Easter 5A: Where We Are Going
This sermon was preached on March 13, 2017, the Fifth Sunday of Easter. The readings were: Acts 7: 55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14.
In the name of Jesus, amen.
"You know the way to where I am going." "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him." These promises that Jesus makes in our gospel reading, taken from his farewell address in John, point not just to what would comfort the disciples through the crucifixion and resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but through their lives as disciples and their witness to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. These promises were for those who would go on to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be the members of Christ's body in the world. So these promises are also for you. Where are we going? We are going to Jesus.
These promises are for you, sisters and brothers, because the world is confusing and it is difficult to know where to go. Awash in noise about products, about politicians, about wars and rumors of wars, we often stumble off of our own foundation and rest on lies and idols. We mistake our preferences for the call of the Spirit. We use our minds in separation from our hearts and our faith, building temples of ideals in which we pretend God is contained and limited. Our good intentions are twisted and pave the road to our own hell. There, the truth is denied, we act to defend our systems rather than our neighbor, and we destroy our enemies. There, in hell, we are twisted into the very mob who kill the prophets, and Jesus, and the saints who follow Christ. This is our human bondage, and Christ came to free us from it. So these promises are for you. We are going to Jesus, not to hell.
It is for you that Jesus died, and rose, and ascended into heaven. It is for you that Jesus promises to be our way, our truth, our life. It is for you that Jesus lived and died and rose and ascended, to be the one whose Spirit descends upon us and frees us from hate and fear. This freedom, the freedom we have in the Holy Spirit, is not to serve ourselves and our desires. Instead of indulging in the bondage to hell which we have so often preferred, the Holy Spirit of Jesus comes to us to walk us down the way of Jesus, to show us the truth of Jesus, to give us the life of Jesus. The life of Jesus takes a definite shape in us, as the Holy Spirit shows us the Father through Jesus Christ the Son, and we become the body of the risen Christ who still suffers and dies innocent. That is the promise of Jesus for you. We are going to Jesus, together.
It is for you that we hear in our first reading of Stephen the deacon and martyr. Here is one who, like Jesus, is filled with the Holy Spirit, not because of what he has done but because of the promise which dwells in him. Here is one who, like Jesus, is driven out of the city to be murdered. Here is one who, like Jesus, commends his innocent spirit to God in death - though note that Stephen commends it to Jesus, the one in whom he has seen the Father. And so Stephen, having been freed from captivity to hell, is led by the Spirit in the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus on earth is always the way of the cross, because the mob of death and hell and devil and power and purity and control has always persecuted those who are filled with God's Holy Spirit. Stephen testifies, at the moment his murder become certain, that he sees in his cross-shaped witness the glory of God and Jesus in foremost position in the kingdom. And this promise is for you. We are also going to Jesus, with the saints who have gone before us.
It is for you, my sisters and brothers, because the world is a terrifying and cruel place and we are a terrifying and cruel people. We lynch each other. We stone each other to death. We do not hear and love and defend our neighbor as ourselves. We do not forgive as we have been forgiven. We war upon our enemies, we prey upon the weak, we profit by abusing the poor. We hide behind heritage, behind piety and prayer, behind our relationships and our good works. Yet God sends the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the Holy Spirit in every time and place. God never tires of working love, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. God never tires of smashing our idols and destroying our hell. God never tires of filling us with the Holy Spirit, of appearing in Jesus Christ, of showing us God's own glory. God will never tire of being our way, and our truth, and our life. Our way is the way of the cross. Our truth is the truth of the cross. Our life is the death of the cross. That promise is for you, because we are going to Jesus, who died and is risen and will come again.
It is for you, the promise that we are called to die with Jesus so that we will live with him. It is for you, the promise that we have seen Jesus and have seen the Father in him. It is for you, the promise that we who have been rejected and useless will be built into the living body of Christ, the living stones of the Church, by the Holy Spirit who frees us from hell and claims us as God's holy people who suffer innocently and die blessing our persecutors. It is for you, who walk this way of the cross with all the saints, who look with hope to sing with all the saints in glory, that Jesus promises to lead us all in the way of truth and life. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus, who knows you by name. You are going to Jesus. You are following Jesus the way, with the saints and prophets. You will not die, but live, and serve the Lord Jesus, who has freed us from ourselves.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Easter 4A 2017: Shepherd
This sermon was preached on May 7, 2017, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The readings were: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10.
In the name of Jesus, amen.
It’s about a blind man seeing, about a dead man rising, about healing for the sick and food for the hungry. It’s about a God who invented life, who is life, who gives life. It’s about how we are being shepherded beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. It’s about Jesus, God with us, who came that we may have life and have it abundantly.
Jesus is the shepherd who comes for those who belong to him. He calls and we follow, he opens and we enter. Jesus is the one who guides us from where we are to where we will find pleasant pastures. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our unjust suffering, for he has also suffered with us. Jesus is the one who names the nameless and voiceless, those crushed by the bandits and thieves who would take our lives. There are those who fleece the sheep, who kill them, who lie to them, but the sheep know the voice of their shepherd who calls them by name and leads them into abundant life.
Jesus is the one who calls us by name, and he does it now. Here is the voice of the shepherd, calling by the waters of baptism. Here he calls us, guides us, leads us by going before us from death to life. Here the risen Christ prepares the table where he feeds us with himself. Here he anoints us with oil, here he fills us to overflowing abundant life. This is the shepherd of life, the one who opposes death, who destroys death, so that we may have life and have it abundantly.
Here is Jesus, who shepherds us from death into life. He finds the lost sheep and drags them kicking and screaming back to the flock who journey into life. He calls the flock by name, the name “Church”, the name “Beloved”, the name “Lazarus”, the name “Mine”. He comforts us by going with us always, teaching us, protecting us, and correcting us. He teaches us abundant life. He protects life to grow it into abundance. He corrects us out of death to life.
Here is Jesus, whose spirit moves so that we might have all things in common. Here is Jesus, who gives us abundant life in the form of devotion to the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of the bread, the community, the prayers. Day by day, Jesus seeks the sheep and gathers them into the flock that moves from death to life. Day by day, Jesus sustains us in life abundant. Day by day Jesus seeks us that we may know peace and life in the midst of a world of hate, fear, and death. Day by day, Jesus seeks to give us abundant life.
Here is the gate and the shepherd. Here is the way, the truth, the life. Here is the communion of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd. Here is the God who leads us from death to life. Here is the one who calls us by name. Let us follow him.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Easter 3A 2017: The Necessary Third
This sermon was preached on April 30, 2017, the Third Sunday of Easter. The readings were: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35.
In the name of Jesus, amen.
It's the tragedy that binds them. Whether it's the crowd to which Peter tells the story in Jerusalem in Acts, only a few months after our Gospel reading, or whether it's the story the disciples spin in Luke, it's the tragedy that gets them. It's an old, depressingly familiar story of a promise denied, of a rebellion crushed, of a hope buried. "The things about Jesus of Nazareth," as they put it in Luke, end with his death. It is the tragedy that Peter spins that links him to the crowd, and the tragedy the disciples spin that link them together with the mysterious stranger. Without the tragedy, there is no conversation. Without the telling of the story, there can be no surprise ending.
On the road to Emmaus, the two walk with the stranger and tell the story. Why are there two? They are speaking as the stranger comes across him, and Cleopas and the other tell the stranger the story about Jesus of Nazareth, and how his body has gone missing. The stranger scolds them: how slow they are! Don't they remember the threat of death in the garden, and God's mercy? Don't they remember the ark that delivered Noah and his family through the flood? Don't they remember the promise to Abraham when he had no children, and the sparing of Isaac by the giving of the ram? Don't they remember the exodus, where the people crossed the sea on dry ground; or the promise of Isaiah of the mountain with the feast spread out for the peoples; or Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones made to live; or the fish that delivered Jonah from drowning; or the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace?
All of these are stories of God's deliverance, of God's character. What do you think they say about God? If that is what God is like, how should we think of God? How should we hope? And if this is what happens to the patriarchs and prophets, what should we expect of the life of the Messiah, except that he must die and be raised, just as Israel was taken into slavery and death and raised out of Egypt and later out of Babylon?
So what are the things about Jesus of Nazareth? The people of God put God to death. The question is whether God will be rejected. Will God allow us to cut ourselves off? Will God let us drown, burn, and die? By no means! God is the God of promises, of faithfulness, of life everlasting.
Their hearts burning, they listen to the sermon. They come to the town, and by now they beg the stranger to stay; it's already late, they say. At the table, he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. They gasp, their eyes open - it is the Lord! And he's gone. And the two of them cannot spend the night there; they run, they sprint, seven miles to Jerusalem. There, they meet reports that the Lord is risen, and they tell the story they have learned; the story of God's triumph, rather than God's tragedy. And then - and we don't get this but it's just a sentence later - Jesus appears among them.
There is a community on the road in tragedy. They grieve shattered hopes. They are afraid and confused and unsure. They are going home because all that they expected has come undone. They encounter a stranger who opens up a vein of hope, of trust in God, and they eat with the stranger. This one breaks the bread, and in that breaking of the bread Jesus is revealed to them. They don't build a chapel, they don't remain, but they run back to those who need this news.
We are all a part of a community in tragedy and grief. Among us comes one who speaks a word of hope in God's promise. Among us, hearts burning, the bread is broken and our eyes are open to see Jesus in our midst. Together we are converted, changed, repented and made new. Together we run back to those who need this news as well. Together we are reformed from the community of tragedy into the community of faith, faith in a God who saves in water and bread and wine. Together - and only together, even if it's only two of us - we hear, we taste, we see the goodness of God for us. Together, we are made the Church. Together, we live in love, born anew through the living and abiding word of God. Together, we enter into the resurrection community, the Easter people, the city of God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Luther’s Easter Sermon [Resurrection of Our Lord 2017]
This sermon was preached on April 16, 2017, the Resurrection of Our Lord. The readings were: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10.
[Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
This is the story of Easter. Much could be preached about it, and it is worth dealing with it one part at a time.
First, what ought to follow simple knowledge of this story, is to understand and regard the resurrection of Christ in a truly Christian fashion, because the great majority of people listen to the resurrection of Christ like a story about [aliens]. To them it is a story [on the television]. It must be something better, as we sing in the hymn [ELW 372], “So let our joy rise full and free; Christ our comfort true will be.” We must consider that it is ours, that it has to do with you and me. We should not only consider how the resurrection happened, but that you recognize that it happens for you, as the Lord says in the words: “Go and tell my brothers!” (Matthew 28:10). There we hear what he intends with his resurrection.
This is a true teaching of the resurrection: that each person receives the resurrection as his or her own. For there is a great difference between ‘Christ is a Savior and king,’ and ‘Christ is my Savior and my king.’ But just how difficult this is, is indicated by the disciples, who scarcely believe that Christ is raised—not to mention that he is raised for them.
The godless people, who laugh at us when we preach the faith, do not know what faith is and does. They are blind fools and look at the resurrection like a cow staring at a new gate. But when you put your faith in his works, then he is such a champion, giant and hero, who had arrayed against him the gates of hell, all devils with their cunning, and death with all its powers. If they had considered this, they would not laugh so at us. Certainly we must learn it from our own experience that no one on earth, not even the [President], can withstand death, and yet a Christian can do it. Therefore one must regard the resurrection with other than physical eyes; otherwise one has no comfort from it. Here one must open the eyes of the heart.
You have heard in the Passion how Christ let himself be crucified and buried and how sin and death trampled him underfoot. Satan and the sins of the world lie on him in the tomb. Sin, death and the devil are his lord. Therefore you must look into his tomb and realize that my sins and my death tear him apart and oppress him. There the devil regards himself as secure, and the [religious establishment] boasts and rejoices: He is gone and will not return. But in the instant when they believe him destroyed, the Lion tears himself away from sin, death, hell, and the jaws of the devil and rips them to shreds with his teeth. This is our comfort, that Christ comes forth: Death, sin, and the devil cannot hold him. The sin of the entire world is powerless. When he appears to Mary Magdalene, one sees in him neither death nor sin nor sadness but sheer life and joy. There I see that the Lord is mine and treads on the devil. Then I find my sins, torment, and the devil where I ought to find them. There is the seed of the woman, who has struck the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), and says: Death, you shall die; Hell, you shall be defeated! Here is the victor.
It is a Christian art when a person can regard the Lord Jesus as the one whose business it is to deal with our sins. But if a sermon comes along that goes like this: You have sinned; you must do this and that and by your own works take action against those sins! Then they pit us against death and sin and call us to struggle against them with our works. Look how they teach us to regard sin and death: namely, that they are the strongest and rule in my conscience. There they lead me, a wretched person, so miserably against the devil.
Is this not a devil’s sermon and a blasphemy against God and Christ? So if my works do it, I do not need Christ who died and is raised. When Satan and sin are there and you regard them as I have just described, then you are lost. Whenever you feel sin, death, plague, and attack of the devil, you can be given no assistance, save that you abandon what your conscience says and turn to Christ. You must say: Flesh and devil do not lay my sins in the right place; there they are too strong for me. But Christ is not raised for himself but for me, and the Scripture says that the sins of all people are laid on him,
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There they lie! And let them lie there, where the Scripture puts them! If the devil wants to convince you otherwise, then just remember this sermon!
When the sins lie on Christ, then I see what the world, the devil, and sin do to him in the grave and in death: they hang on him and crush him; thus they are strong and devour him. But because today he now comes forth from the grave and remains in honor and glory, everything that the devil, sin and death have done is destroyed. It is easy to say such words, but still no one believes it. It is truly a difficult article to believe, to stand with certainty on what I say, that all sins that I feel are not mine, that the fear of death is not mine. This is said contrary to all reason. But the Scripture certainly does not lie when it says that my sins lie on him. If this is true then they do not lie on me. Thus I must follow the logic of these utterances and say: I know nothing of sin, death, or the devil, for I look upon Christ. If they have not strangled him, then they must be dead. For when sin and death were capable of something, then I would expect to detect it in Christ. But they do nothing to him. He lives, I see no marks on him. For this reason they must be blown away like dust by the wind. Therefore a Christian ought to feel nothing of sin and death but look only upon Christ. Whoever can believe this article is a Christian.
But there Satan sees to it that such things do not come into our hearts; for he does not like it when anyone believes Satan’s authority and power are nothing. And yet it is true: a believer has no sin and is lord over sin. Therefore when his authority and weapons have been scattered so that he has been reduced to nothing, do you think he feels good when he hears: You have tortured and killed Christ; now you get what you deserve? For this reason the devil resists when the resurrection is preached. The [governors and generals with their guns, and the wisest and most learned scientists, scholars, and religious professionals with all their teachings] are obliged to assemble, for the devil knows that when Christians no longer look at sin and death on their own but only in Christ then he cannot keep Christ down. Then Christ is his Lord and the devil lies under his feet. When the devil sees those who believe, then he has much more work on his hands. Where the fire of faith threatens to break out, there he afflicts them in that moment, makes even good works to be sin, and always keeps the people in his sight.
Is it not a terrible thing that Satan can see to it that the Gospel is not preached? Then he rushes into the heart and rages so that one does not believe. For whoever believes knocks him flat with a snap of the fingers. It grieves him that a person, who is flesh and blood, should despise him and triumph over sin and death.
But our [prosperity preachers and religious experts] do not know what faith is; they have no temptations, instead the devil lures them into regarding themselves as saints. But if they had the world with its wisdom and the devil dead set against them as we do, they would think differently. Indeed the more you look at the sin in you, the weaker Christ is in you. The less you look at the sin in you and see it only in Christ, the stronger Christ is in you. The apostles taught (2 Peter 3:18) it is an art you have to learn until the day you die, namely, that each day you trust in Christ. Wherever a Christian is there are always temptations, as Paul says, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). In such a case I should say to the devil: I don’t know of any sin, but there is Christ. On his neck hang the sins; you are wrong to place them on my heart, because God and the Scripture have bound them to Christ, to whom I look as the one who has no sin and yet has my sins.
This is our chief article which we must emphasize at all times and learn. And I have it not on my authority alone, but also have experienced it in others, that the devil works hard to tear this picture from our hearts. [Non-Christians often] appear much holier than we do because they show love. The devil can tolerate this fine and even gives them considerable self-control, as he has also done with [many popular preachers and teachers]. This is all ours. When he maintains these things, then he has already won because the right picture is gone, namely, Christ who crawls through death to life.
For this reason he indeed lets righteous people alone, but Christians he cannot tolerate, namely, those who turn away from good and evil and depend on Christ. This is why the devil says: The Lord will reward you for good works and will condemn you for evil ones. When an evil conscience and fear plague Christians, then they say: This does not matter to me for I have no sins; Christ has them all. I see them there. He took them on himself on the cross and buried them. But now he lives and is risen. Indeed I have sins and good works, but I do not look at them; I look upon Christ alone. If they teach us that we become righteous through our works, they tear this picture from our hearts and slander Christ. And yet it is true: I am a sinner, and I am not a sinner. But they say: I only want to have good works. But if I didn’t confess to being a sinner, I would not have Christ and would not be in need of him because I refused to be a sinner. For this reason, if I won’t be a sinner, then I am one; and conversely, if I am in myself a condemned sinner but go outside myself and into Christ, then I am not one.
Christians from their own standpoint are a Judas, a Caiaphas, a Pilate and find themselves condemned. But there is another Person who took my sins on himself. On Good Friday they are all laid around his neck. But on Easter I also look at him, and then he has none. He has commanded that I look at my sins not on me, but on Christ. Whoever can do this has recovered from the snakes’ bite [John 3:15] and looks at Christ rightly; for where there is no sin there is righteousness and life.
Thus sin is completely taken away in the resurrection. Everyone should learn this today, that all of us should abandon thoughts about ourselves and should not pass judgment on ourselves according to our feelings. For this is contrary to Christ and the Gospel, which says that Christ has taken away the sin from our hearts and consciences and laid them on himself. For this reason the apostles praise the resurrection unceasingly. We should also do it because the flesh is too evil, Satan too powerful, and the conscience too slow for us to learn to look at Christ and not ourselves.
[So] When you read: Christ is risen, then add: I with him and you with him. In this way we pull the resurrection into ourselves and ourselves into it. [And when you say: Christ is risen indeed, then add: and I and you are risen with him indeed, despite sin, death, and the devil!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is
risen indeed! Alleluia!]
The text here is from Luther’s Easter Morning sermon of 1529, with a brief addition at the end from his Easter Afternoon sermon. The translation and source are from Irving L. Sandberg’s work, The 1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther. The book is from Concordia Academic Press, 1998, reproduced here only for the purpose of preaching.