Sermo Dei: Pentecost 2015

Posted on May 24th, 2015

Pentecost presents an event that seems too fantastic to believe. Tongues of fire? People speaking in foreign languages they never learned?

This follows other events that seem equally not believable: A man dies on a cross, is buried, only to emerge from the tomb alive, and strangely changed? And then, this man after forty days is taken up into the skies, going beyond all sight of those with Him?

It seems more rational, more “scientific” to put this in the category of legend, myth, or perhaps wishful thinking.


How do we know anything? Things that are repeatable can be studied by science. If the temperature falls below 32º F., water will freeze. That same water, heated properly, will boil and turn to steam.

History is more difficult, for it studies unrepeatable things. How can we know what happened? What we cannot do is dismiss something because it seems too unlikely, too improbable.

Now nothing seems more unlikely, more improbable, than a dead man coming back to life. Yet at the same time it is beyond all doubt that a large group of people claim to have seen the man Jesus of Nazareth do just that. They themselves didn’t believe it at first. The first reports were met with derision. But these skeptics became convinced, not only that Jesus did rise from the dead, but that His cross and resurrection had inaugurated a fundamental transformation of the world. The cross and resurrection of Jesus was not just an event, however improbable – it was the event which changed everything.

What did it change for the men who had been with Jesus as His disciples? Not two months earlier, they had all run away when Jesus was arrested. They pretended not to know Jesus. They locked their doors and hid, afraid that they too would be nailed to crosses.


Now, Peter stands up and preaches the death and resurrection of Jesus. He would, in fact, be nailed to a cross, in Rome under the emperor Nero. But he was unafraid. For the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything. He proclaimed from the prophet Joel on the Day of Pentecost, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 

Saved from what? Cancer? Church politics? A loveless marriage? A dead-end job? From what do you want to be saved? From what do you need to be saved?

DUCCIO Pentecost

It’s surprising when you go to the prophet Joel and read the entire passage in context. The first thing you find is that the promise of salvation, read on this day of Pentecost—the end of the Easter Season—comes after the very first thing we read at the beginning of this larger season, on Ash Wednesday. There, Joel tells us to fast, and confess our sins. The Jewish custom of mourning was to tear one’s clothes, but Joel tells us to tear, rend something else: our hearts. Stop sinning and turn to God, he calls to us – and then, this haunting question with a very uncertain answer: “Who knows if [the LORD] will turn and relent,” who knows if He will stop the judgment we deserve, the hell we deserve, the death we deserve?

But by the end of the passage, which Peter uses in his Pentecost sermon, the uncertainty is gone: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Saved from what? Not this or that problem in your life. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, saved from God, i.e., God’s judgment. We are saved by God, from God, for God.


If we kept reading in Acts, we would find that everything changed in Jerusalem for those who took to heart what Peter said. They were baptized, they received the Holy Spirit, and this changed not only their future but their present.

The future was changed because those who are joined to Jesus by baptism are joined to His death. And God’s promise, in Romans 6, is that if we are joined to Jesus in His death, we will be joined to Him in His resurrection.

The Paschal Candle, or Easter Candle, has been up at the altar since Easter, burning to celebrate the resurrection. Now it lives by the font, and we light it whenever there is a baptism. There’s one other time we light it: at a funeral. That candle preaches a beautiful sermon to you then: Jesus is risen, so your death doesn’t get the last word: your Jesus will raise your body.


That change of the future—that death’s power is stripped of its finality—means that your now is changed. All of our thinking that leads us to sadness and anger, lust and greed, the desire for revenge, the desire to quit – it all comes from giving death power it doesn’t have. We are angry and sad, we rage or give up, because it seems as though everything is out of control, that nothing will turn out as we hope. But when we know that the one hope, the great hope for the renewal of the world, has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus, and has been promised to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit, then no disappointment, no trouble, no loss can overwhelm us. These sufferings, be they ever so great, are like brief pricks of a needle when we get a shot or our blood drawn. Although unpleasant, we know it is but for a moment, and even the pain is working for our good.

So the hope of the resurrection made those Pentecost Christians ready to endure any suffering – even martyrdom. Because everything had changed with the change of Jesus from dead to resurrected.

That change also changed how they lived with each other. They sang – they sang Psalms and hymns; they shared – they shared their food, their money; they prayed – for each other, and for those who didn’t know Jesus; and they told – they told their friends, and their enemies, what Jesus had done by His cross and resurrection.


And that changed the world. The message spread, and the world began to change. The poor were fed and clothed, beautiful churches were built, and alongside them, hospitals for the sick. They loved their enemies, freed slaves, took in orphans, and swore not to kill children by abortion or exposure.

The world around us doesn’t look like this, for the unbaptized rage still, and even those who are baptized have forgotten what Jesus has done by His cross and resurrection, and grieved the Holy Spirit He gave on this day by selfish lives, foolish arguments, and giving in to harmful lusts.


Repent. Return. For the Holy Spirit given to you at Baptism still calls to you. Return while you can, and receive anew your Jesus who conquered death and gave you His Spirit and the remission of your sins. Jesus is risen, and everything is now changed. The Holy Spirit is returning to dwell with man, and you are now being changed. These words of Jesus, how can they not change everything? “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Rogate 2015

Posted on May 10th, 2015

God doesn’t need our advice. He knows what you need. So why does He command us to pray?

God commands us to pray not so that He will know what you need, but so you will.

We really only have one prayer, and the first words of that prayer drive us back to our identity. Saying Our Father reminds us that we have a Father to whom we are accountable, but also a Father who promises to hear us, provide for us, protect us.

Little children need to check in with their parents regularly. It may be just a quick hug – “pick me up and then immediately put me down again” – but they need that connection and reassurance that everything’s okay. I suppose it’s a healthy sign of development that we eventually don’t need our parents that way anymore – but then our alleged independence is revealed to be false when parents or grandparents die: you realize again that you are alone and that death is a monster far worse than the one you once imagined beneath your bed or in your closet.

We’re all little children, and it’s only the very young who realize this. Therefore when God tells you to pray, He’s not laying a burden on you. It’s a gift: when you begin to say, Our Father, He is saying back to us His word and promise: “I will be your Father, and you will be My son. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me. You are not alone, but I am with you through the valley of the shadow of death. When your father and your mother forsake you, I will take you in.”


St. Peter says, “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” What are your cares? Are they not the very things that Jesus warns can destroy faith? In the Parable of the Sower, “the [seed] that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” (Luke 8:14 NKJV) The cares will choke us, leaving us flailing and gasping. In casting our cares upon the Lord, we are learning to distinguish between what is needful and what is selfish.

But what shall we say when He does not answer? Jesus says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you…. Ask, and you will receive.” What then shall we say when we ask yet do not receive? How can we understand the disturbing problem of unanswered prayer? Remember how St. Paul asked God to take away his thorn in the flesh and was denied. Why? St. Paul himself came to understand that his tormentor was a gift, humbling him and so serving his salvation. From this, we can see why God may deny what we are asking: because it will not aid our salvation. Is God being cruel? No, just the opposite: it is a deeper kindness.

How many of you had mothers who withheld from you what you begged for? What made you cry and kick, you now see was all for your good. We were getting from our patient mothers not what we asked for, but something better, though we could not see it.


The central thought to prayer that Jesus is teaching us is not that we get to ask for anything, but anything in His name. This is not a formula that makes a prayer valid. The name of Jesus governs our lives. We are joined to Him in dying to sin and living to righteousness, in loving God and loving neighbor. So any prayer that does not serve these ends is not in the name of Jesus, though the word “Jesus” be in the prayer ten thousand times.

So perhaps everything we’ve been praying for is wrong – or at least approached in the wrong fashion. I love the way St. Augustine always points us to the deepest thing, which is to seek God not for what He can give us or do for us, but to love God and seek Him for His own sake, because He is not just good but goodness itself, not just beautiful but beauty, not just loving but Love. Augustine finds the culminating thought of Jesus’ instruction on prayer in those words, that your joy may be full. “Ask [in My name], and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” What is your joy? It’s not really in the things you are pursuing, the things of the world that you imagine will make you glad. The fulness of your joy is what can finally satisfy you.

All those other things don’t really satisfy. That’s why we see so many rich and famous people among the most miserable and broken: they gained the world and lost their soul, finding nothing in the world to satisfy. “You lower the bucket of greed into the well,” Augustine says, and when you pull it up to drink, you find yourself still thirsty.

What do you really need? “Having food and clothing,” St. Paul says, “with these we shall be content.” Everything, then, that leads to joy is contained in the Lord’s Prayer: forgiveness of sins, help in the time of trial, protection from the evil one.

And also this, in the opening word Our. When Jesus tells us to say, Our Father, He makes His Father ours, and He prays all the petitions with us. So we are never alone. And He puts us in the community of those who are adopted into the same household of God, as it is written, “He sets the solitary into families.”


Is Immanuel Lutheran Church an ideal community? Far from it. And therein lies our opportunity, and another focus for our prayers: By living in a community of sinners, we learn what it is to be disciples of Jesus by doing what the Church does: give and receive absolution.

So pray. Pray for your salvation, and the salvation of your home, church, and world. And be of good cheer, knowing that your prayer is heard and answered in the best way at the best time. +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: Cantate 2015

Posted on May 5th, 2015

Jesus icon mosaic

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” God’s nature is to give gifts. He creates and bestows love on His creation.

Because God is Father, it means He also has to correct us and discipline us. His correction and discipline is also a gift. Our former member, Joy Pullmann, recently wrote an essay on parenting. In a section entitled “Saying ‘No’ Means ‘I Love You,’” Joy says that nothing “is more cruel for a child … than parents who refuse to tell him ‘no.’”

Through St. James in today’s Epistle lesson, God is giving us His loving correction by telling us to stop talking and quiet our angry hearts. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” 

What we say, and how we get angry, reveals what our true god is. Our words and anger say, “My will be done.”

Only when we really believe God’s promise, that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”—only when we really trust that Word will our anxiety be relieved. Left to our own devices, we worry about our lives. We see problems ahead, and so much is outside of our control. So we talk and become angry, revealing our lack of control at work, family, country, and church. What is more, our anger shows we don’t even have control over ourselves.

So God says, “No!” or, “Repent!” and when our Father says this to us, He is saying “I love you.”


Then, to chastened hearts, the Holy Spirit, as is written in today’s Gospel, leads us into the truth. “You, dear child,” He says, “are worried about what is to come, and that worry says you have forgotten what I have shown you.”

Bringing our troubled and anxious hearts back to the Spirit-breathed Scripture, He declares to us the things to come. There is no secret Bible code about the future, no hidden messages about the apocalypse. The things to come are plainly stated in clear language: Dry bones assembled from the dust; God’s breath breathing on the slain, and dead bodies rise; forgotten is every sorrow and every sigh. The implements of war are melted down and become useful tools to build and create. We will again have access to the healing trees which bloom twelve times a year, never failing to give us everything we need for life.

Once we listen to that Truth, then we can open our mouths for singing instead of arguing. The name of this Sunday is Cantate, which means, “Sing!” What do we sing? Today’s Introit, from Ps. 98, tells us, “Sing unto the Lord a new song!” Some well-meaning people use this to argue for constant change in church music. But Holy Scripture tells us that the new song is not a new style of music but the song that proclaims Jesus as our crucified and risen Lord. Here’s how C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Missouri Synod, put it:

God died on the cross and reconciled the world unto Himself. It is that which the saints in heaven especially extolled and will extol into all eternity. Yes, John tells us in his Revelation, this is the new song that all the elect sing forever. They cry throughout all the heavens, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

The old song is the dirge of the funeral, the anthems that celebrate our divisions, the party songs of hedonism that end in the inevitable ruin of the singer.

The new song is not a new style. The new song is news, the good news that all those old songs of death, division, and despair are silenced. The new song sings of Jesus who saves, rescues, redeems.


The Church’s liturgy doesn’t need new songs; the Church’s liturgy is the new song. While the Bible readings and prayers change from week to week, some things we repeat every Divine Service. There’s a reason for this: those repeated parts are the heart and foundation of the new song, the song of Jesus and His salvation.

The Church’s liturgy doesn’t need new songs; the Church’s liturgy is the new song.

Every Divine Service we sing the Kyrie. “Kyrie” is Greek for “O Lord” – Kyrie eleison, “O Lord, have mercy!” We broken people are slow to hear, quick to speak, quick to anger, not producing the righteousness of God. In our brokenness, we have troubled relationships, troubled emotions, and troubled bodies plunging towards death. But one thing we can know and be confident of is that God in Christ is merciful.

From there, we go on to sing the song the angels taught the shepherds at the first Christmas: Gloria in excelsis Deo“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” We sing this Christmas song because every Divine Service is Christmas, every Divine Service Christ comes to us in the flesh in the Sacrament, and what we need most is God’s peace and goodwill toward us men.

The third repeated part is the Creed. Here is the Gospel beautifully summarized for us – The Father created us, the Son died for us, the Holy Spirit has joined us together in the one Baptism for the remission of sins, and we look for the resurrection of our dead bodies and life in the world to come.

Then in the Communion liturgy we sing the Sanctus, ”Holy, holy, holy.” Like the Gloria, the Sanctus is another song taught to us by the angels. Isaiah heard it in the temple, when one of the seraphim took a burning coal and touched it to his lips, saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away.” We sing the song Isaiah heard when that happened, knowing that something is about to touch our lips and take our iniquity away – it is more pleasant than a burning coal and more healing than any earthly food. So we sing the Psalm which the disciples applied to Jesus on Palm Sunday: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Thus from Christmas to Palm Sunday, we have been taken into the heart of Jerusalem, and from there we are led to sing the hymn of the cross. Immediately before the gift of Communion we sing the Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, grant us Your peace.” The songs we sing are not only from Scripture – they are the heart of Scripture, the very center of our faith: We believe in the merciful God, who proclaimed peace on earth in the birth of Jesus, who is Holy, who comes to us with blessing, who hears our prayers and grants us peace.

These unchanging songs are the “new song” of faith. May we never grow tired of them! As you go out into the world, you will hear, like sirens, the old song enticing you away. Stop up your ears to it, and sing the new song of faith as you work, as you care for your family, and especially whenever you are worried or troubled. Sing what we learned from Isaiah today: “God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

 

Civilization Depends on Strong Marriages

Posted on April 29th, 2015

Here’s an important section of a book everyone should read, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense

So it is a summary, but hardly an exaggeration, to say that civilization depends on strong marriages.

Maggie Gallagher captures this insight with the slogan that “sex makes babies, society needs babies, and children need mothers and fathers.” She develops the idea: “The critical public or ‘civil’ task of marriage is to regulate sexual relationships between men and women in order to reduce the likelihood that children (and their mothers, and society) will face the burdens of fatherlessness, and increase the likelihood that there will be a next generation that will be raised by their mothers and fathers in one family, where both parents are committed to each other and to their children.”

Even now, this claim is not partisan. Thus David Blankenhorn, a liberal Democrat:

“If you’ve been trained, as anthropology field researchers typically are, to begin at the beginning—to start with the most fundamental issues—you will report a cluster of related facts: Humans are social; they live in groups. They strongly seek to reproduce themselves. They are sexually embodied. They carry out sexual (not asexual) reproduction. And they have devised an institution to bridge the sexual divide, facilitate group living, and carry out reproduction. All human societies have this institution. They call it ‘marriage.’”

Girgis, Sherif; Anderson, Ryan T; George, Robert P (2012-11-27). What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense (pp. 38-39). Encounter Books.

The Reformation’s Special Character

Posted on April 28th, 2015

In his magnificent analysis of the Confessions, Holsten Fagerberg highlights the “Reformation’s twofold intention”:

To let the Word of God reign, but in the light of the tradition whose roots go back all the way to the protevangelium of the Old Testament, and which has been preached to successive generations with varying degrees of success and power ever since. Against this background the Lutheran Reformation developed its special character of preserving and reforming at one and the same time.

A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537) (Kindle Locations 1204-1207)


 

We live in an era where both what was preserved by the first Reformers, and what was reformed, has been lost or abused beyond recognition. Our goal is not to repristinate the sixteenth-century experience. But a simple look at, say, the Mass, reveals that we have not preserved what the Reformers did, nor kept the spirit of the reforms, that all ceremonies teach the people what they need to know about Christ.

Recovery of this “special character” will involve study of just what the Reformers kept, and a willingness to admit some of our practices today need serious reform.

Sermo Dei: Jubilate 2015

Posted on April 26th, 2015

“A mother to become a mother passes through pain.” These words of St. John Chrysostom summarizes motherhood, and also the entire Christian life. “A mother to become a mother passes through pain.” Joy is on the other side of pain, and the joy cannot come except through pain. This is no abstract principle: In explaining His coming crucifixion (Jubilate Gospel, John 16:16-22), our Lord uses the example of a mother’s pain in childbearing to show the necessity of His suffering on the cross, but also to give them the hope that the resurrection will shortly follow.

What is Jesus doing? Jesus uses the parable of mother and son to show how the lives are connected, and how one will endure suffering for the benefit of another. Jesus joins His suffering to theirs, and His joy to theirs. The same is true for you: He invites you to bring your own pain, your own suffering, your own battle with sin and sorrow, to Him. He endures your pain, and will give to you the joy of His resurrection.

He also compares childbirth to the coming joy in this way: in the day of resurrection, the former sorrows will not even be remembered – they will fade as a bad dream is forgotten in the light of day. “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

By connecting the sufferings a Christian is called to bear to childbirth, Jesus is teaching us that suffering has a purpose, it’s connected to an end, a goal. Pain by itself is bad; but the pain of childbearing brings the good of human life. In the same way, all of your afflictions, all of your hardships, are a good thing when they bring about something good. What good can come from your sufferings, your troubles? The Psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes” (Ps. 119.71). And again, “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord” (Ps. 94.12). All of your sufferings are God working on you, to mold you and shape you into a person who has learned His Word, His Commandments, His patience and His love.


So the man of God is told, “Child, if you would come to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for testing” (Sir. 2.1, translation mine). God continually tells us in His Word that testing is useful for us, so that we grow as children of God and learn to depend completely, utterly on the grace and mercy of God.

But in the midst of all your tribulation, Jesus gives to His disciples and to you this firm declaration: “Do not give up hope.” Why? “I will return.” “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” From our vantage-point in time, we can see a double-meaning in this. He returned from death on Easter, and He will return on the Day of Resurrection.

In all things, Jesus points us beyond both the joys and sorrows of this world to something eternally more important: His return and the coming kingdom of God.


All this calls us to reevaluate our life’s priorities.

If you have money, it may be taken by theft, taxes, bad investment, or bad fortune.

If you have power, you will find many who resent it and become your enemies.

If you have beauty, time will take it.

If you have strength, injury or sickness can snatch it from you.

No matter what you do, someone will complain.

The people you love will die, the food you crave will become tasteless, the sounds you love will be silenced, even the memories you cherish will fade from your mind.


And to all these things, Jesus says something disconcerting: “Yes. That’s how it will be. You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

If you want your best life now, you have the wrong Jesus.

If you want to become a better you, you have the wrong Jesus.

If you want something to give you hope for this life only, you have the wrong Jesus.

Our Lord promises that you will have tribulation in this world. You get a cross, you get a discipline, you get a drowning.


But with that you also get a joy that no one can take. You get the resurrection, you get sins forgiven, you get life in God’s kingdom.


We don’t merely soldier on, stoically enduring, hoping things one day will be better. Jesus is risen from the dead, and that’s the sure and certain pledge that God is going to make all things new—all things, new heavens and a new earth, new bodies, new hearts free of anxiety and anger, lust and sorrow. The resurrection of Jesus is our joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength.

You may have lost children.

You may not have been able to have children.

You may have children who rebelled and turned away.

You may live in a prison of fear and tyranny, a loveless home, a thankless job.

You may have a body full of pain, a mind full of fear and uncertainty.

You may struggle with sin deeply, sins you commit and sins committed against you.

But to every one of you, the LORD repeats His promise: “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”

 

Sermo Dei: Misericordias Domini 2015

Posted on April 19th, 2015

good shepherd

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And yet I want so much. Not a house, but a bigger one; a bigger family, with fewer challenges; a bigger church, with bigger offerings and shorter meetings. I want pleasure without consequence, power without responsibility, spiritual growth without spiritual exercise. I want Easter without Good Friday, illumination without meditation, the love of my neighbors without having to love them back.

I want. I want. I want.

And a Psalm assaults our corrupt, selfish hearts: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” How is this possible? Only if our wants are shown up for what they are: our wants, fleshly, from below. At the heart of my wants is me, my, I. Others matter only insofar as they serve me, make me happy, cast me in a positive light.

So for our Shepherd to lead us to the House of the Lord, He must take us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. All that is of me, my, I must die. The things we think we want are not good.


 

Jesus comes to turn us away from what is not good. Jesus comes to turn us back to what was good in the beginning That is what “He restoreth my soul” in the twenty-third Psalm means. He turns my soul, converts my soul.

How does He effect this restoration? As He kills you, that is, kills your sin, kills your selfishness, kills the you that wants your glory, your power, your success – as He does this killing, He points you to His own dying. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”

Jesus dies your death. Every wrong that you have not righted, every word you cannot take back, all the anger and bitterness accumulated in your heart – for all of that, for all of you, the Good Shepherd gives His life.

He comes to you as one who owns the sheep, not as a slave-owner, but as a Creator, a Father, a Brother. He cleans you in the quiet waters of Baptism, where He traces His own name on you, and there He begins His work of restoring you, converting you.


 

Life in the flock of this Shepherd is not stationary. We move towards a goal. It’s a common goal, but the particularities of the path look different for each of us. The outlines of the path are this: “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” See how St. Peter connects the death of Jesus, and our forgiveness, with the paths of righteousness in our new life. Peter says in today’s epistle (1 Peter 2:21-25), “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” You have been healed, forgiven, baptized, and now you live to righteousness, walk on a new path, live a new life. What are the paths of righteousness for you? St. Peter explains that for us also: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” What is His example? The paths of righteousness in which we are to walk look like this: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Who wants this? Reviled, we want to revile in return. Suffering, we threaten. Entrust ourselves to God? No, it seems He is paying us no attention, not treating us fairly. We have rights to exert and rules to enforce.

But the paths of Jesus, the paths of righteousness, the way of the flock of the Good Shepherd is not down these roads of anger, reviling, threatening. The path He leads us on is the way of goodness and mercy. Even in the presence of enemies, we do not fear or lose heart, but simply eat what He gives us at His table.


 

And He gives it to us, together, as a community. In the Gospel for today (John 10:11-16, Jesus emphasizes the unity of the Church. There are sheep that still need to be gathered in; and the idea of churches divided from each other is a scandal, for there is to be one flock, under one shepherd. Today we begin a trial period for a new method of distribution. It’s not perfect, and neither was the way we were doing it. The earliest celebrations of the Lord’s Supper were at sit-down meals, which became impractical once the church began to grow. But something was doubtless lost in that first transition: the visible experience of eating together, as a community, as a family.

The method we’re going to be experimenting with today can seem individualistic. I’d like us to think about it instead as more communal, where we commune not just with our own family, or a group of six or eight people, but all together, as one group. There is one dismissal at the end, for there is one church, one family, one flock. I hope it goes well, but even if it doesn’t, we live together in love and forgiveness, because Jesus has forgiven us, by the life He laid down for us.

This week, I hope you’ll think about these things: The Lord is your shepherd; nothing that you need will He withhold from you. He will be with you through Death Valley. He has converted you, made you part of His flock. Now you go and lead a new life, walking the paths of righteousness, confident that you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Sermo Dei: Easter Monday 2015

Posted on April 8th, 2015

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

Emmaus road

“What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Since the power of corruption entered the world, our entire race has been walking in sadness. Surely Adam wept as the blood of his son seeped into the earth. Surely Eve wept as her firstborn stormed off into exile. And our race has continued in sadness.

Disciples of Jesus are not exempt. Sadness, suffering, even persecution awaits them. So many things will make us sad in this life: the struggles in the church for faithfulness and charity; the death of those we love; and the many times we have succumbed to the weakness of our fallen nature.

Yet the resurrection of Jesus is truly good news in such a way that we should not fall into despair. When we look at the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus in this evening’s gospel, we should not criticize them too harshly. It is true that these men did not have a right faith. They did not believe the word of Jesus that He would rise again; and they did not believe the women who testified of His resurrection. The way St. Augustine put it is striking: “They were walking along, dead, with Christ alive. They were walking along, dead, with life itself. Life was walking along with them, but in their hearts life had not yet been restored.” 

Can we criticize these disciples without criticizing ourselves more? For we have more than the words of the initial witnesses in a time of deep grief. We have the testimony of many eyewitnesses, who saw our Lord, ate with Him, touched Him. Their testimony is written to us in blood.

The resurrection should fill us with the greatest joy. How then can we, too, be walking along dead, though we have received the Word of Life?


 

Easter Sunday is all about the resurrection. But this Gospel, properly for Easter Monday, is about how the resurrected Jesus continues with us.

We will learn to see Jesus in the same place the Emmaus disciples did: in the breaking of the bread. That is where and how the Lord wishes to be now recognized. For the risen body of Jesus shows us His triumph over death – but the breaking of the bread, i.e., the Lord’s Supper, shows us that His resurrection is joined to us. He whom death could not hold attaches us to Himself, with the promise that death cannot hold us either, since we are united with Him. Here, again, is how Augustine put it:

We break bread, and we recognize the Lord. It was for our sake that he didn’t want to be recognized anywhere but there, because we weren’t going to see him in the flesh, and yet we were going to eat his flesh. So if you’re a believer, any of you, if you’re not called a Christian for nothing, if you don’t come to church pointlessly, if you listen to the Word of God in fear and hope, you may take comfort in the breaking of bread. The Lord’s absence is not an absence. Have faith, and the one you cannot see is with you.


The longer we live, the more things we will find to be sad about. But the Lord is with us through all the sadness, He has been Himself through the deepest sadness, and has burst open the portal to all joy. So being a Christian doesn’t mean denying sadness or having to hide it for fear of shame. But it does mean that we see the end of all sadness in the resurrection of Jesus, our chief therapy and anti-depressant is in this holy Eucharist, and we are confident in the coming day when Christ will wipe away every tear. So be glad this bright Easter week and confess:

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

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

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

Sermo Dei: The Resurrection of Our Lord 2015

Posted on April 5th, 2015

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


“On Saturday we kill the Jews, on Sunday we kill the Christians.” That’s an Islamist motto, which Lela Gilbert explores in her book Saturday People, Sunday People. Christians are known as Sunday People, and all around the world the Sunday People are facing violent persecution.

On Holy Thursday, 147 holy martyrs were killed in Kenya. A survivor said that when the terrorist group al-Shabaab stormed the university, they began separating the Muslims from the Christians. “If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die” (http://time.com/3768749/kenya-alshabaab-garissa/).

If you read the accounts of Christian martyrs through the centuries, you will find in them a beautiful serenity. Not simply acceptance, but confidence. That is because “Sunday People” does not simply identify the day Christians gather. We are a Sunday People because Sunday is the day Jesus rose from the dead, and that means something for who we are. No, that’s not saying enough. It means everything.

If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:17–19 NKJV)

resurrection of Jesus

What is this “hope in Christ”? We all have hopes – hopes for marriage and family, hopes for work, hopes for church. Some may come to fruition. Many will not. “Hope in Christ” is no nebulous positivity that things will improve. Christian hope is not uncertain, but confident that God keeps His promises. And the promise of Christ’s resurrection is that it is the beginning of the renewal of the world. Your body will rise from the dead at the commanding Word of God. You and all believers in Christ will dwell in the union of heaven and earth that the Lord calls “New Jerusalem.” “Behold!” your Lord says, “I am making all things new!”


That is a future hope that changes everything now. Author Peg Ekerdt tells about a card she received from her friend Barb, a woman who was dying from breast cancer. It was a handwritten card, and it didn’t say, “Happy Easter,” or even, “Christ is risen.” It said, “We are an Easter people.” Here the dying woman is preaching to the living: “We are an Easter people.”

The saying is often ascribed to St. Augustine of Hippo: “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” We don’t know who really said it first. It’s better that way. “We are an Easter people” is not the saying of a man, but the identity of the disciples of Jesus. Christians are not an ethnic group, a political party, followers of a philosophy, or mere moralists. Christians are Sunday people, Christians are an Easter people.

What does that mean? For Barb, the woman suffering from breast cancer, it meant that her cancer did not have the last word. It would destroy her body, but she had entered into communion with One whose body was raised from death. Cancer does not have the last word, God has the last word, and the angels declare it: Christ is risen!

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.   But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:19–23 NKJV)

That is the Easter message from a man named Paul, one of hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. Before He encountered the risen Jesus, Paul wasn’t merely a skeptic, he was a violent opponent of Christianity. But seeing the risen Jesus, everything changed for Paul. This murderer of disciples became himself a disciple and finally a martyr. Once you belong to the Easter people, how you live and how you die are completely transformed.


How would our lives be different if we were in earnest Sunday People, Easter People? Your goal for your children would be not so much to get them into a good school, but to get them to the resurrection. Money and possessions would stop being sources of anxiety, becoming gifts received from God and given to others. Your body would be a temple of the Holy Spirit destined not for a grave but for glory.

The resurrection of Jesus is the single most important event in human history. But it is not only history. When you were baptized into Christ, His past became your future, the resurrection of His body becoming the first blossom of the resurrection of His body the Church.

We Easter People need to be Sunday People because we forget this. Monday brings this world’s temptations and threats, disappointments and deaths. We end up walking like women in graveyards, looking for bodies, hoping our spices can cover the stench.

But then we remember, We are Sunday People. We don’t come to church to fulfill a duty. We come to remember our identity, and receive from our Lord consolation in our trials.

The tasks before us seem insurmountable. Amid tears of desperation, we groan, “Who will roll away the stone from the sepulcher?”

But look! The stone is rolled away – not by our own doing, lest we should boast. It is the Lord’s doing, for death cannot hold the author of life.

Everything that Jesus did and suffered, He did for you, to make you His own Easter People.


Christ was condemned, and you rebels go free.

Christ was judged, and you are acquitted.

Christ fell, and you are raised up.

Christ was spit upon, and you are wiped clean.

Christ was mocked, and you are praised.

Christ was hated, and you are the Father’s beloved.

Christ says, “It is finished,” and gives you a new beginning.

Christ is killed, and you are reborn.

Christ is buried, and you are baptized.


The stone is rolled away, and the door to paradise is opened to you.

resurrection icon

Christ is risen, and death is undone.

Christ is risen, and Adam and Eve are lifted up from hell.

Christ is risen, and you shall rise too.

Christ is risen, and the demons are put to flight.

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.

Christ is risen, and you are His Easter People.

So sing and dance, clang the cymbals and blow the trumpet, for Jesus Christ is risen today!


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

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

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