.  He paid for our sin of judging others and we, we are judged innocent covered in His blood.

And so we discover the Father, the One who judges, the One who seeks us.  He doesn’t seek to harm us; He seeks to bring us back to Himself.  He sent His Son to call us back, calling us back to the loving arms of His Father.  The Sent One, Jesus Christ, said, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 Lent 2).

Israel is the Old Testament bride of God.  The Church is the New Testament bride of Christ.  The Church is the new house of Israel.  You are the house of Israel.  And the Father sends His Son to rescue you, to rescue me, and everyone who leaves the fold of the Church.

We are the sheep who have left the fold, “We like sheep have gone astray.”  We have wandered away from Christ and His saving action.  We have listened to the devil, the world, and our sinful selves.  We have gone our own way, heading further and further away from God.  Every time that we are directed toward ourselves, our faith, our keeping the law, our anything, we are heading away from the cross, heading away from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And in that moment God seeks you, sending out the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, calling us back to God, our loving God.  Calling us back to the cross where God’s judgment was poured out.  God is sending Himself out in His Word to call sinners like you and me back to Himself, back to His loving arms.  He is seeking to rescue and redeem us.

He has rescued and redeemed you in the waters of baptism.  Rescued and redeemed you in handing over His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  And He is constantly rescuing and redeeming you, constantly acquitting you from His eternal guilty judgment, constantly seeking to save you.  So, no matter how ashamed, how big your sin is, the Father is always there for you.  Always loving you to the very end because you are in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

The Son is the One whom the Father sent, sent Him to not seek His own glory but your glory.  And He glorifies you before the Father, the One who is All Glorious.  The Great I AM is the one who judges us acquitted because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And the Great I AM is the one who is seeking to bring us to heaven where we will be gathered with all of the great fathers of the faith, gathered as His dear beloved children.