Easter 2021 Sermon

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Apr 042021

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John 20:19-20

Most of you probably don’t know it, but I have some scars. I have two small scars on my wrist. I got them when I was young. I was running through the house to go out and play. I hit the latch on the storm door, but it didn’t open. My hand slipped off the latch and went crashing through the glass. The broken glass sliced my wrist. I was bleeding. But some bandages and pressure stopped the bleeding and the wounds healed. The scars are evidence of what happened that day.

Most of you probably have some scars. Maybe from a fall off your bike; maybe from a surgery or an accident. Whatever caused the wound is passed, the wound is healed. The scar is evidence of what happened. It is also evidence that you are still here to talk about it.

On Easter evening, many disciples gathered together. They knew it was risky because they didn’t know what the Jewish leaders were up to. They were being blamed for the disappearance of Jesus’ body. The governor’s seal on the tomb had been broken. Was there a warrant out for their arrest for disturbing a grave? But despite the risk, they had to meet. They had to share their news. The women told about seeing angels who told them that Jesus was alive. Later Jesus himself appeared to these women on the road, and to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. Peter and John had gone to look at the tomb. They verified that the body of Jesus was not there, but there was clear evidence that his body had not been moved or stolen. The grave clothes were still there and the napkin that had been over his face was neatly folded and set off to the side. As they were talking about all the different things that people had seen, two more disciples burst into the room breathless. They had run all the way from Emmaus. They told everyone about how they had met a stranger on the road who had walked with them and had taken them through many of the Old Testament prophecies and shown them how they had been perfectly fulfilled by Jesus. Then, when he broke bread with them, they realized that this stranger was Jesus, and he disappeared!

Imagine the excitement they brought to that room. I imagine there were people talking and asking questions all at the same time. It must have been chaotic. Until, suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood among them. No one heard a knock. No one opened the door. No one saw how he entered the room, he just suddenly appeared.

At first, they were terrified. They thought it was some kind of apparition. But then Jesus spoke. He greeted them with the words, peace be with you. They recognized his voice, but was it really him? Could it really be Jesus? He showed them his hands and side. He showed them his scars, the scars from the nails that had pierced his hands, the scar from the spear that had pierced his side to prove that he was dead so that Nicodemus and Joseph could take his body down from the cross, wrap it in strips of cloth with spices, and lay it in the tomb. Those scars were evidence that this was the same Jesus they had seen on the cross. Those scars were evidence, just like our scars are, that he had been wounded, but he was alive. The wounds had healed. There was no doubt, the voice, the scars just in the right places—this was Jesus. He was alive, risen from the dead, just as he said!

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

What filled them with joy? In that moment the thing that gave them joy was probably the fact that Jesus was there with them again. It must have felt like old times, like it was when they sat with him and listened to his teaching on the mount, or along the lake, or at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Those were happy times. But Jesus wasn’t going to stay visibly with them for long. It wasn’t going to be like old times. They would have to learn that their reason for rejoicing was much deeper than just seeing Jesus in person.

As Jesus appeared to them off and on over the next 40 days, he continued to teach them about the kingdom of God. He continued to remind them what it meant that he had risen from the dead just as he said. It was that deeper meaning that would give them true and lasting joy.

By God’s grace they have passed that deeper meaning on to us so that we today can have true and lasting joy.

Peter says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

Because Jesus died and rose again, we can be sure that we have an inheritance. All the riches and glory of heaven are ours. Whatever we face on earth, whatever causes us grief or pain, even a year of COVID restrictions, is light and momentary compared to the glory that is ours in Jesus. The fact that Jesus died and rose again proves that he is who he claimed to be. It proves that he did what he came to do. He has redeemed us. Now he is preparing a place for us. In the future we will get to see those scars too, when he comes again in glory, only unlike the disciples on the first Easter, Jesus will not appear, disappear, then reappear again, he will be with us permanently.

The apostle Paul learned the deeper meaning of the resurrection. We heard it in our second reading this morning. In Adam all die. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit God kept his word, when you eat of it you will die. He kept his word because he didn’t want humans to live under the curse of sin forever. Death puts an end to sin. But God also determined that death would not last forever. Jesus’ scars prove it. He died, but he didn’t stay in the grave. He rose again. He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, of all who have died, from Adam and Eve until the end of time.

By calling Jesus the first fruit Paul is thinking about what giving our first fruits is all about. We give to God the first part of the harvest, off the top of the paycheck, showing that we trust that the rest of the harvest will follow, that he will provide for us through whatever is left. God has raised Jesus as the first fruit of the resurrection which means that we can trust that all the rest of the dead will be raised as he was.

  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Encourage each other, comfort one another with these words. We need comfort and encouragement in our world today. I wonder how different the response to the pandemic would have been if more people had taken comfort in these words. Everyone was so frightened by the unknown. What might this pandemic do? But they seemed to forget that everyone is mortal, and that people die every day from traffic accidents, from cancer, from the regular flu. Sooner or later something is going to kill you, that’s a certainty many don’t want to face in our world today. Yes, if we know something is dangerous, we should do all we can to warn people and to avoid it. But the fear of uncertainty goes away when you see the scars of Jesus, when you realize that because he died and rose again this life isn’t all there is. Because he stood before his disciples with his resurrected body, we will one day stand before him in our resurrected body, a body that is no longer subject to any sickness or disease, to pain or death. That certainty does affect the way that you live your life each day.

We need comfort and encouragement in our world today as we see and hear the tension between people, whether it’s based on politics or race, or whatever it might be. Did you notice anything mentioned in Paul’s words about politics or race? The Bible is very clear that there is only one race, the human race. Jesus died for the human race, for everyone. When Jesus comes again in glory he will raise all the dead, the whole human race, regardless of color or political affiliation. Like the disciples, we will rejoice when we see the Lord. Nothing will be more important than standing in his presence and living with him, and people from every tribe, nation and language, for all eternity.

We all have scars from living in this sin-cursed world. Even Jesus had scars. He has chosen to keep them. They remind us that in this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world. They remind us that no matter how messed up this world gets, he is always there for us. They remind us that he really did die and rise body and soul from the grave. Because he did, we have a certain hope, a living hope that keeps us going until we get to see his nail-scarred hands for ourselves. They assure us that because he lives, we too will live.

Good Friday Message

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Apr 032021

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Luke 23:32-34

Who pierced the hands of Jesus?

The Roman soldiers on duty that day were the ones who physically held down Jesus’ arms so that they could take a hammer and drive a nail through his hands, probably at the spot where the hand meets the arm, and into the wood of the crossbar. They probably didn’t know who Jesus was or why he had been condemned to be crucified. They were just doing their job. They were facilitating the orders they received to carry out the crucifixion of three men that they would assume had done terrible things and had been justly condemned and convicted in a Roman court. They were getting what they deserved.

When I hear the words of Jesus- father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing—I think first of all of these soldiers. Of all the people on Golgotha that Friday, they understood what they were doing the least.

What about the Jewish leaders, Annas and Caiaphas and the members of the Sanhedrin who condemned him for blaspheming, for claiming that he was the Messiah, the Son of God?

They knew what they were doing. They were getting rid of the man who called them hypocrites, whitewashed graves. They were getting rid of the one they considered a false teacher who was misleading the people, who they thought would cause the people to revolt against the Romans and bring destruction on them and on God’s temple. In spite of their jealousy and hatred they could justify themselves because God had commanded that a false prophet should be executed.

But they really didn’t know what they were doing did they. They didn’t know that God was using their jealousy, their hatred, their sinful actions, to accomplish his gracious will. God was using them to accomplish what Caiaphas unwittingly said – It was better that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish. He and the Jewish leaders pierced the hands of Jesus, and Jesus prayed for them, father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.

What about Pilate? He knew that Jesus was innocent. He knew that the Jewish leaders were trying to get rid of Jesus because they were jealous of his power and the crowds he attracted. But when he couldn’t even trick them into giving up on their quest against Jesus by letting them choose between Jesus and the worst criminal he could find in his prison, he folded. He literally washed his hands of the whole thing and signed the execution order of a man he knew was innocent.

He knew what he was doing right? Well not really. I’m sure he didn’t realize that his declaration of Jesus’ innocence would help us still today see Jesus as the spotless lamb of God led away to the slaughter for us. I’m sure he didn’t realize how true the placard he had placed on Jesus’ cross really was. He was using it as a way to antagonize the Jews for putting him in the awkward position of having to condemn an innocent man, but Jesus really was the king of the Jews, the son of David, the rightful heir to David’s throne, the one who would sit on the throne of David forever.

Pilate had a role in piercing the hands of Jesus, and Jesus prayed to the father to forgive him too.

Who pierced the hands of Jesus? You did. I did.

How can that be, we weren’t even born yet? God says through Isaiah, he laid on him, on Jesus, the iniquity of us all. He made the one who had no sin to be sin for us, in our place. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Like the Roman soldiers on Golgotha, like the Jewish leaders, like Pilate, we know what we are doing when we sin, but then again, we don’t.

We know it’s wrong to use God’s name in vain, to use it needlessly or foolishly, but all too often we do it anyway. We know it’s wrong to say things about others, even though what we say might be true, because it’s going to hurt them or their reputation, but all too often we say them anyway to get a laugh or to make ourselves look good.

We know it’s wrong to be lazy at work, or to ignore our homework at school, but we excuse it by thinking we do more than others, or that we need some time for ourselves.

We know it’s wrong to covet, to want what others have. We get taken in by the rhetoric of society that justifies coveting by claiming that anyone who has those things must have taken advantage of others, of us, to get what they have.

We know that we have sinned, but do we truly realize what we are doing? Do we see ourselves on Golgotha pounding the nails through the hands of Jesus? Do we see that it is really the punishment we deserve that is being heaped on Jesus’ shoulders? If we truly realized that we were the ones piercing Jesus’ hands, that our every sin was like a blow of the hammer, would we have done what we knew was sinful? Our sinful nature is so strong, and Satan’s temptations are so powerful that we might have. And then there are those things that David mentions, those hidden faults, those sins we committed without even realizing they were sins, but God counts those against us too. Not a single sin escapes his notice.

Jesus is praying for us, father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.

Because Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, by the soldiers, by the Jewish leaders, by Pilate, by us, the father has answered Jesus’ prayer. Because Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, the father is able to be just, and at the same time, forgive us, the unjust. When Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, he was being pierced for our transgressions, he was being crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. When Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, God was making him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He made Jesus the sacrifice of atonement so that he could be a just God who punished sin, both the sins we knew we were committing, and all our hidden sins, and at the same time he could be the God who declares us not guilty because all our sins have been paid for in full by Jesus’ sacrifice in our place.

When you think about Jesus’ nail-pierced hands remember that you pierced his hands. They were pierced because of your sins. But don’t just think about what your sins did to Jesus. Think about what he did for you. Think about the fact that those nail-pierced hands are saying, this is how much I love you. Hear him praying for you, father forgive them. Look forward to seeing those nail pierced hands stretched out wide to welcome you home to heaven, and then wrapping themselves around you in an eternal loving hug that will make all your fears and troubles disappear forever.

Maundy Thursday Message

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Apr 022021

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John 13:1-5, 12-17

Have you ever met a know-it-all? Maybe this person has gone to some very prestigious university and has all kinds of letters of the alphabet after their name and they let you know that they think they are a lot smarter than you could ever be. We don’t usually enjoy being around that kind of person. But not everyone with all kinds of degrees is a know-it-all. Take Jesus, for example. He knew a lot more than his disciples, yet he remained humble.

Did you hear some of the things John says he knew? He knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He knew the Devil had already put the idea into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. He knew that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God. He knew that all of his disciples would forsake him that night. But did Jesus act like a know-it-all and brag to his disciples about the things he knew? No. He did just the opposite. Even though they were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus, who was the greatest, humbled himself.

What a surprise it must have been for the disciples when Jesus got up to wash their feet. In fact, it must have been embarrassing! None of them had thought of volunteering to wash feet before the Passover meal. But there was Jesus, their Lord and Master, wrapping a towel around his waist and washing all 24 feet, all 120 toes. And we know something they didn’t know at the time. He washed the feet of Judas, knowing full well that Judas was about to betray him, with a kiss, for just a few pieces of silver. Yet he washed his feet in the same tender way that he washed all the others.

How could Jesus do it? He could do it because of what he knew. He was secure in who he was, and he was devoted to his mission. Because of this it didn’t matter to him what anyone else thought. The only thing that mattered is what his heavenly father thought. It didn’t matter what the disciples thought he should or shouldn’t be doing. It only mattered that he was carrying out his mission. That’s what enabled Jesus to humble himself, to do the work of a servant and wash his disciples’ feet, even though he knew more than they did, even though he was their Lord and Master.

Did you ever notice that those who tend to brag the most, who want to lord it over others, are often the most insecure?

We don’t need to be insecure. Like Jesus, we know who we are and what our mission in life is. We know that we are each a redeemed child of God. It’s not something we brag about because we know that we did not become a child of God because of our own goodness or wisdom. God adopted us in spite of our lack of goodness and wisdom. If we ever have any doubt about whether or not we are a child of God all we have to do is remember our baptism and listen to God say to us, “I have put my name on you. I have redeemed you. You are mine.”

We know what our mission in life is. No matter what our earthly job might be, our calling from God is that we serve him in faith and our neighbor in love. Our mission is to do everything we do to his glory and to proclaim the Gospel to everyone.

Because we know who we are and what our mission is, we don’t have to be afraid of humbling ourselves. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, what matters is what our heavenly father thinks. It doesn’t matter what others think we should or shouldn’t do, what matters is that we are carrying out the mission our heavenly father has given us.

Think about how this attitude affects different areas of our lives as Christians. In the Christian family is there really anything that should be beneath you; anything that you are too proud to do? Are the dishes and cooking and cleaning “women’s work?” Are the banking, and lawn maintenance “men’s work?” What about changing diapers or watching the kids? Are we worried that someone might look down on us if we do something that is often expected to be done by others? Whose opinion matters? Do you have a cranky boss? Paul reminds us we are not really working for him. We are working for the Lord.

When Jesus wrapped the towel around himself and washed his disciples’ feet, he did something no one thought he, the teacher, the master, should be doing. But he did it gladly.

Knowing who you are and being focused on your mission in life helps you get over your sinful pride, and enables you just to be a humble servant in any way the situation calls for.

Jesus told his disciples, and us, that he was giving them an example. They were to learn to willingly wash each other’s feet, to serve each other in love. When they had argued earlier about which of them was the greatest, he had reminded them that in the kingdom of God the greatest is not the one who exerts the greatest power and control over others, but in the kingdom of God the greatest is the one who humbly and willingly servs others. Such a person shows that they know who they are and where they are going. They know that having power and control in this world isn’t something that will last. But our sinful nature always wants to twist things. So, Jesus also gives a warning about humble service.

We are not to consider humble service as a badge of honor. We are not to brag about how humble we are, or about what we do to serve others. We don’t earn ourselves a top spot in God’s kingdom by trying to be more humble than others, or by taking a vow of poverty and entering a monastery.

Jesus reminds his disciples, and us that, no matter how devoted we are to humble service, A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. We will always need to remember that he is our master. He is the one who sent them and who sends us. No matter how many good things they would do, and they would do many good things—they would even do miracles in his name and cast out demons, and proclaim the Gospel to thousands-  they would not be greater than he was. They would still be sinners who needed him as their savior, just like us.

As Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, we see his hands of humility. We see his willingness to serve. As his hands take the bread and break it, as his hands bless the cup of wine and he gives it to his disciples knowing that they are about to forsake him, we see his willingness to serve. We hear him say, “this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” This new covenant in my blood will strengthen you. When you realize that you have given in to pride, to the idea of the world that says greatness is having more knowledge or power or money than others and lording it over others, and you confess that sin, this new covenant in my blood will assure you of your forgiveness. It will remind you that you are a child of God by grace. It will remind you of your mission to proclaim my death until I come again in glory. This assurance will then strengthen you as strive to humbly serve each other in love.

Knowing that Jesus humbled himself even to the point of enduring the pain and embarrassment of crucifixion for us enables us to realize that no task for him or our neighbor is beneath us. If it’s washing feet, changing diapers, the lowest kind of menial labor, we are not too proud to do anything because we know that God has made us his dear children. We are happy to humble ourselves in order to serve him in faith and our neighbor in love as we look forward to the exaltation that awaits us in heaven.

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