Monday, April 18, 2016

The Child [Easter 4; St. John 16:16-22]

The resurrected Jesus speaks to you today, saying,
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a man has been born into the world.

A mother’s sorrow is not just limited to labor pains, nor is ended when her child grows and goes through adolescence. A mother’s true sorrow begins when she examines her own life and realizes what a great impossibility it is that she is alive, at that very moment.

For when she was in her own mother’s womb, there were any number of things that could have gone wrong, from ectopic pregnancies to umbilical cord complications, not to mention the strong peer pressure to abort.

Through no fault of her own, the woman as a fetus, really had such an impossible task just being born. Then its time to deliver and I don’t think we have to go over the amount of danger involved in that. Let’s just say its so much, that the prayer of the Litany devotes solemn attention to the perils of women in childbirth.

Once she is out, then its vaccines, viruses, bacteria, and nutrition. Then its clothing, shoes, house and home, food and drink, and everything else associated with bare needs care of the body.

If you were to stand back and examine the sheer probability to be overcome in order for a child to survive, you may be taken aback. Thus, when she thinks about having her own kids, she asks, “Why would I subject someone else to all that danger?”

A child born is a child that will die, so what’s the point? Many give this argument today to not only not have their own children, but also to prevent others from having so many, or even one.

Repent! Last week we were lamenting over a Good Shepherd that dies and leaves us and today we are hearing the same thing about children. You think they are only good for taxing your wallets, patience, and emotions. You feel that bringing them into the world will only add to the sorrow and despair of an already doomed world.

On top of that, you are conceived in sin (Psa.51:5). There is no escape, so what’s the point in having children? In doing anything?

There is another impossible and that of a virgin birth. Where there was no life and no hope, the Lord of Life was conceived and born. Where there was only deep darkness, Christ, our Crucified Lord created His Church.

You must never forget that this Gospel is about Jesus and it is Jesus who gives us clarity here. Jesus, both God and man, is going to leave His Temple in order to enter this world from another “temple”, that of the virgin’s womb. Jesus is going to risk His life, going through all of that danger of fetus-hood and childhood, in order to be made man.

He is going to subject Himself to blood, disease, and evil. He is going to subject His parents to toil, tribulation and sorrow. He is going to strain the world’s economy and environment, by being another person to be supported. Through this suffering and pain, the salvation of the world is purchased.

Jesus does it this way. Jesus chooses this path to be the Way. There were others, but Jesus made it so that the death of the Lamb of God would serve as infinite goodness and righteousness to His poor miserable creation.

And if the death of God is of infinite importance to the Church, then the death of His children are of infinite importance to the Lord. Not that we seek out our own deaths, but that by the Crucified Christ, we are comforted and no longer fear what death can do.

The Christian brings new children into this world in hope. The world does not have this hope because it does not believe the words and promises of Jesus. This is the hope of perfect healing, eternal life, and the resurrection of the dead.

Hope is what the Christian has, because of one birth: the birth of Jesus. The woman in labor has hope, because her Lord has traversed fetal development and has come out kicking and screaming. Parents in anguish have hope, because their Lord has conquered sin and death.

All children, young and old, have hope because the resurrection is theirs in baptism. You have hope because Jesus gives His Church life in abundance and that means having children. Not just physically, but spiritually.

If you ever doubt that there is joy to be had in the birth of a child, simply look into this baptismal font and you will see and never-ending line of newborn children in the Faith, all having Christ’s righteousness and all having Christ’s life and forgiveness.

There is joy in the birth of the Christ Child. There is joy in the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is joy in the death and rebirth of sinners, in baptism. There is joy in having children, because there, not that you have fun going through all the bad stuff, but because your Lord has given these things to you as a gift, it is the right thing to do: having children.

For a little while, in the Church, we will have sorrow. We will have sorrow, because our hour has come to stand in the face of sin, death, and the devil and either we will give in or Christ is triumphant for us. On that day we will fear because either we will deny Christ before men or Jesus will confess us to the Father, for us.

Because Jesus has accomplished and secured our salvation for us; because He has given us the hope of the resurrection, our sorrow turns to joy, because the God-man has been born into the world and suffers and dies for you. And when He rises again from the dead, all the hope you need is found in that promise that His resurrection is for you.

Monday, April 11, 2016

" a dead shepherd." [Easter 3; St. John 10:11-16]

Jesus truly speaks to you all today saying,
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Last week, when we heard about the St. Thomas incident, one thing that should pop into your mind is what the Church thought of St. Thomas. They picture him as a sort of engineer, because his “coat of arms”, so to speak, contains the image of a square. Not the 4-sided kind, but a measuring square.

Thus, the Church expects some sort of intelligence from the Apostles, especially when it comes to the resurrection, to be able to prove and disprove it. When we get to Jesus, what He does and what He says, we also expect the same sort of intelligence, but when He talks about the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep, this one throws us for a loop.

What good is a dead shepherd? Just as bad as a shepherd that flees is the shepherd that dies. Both leave the sheep and both abandon their duties. Forgetting the hired hand, for the moment, we find that the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, but what then?

Maybe he thinks that he can atone for some past sins, by dying. Maybe he thinks this is the only way. Maybe he thinks that he should fight to his very last breath, rather than regret no having fought hard enough against the wolf.

You have to admit that the hired hand has the right idea, for you have heard it said, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” The shepherd is more important than the sheep. For if he lives, he can just rebuild the flock, after the attack, and care for them. The sheep can not do that on their own.

How much more good can be accomplished if one goes on living, instead of being a living sacrifice? The soldier can return home. The shepherd can continue his livelihood. The parent can continue to parent.

Repent! The twisting of Scripture continues! By this logic, Jesus made a mistake. He should not have died. He should have been exonerated and continued to live, teaching and caring for the outcasts and the unloved by society. Live, Jesus live. You are better to us alive rather than dead.

Jesus doesn’t think so and since He is God and knows what He’s doing better than you, you should stop and struggle with this. Jesus doesn’t think that the hired hand is coming back. Jesus doesn’t think that the soldier can sacrifice enough. Jesus doesn’t think that you have all the good intentions you say you do, on Sunday mornings.

Against all reason and intelligence, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life. In other words, He dies. Death claims the victory and the Sheepfold is left undefended. At least, that is what the devil would have us think.

Rage and ruin as they might, death and the devil could not hold the Good Shepherd in their icy grasp. Jesus bursts from the tomb, having laid down His life for the sheep. Not just any life, the life of God. For it is only Jesus, true God and true man, who could offer Himself for us.

God will be the shepherd. He will not do that job through door-to-door salesmen, but Himself will come and shepherd His flock. The salesmen will have you believe that they are doing God’s will; that they know what God wants and that only you have the power to please Him or to anger Him.

The salesmen will point you to this method or that path and they will point you inside yourself asking, “What does this mean to you” or “Won’t you give everything to Jesus”.

The Good Shepherd points you to Himself and leads you to Himself. He does this with His sacraments. The promises in and with the sacraments provide an mighty bulwark as a sheep pen. The water combined with God’s Word is worked into a reinforced titanium gate. The Gospel, purely preached, creates the Shepherd’s voice to follow. Eating and drinking in Faith, not only gives strength and health to the sheep, but also a sure foundation of forgiveness.

In this wonderful, gracious way, the Church is not left to fend for itself. Jesus has left His voice behind for us to hear and to believe. Jesus has left the pen open to all who believe and keep this Word as a priceless treasure.

The Shepherd that lays down His life is the Shepherd that never leaves His flock, even in death. The Good Shepherd is the man that speaks to His flock by Moses, the prophets, and the Apostles. The Good Shepherd is the man that bursts from death to new life, dragging His sheep behind Him.

The Word and the Sacraments always point to Christ and therefore are always what the Son of God uses to forgive His people in the 21st century. If a door-to-door salesman ever stops by to ask you to do something outside of this scope, asks him if baptism saves, as the Bible says. If it does, then you have no need for the door-to-door salesman. If he says it doesn’t save, or you must do something beyond that, then you still have no use for the salesman.

Jesus physically keeps you in the one, true faith and in the one, true Church. This is the takeaway for today. The Good Shepherd is good because He died, and lives still today. The salesman is known by his incessant talk of himself and his works. The hired hand knows nothing of the Sacraments and denies their power.

The Good Shepherd, Who died and rose again, gives His resurrection to you in baptism. He gives his Faith to you, by His Gospel. He strengthens and keeps you close to Himself by forgiving your sins in His Supper. These are His good and gracious works, done for you and these are the only works that matter.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dis-moistening [Easter 2; St. John 20:19-31]

Jesus speaks to you today, saying,

And in saying this, the words of the prophet Ezekiel are fulfilled. In front of Ezekiel, God only breathed into an entire valley of dead people. Through Jesus, God breathes life into every single person that ever existed.

But whose bones are in Ezekiel’s valley and where did they come from? It is quite possible that they are the bones from when Israel was wondering through the desert, with Moses. Remember a whole generation had to die before they could enter the promised land.

It is also quite possible that they are bones from no one in particular, maybe even non-jewish. Which makes a little more sense since they have been left un-buried and un-cared for; a truly pagan act.

Regardless, the Lord answers this question by saying that the bones are Israel. The literal and the spiritual, bones of Israel. For Israel has turned away. Their zeal is dried up. Their faith is dried up. Their good works are dried up. Nothing is left but dust and ashes.

Even in this locked room where the disciples are, the valley of dry bones has extended its reach beyond time and presents itself to Jesus, as we hear this account from the Gospel.

Note the striking parallels: Jesus stands in the midst of His disciples as Ezekiel was stood in the valley. Thomas echoes Ezekiel’s unbelief in knowing whether or not dead bones can live. The Word preaches and bone assembles to bone, while Jesus tells Thomas to place his hand to touch His rib, where the spear was thrust.

Jesus has risen from the grave to prove that He is true man and also true God and finally breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples as the holy breath of God was given to the dry bones.

This means that the place where Jesus is standing is in the midst of dry, dead bones. Bones that have lost their vigor. Sinews that have lost their will. Flesh and skin that has lost its value. Breath that has stopped.

Repent! Jesus asks, “When the Son of man returns, will Hefind faith on the earth?”. If Thomas and Peter don’t stand a chance against  unbelief, then what chance do you think you have? Indeed, you have no tools at your disposal that is able to break through the barrier of unbelief, even when presented with one who has risen from the dead.

However, Jesus is not made man and born of a virgin for a lost cause. He does not suffer at the hands of Pontius Pilate, die, and is buried with no hope. Jesus does not return from the dead and reinstate Peter and Thomas on their merits and He does not leave His Word around for you to hear it, for no good reason.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, The Way that Jesus makes is paved with His intentions and His good works. The Way that is given to us to tread has been made straight. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the dust and ashes of our own sinful selves has been given the breath of Faith.,

The issue here is that, in your sin, you do not believe. In your sin, you are in the same sad state that the dry bones are in. In fact, that valley stretches to the end of time and has dried up the faith of the entire world. Thus, Jesus comes to us, not looking for righteousness or faith, but He comes to give it.

In the exact same way that the dry bones gained life, so you gain life. In the beginning, Adam was a pile of dust. The Lord breathed into him and he was made man. Adam sinned and was once again returned to the dust and died.

Your problem is unbelief. Your problem is sin. Your problem is that you are dead towards God. The solution is the Word of God. The solution is Jesus, contending with death and winning. The solution is your resurrection from the depths of your sin and also your resurrection from your physical death at Christ’s return.

The valley of dry bones has reached even to our age, even to our church. You may easily be able to point it out in others, but you are never certain when it has its grip on you. Like Peter and Thomas, then, it is best to assume you are in it all the time.

In that Way, the Holy Spirit can come and revive you, as is His Job. He can wash you and speak to you the Words of Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to this place, with the gifts purchased on the cross, in order to raise you to new life in Christ. Thus, Christ’s Church is a fertile valley.

We know the bone valley has reached us because we see our cemeteries getting bigger. We know the dead valley has reached us because we see the churches getting smaller. We know the dead valley has reached us, because we hear the breath of Christ blowing over us, giving us His Holy Spirit, and recreating us, in His Image.

The plain fact that the Church is here, points to our daily need of repentance and forgiveness. The fact that the Word and Sacraments are here, shows us that dying and rising to new life are a daily necessity for the Christian.

For Jesus is brought to you today by the Holy Spirit. He is set down in the middle of a valley of bones and the Lord, once again, asks if these bones can live. Jesus gives His final breath from the cross; He gives His Body, scourged and pierced; and He gives His true Blood, poured out, and in this divine sacrifice, life occurs.

Not just the rattling of bones; not just a shell of sinews, flesh, and skin, and not just any old breath. Jesus, right here for you, gives rescue from death and the devil. He works the forgiveness of sins and gives eternal salvation to all who believe these words and promises: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”

In a dry, sin-filled world, baptism floods every dusty corner. In old and dry satan-controlled territories, the Word is breathed out with new life. In the dead sinner, the true, life-giving Body and Blood of Christ is grafted and ingested in. All in order that you may believe that the Word is being breathed out upon you today and that you are gaining saving faith, that is the forgiveness of all your sins.

For the Word of Christ really does create a clean heart and a right Spirit within you.