Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Suffering [Easter 7; St. John 15:26-16:4]


Who speaks to us today, saying,

How dare the disciples be afraid. Jesus has just completed lecturing them on Him going to prepare a place for them in heaven, on Him being the Way, the Truth, and the Life, on Him sending the Comforter, and on Him giving them true Peace.

What is there to be afraid of? Why put themselves through suffering on such a great occasion as Jesus reconciling the entire world to God?

In the same vein, why are you so sad at funerals? There is no cause for sorrow and suffering at the death of a believer. He has been translated to immortality. He has finished running his course and now rests with the Lord. Do not shed tears. There is no reason to suffer.

And yet we do. And yet St. Paul says things like, “rejoice in your sufferings” (Rom. 5:3). Even he would rather be suffering and weak, than to be strong. What is his secret? Can we really do all things through God who strengthens us?

Well, you can, just not in the way you or anyone else tells you you can. You see, what St. Paul is telling us there is not that we can go the distance or do the impossible, like win the lottery or something. St. Paul is saying that you can stand firm in saving faith even if you are suffering. Which of course, for us mere humans, is impossible.

Suffering gives opportunity to trust God in that you get to see God’s Word come to pass in your doing. When you are weak and He is strong, god’s Word comes true right before your eyes. “Blessed are those who mourn…”, Jesus says.

This gives us the chance to pray, “Thy will be done” and mean it. God’s will is not that we suffer, but that when we do suffer, we don’t think it a curse, but gather together against it.

Thus suffering also causes us to gather together. They say misery loves company, but only because there, it finds the antidote. The same is true for the Christian. He gathers, not just to find company, but to find a caring and forgiving God. The difference is, the Christian has the Promise of God behind the command.

And the command is not just to gather, but to gather in Church. Suffering pushes you to see Jesus gathering all people to Himself, in His Church.

Repent. God is Good, even though He sends you suffering. In fact, true faith stands fast for that very reason, because faith believes that God’s Goodness and our suffering are not necessarily mutually exclusive and do not contradict. God being Good has little to do with our happiness or comfortability.

God is high and lifted up, no? There is no parallel relationship we have, or can have, to compare it to. God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.

It is not simply the difference between being an archangel and a worm. God is wholly other, than us. He makes, we are made. He is original, we are the derivative. But, at the same time and for the same reason, the intimacy between God and even the meanest creature is closer than any that creatures can attain with one another.

We are the sentient canvas that had been rubbed, scraped, and restarted for the 20th time. We are the house dog in training that is beaten and scolded until his master loves him. We are the son that is disciplined until he is obedient and directed to more than just “having a good time”.

We are the Bride that is forgiven for much, but is condoned for very little; who is rarely pleasing, but has everything demanded of her. Herein lies our suffering: the Lord loves us too much. We would rather that He designed us for less or would give up our training. We would rather God love us less, not more.

You asked for and invoked a loving God this morning and you have one. But where love is a trivial thing for you, it is a very serious thing for the Lord. And this love dwells here, not as a senile old man, but the consuming Fire Himself. The love that made the universe: persistent as an artist, despotic as a master of beasts, provident and venerable as a father, and jealous, unstoppable, and exacting as a lover. This is the Love that has its eye on you and you feel suffering.

The Gospel, the Good News, is that God suffers with us. True Love was crucified in order to remove the pain and guilt caused by the love of the Creator to creature. Jesus takes our nature and assumes it into His own, not only taking on our sin and death, but exchanging His Resurrected Body in the process. In the Crucified Christ we have such a high value in our Creator’s eyes.

And under that sin and death, Jesus bears all our burdens to the cross suffering all things for us. He knows the pain of loss and the empty loneliness. Not that He had to come here to learn it, but that He came to show you that He knows it. He came that you might believe that in your body, yes even in your suffering, there is a loving God that does not stop forgiving and saving you.

For you are joined to Him; body and blood. This joining was the only way to rescue you from despair in suffering. A boost of confidence wouldn’t do it. A stream of positivity wasn’t going to get you out of it. The only way of escape was through the forgiveness of sins. Confession and Absolution is the Way.

Now, our suffering reflects His suffering. We don’t just suffer haphazardly or as punishment for something, though there are physical consequences for our actions. We suffer now because we fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

I chided you earlier for being sad at funerals, but in fact you are right to do so. This suffering is not right; it should not be here. We shouldn’t have to go through such pains to get where we are going. Yet, all things work out for our good, in Christ.

Though we don’t seek it, suffering finds us. Though we don’t love it, suffering is the Way, on earth, because suffering is the Way our Savior trod. His Way went through suffering on to glory. His Way went through death on to life. His Way went through humiliation on to exaltation.

His Way is now our Way, not because it is the best of all possible ways, but because it is the only Way possible. And all things are possible with a crucified and risen Savior, even you making to the end of this path of life, for you have already been brought to the end and yet are still walking.

You have already been baptized into the death and resurrection; the beginning and the end of all things. You have been brought to the finish line, though it seems as if you are not yet at the first marker.

The Promise is that you will be with Him and He with you. His Word speaks above every din of suffering. His baptism washes over all sin and doubt. His true Body and true Blood stand up for you and defy every evil of body and soul. Here your suffering is eased. Here you have comfort given. Here, peace is given to you spiritually and physically.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ascended, but near [Ascension; St. Mark 16:14-20]

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Who speaks into your physical ears, this evening saying:

You may be saying to yourself, “After Good Friday and Easter and the post-Easter appearances of Jesus in the flesh to everyone, what more could possibly be worthy of note in holy Scripture?

You may also be thinking of great burdens being placed upon you now that Jesus has apparently left the building. So now it is all up to you. If the poor aren’t being fed its your fault. Jesus did His part, now its your turn and if you fail to do it, Jesus is absent and the church fails.

Because you can not see God, you naturally assume that through you, through your hands, God works in the world. And you wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t be right either. On the one hand, God does work through means and men. It has been so since Adam inherited the entire world.

On the other hand, if you weren’t here, God could and would still do His work. You can not use your work and your feelings to create the righteousness of God. You certainly do the work God has given you to do, but Jesus is not revealed in such things. Just because you do the works Jesus commanded, does not mean you are converting souls for Christ!

What the Ascension of Jesus is NOT about is God going away and leaving you in charge. The Lord is not about to let the important work of salvation fall into the hands of wayward and straying sheep.

How soon and quickly we forget our own reflection in the mirror, when at the start of Lent we heard the words, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.” Is the Lord just singing into the wind? Does He talk just to hear Himself?

The natural way of man is to return to the dust of the ground. The natural way of man is to fall under the curse of the Law. The natural way of man is to be natural, not supernatural. In fact, the natural is extremely afraid of the supernatural.

This is because the natural has become unnatural, sidling up to things such as sin, death, and the devil. When confronted with righteousness, sin is aggravated. When confronted with life, death is incensed. When confronted with forgiveness, the devil is a rabid, foaming beast.

You have become unnatural in your sin, trading the natural (communion with God) for the unnatural.

Dear Christians, Who exactly is it that the Lord is talking to in Psalm 110 when He says, “Sit thou at my right hand”? It is the Son of David Who is also the Son of God. But Who is the Son of God? He is both God and man. In Him is found both the unnatural and the natural on the cross, for God has taken on our unnatural state for us.

What exactly, then, are we seeing and hearing about on the Ascension of Jesus? Jesus is not just rising up to show off. He is not simply taking to the skies because that ‘s where all heavenly things belong. His sole purpose in Ascending is to take our nature into the supernatural.

Now a man sits at the right hand of God. Now a human is in control of the entire universe. Now, a body is not only containing all the glory of God, but is everywhere present, for you.

This supernatural exit is now the natural, even for us. As St. John Chrysostom says: “The exaltation of Christ referred only to His humanity. As God, He already possessed all earthly happiness and needed no further exaltation.” And St. Cyprian confirms him when he says that it was not the Almighty but the humanity of the Almighty which was exalted.

Jesus says: “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb;
4even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear; I will make you ascend and will save you.” (Is. 46:3-4)

Just as the Lord kept His promise on Easter Sunday, so also He continues to keep the promise of raising our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Though in our un-nature we are senseless and ungrateful, foolish, duller than the stones, base and unworthy, yet this most miserable nature, more senseless than all other creatures, is this day raised above every created being.

This day the angels and archangels behold that which they had so long desired to see. This day they behold our nature upon the royal throne, shining in immortal beauty and glory.

The Ascension of Jesus is your ascension. We are not just celebrating some stepping stone on your path to divine power to do good works, we are celebrating the work of Salvation that Christ purchased and won upon the cross.

Once again, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us and causing us to remember the past, for it is not just any Christ that is ascending, but it is the Crucified Christ. The Body that ascends today carries the marks of the nails and the wound of the spear.

It is the wounded, suffering, and crucified Christ that enters into the glory of the Father with our nature. Even though we are 40 days after Easter and even though Easter is the chief festival of the Church, She always looks back to the cross, for on it our unnatural nature is killed and buried.

For we share in this death of Jesus. We are stripped of our mortal, sinful nature as we are doused with the holy waters of baptism and brought out with a clean heart and a right Spirit. The death of Jesus is now ours, where we die to sin. The resurrection of Jesus is now ours, where we live towards God in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness forever.

The Ascension of Jesus in now ours in that we are united with Christ, Body and Blood. We are so close to God that at this moment His Word is echoing in our brains, His Spirit is filling our souls, and His Body and Blood course though our own. Thus, the life Jesus receives is the life we all receive at His very hand in the Divine Service, for free.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Contradict [Easter 6; St. John 16:23-30]


Jesus speaks to you pure doctrine today, in v.25 saying,

One of the favorite pastimes of the unbeliever is to point out contradictions in the Bible. Worse than that, is the favorite pastime of the so-called-evangelical Christian who will spend his time pointing out how unchristian the Lutheran church is, and inadvertently reveal a contradiction.

A person who reads the Bible only in a wooden view is called a Fundamentalist. They will take every passage they read quite literally, regardless of what the translation turns out to be. In this way, they end up with contradiction sin the Bible that they need to explain away, however, Jesus doesn’t take too kindly to metaphors.

The latest and greatest example of this comes from the command in Deuteronomy where the Lord says, “Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh” (12:23). The problem comes in when we hear Jesus say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53).

To this contradiction, we will say Jesus is using a metaphor and didn’t really mean what He said.

We run into a similar “problem” throughout the entire Bible. More famous is the Abraham debate. Was Abraham justified by faith as we hear in Romans, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:2) or by works in James 2, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?”

In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, our Lord states,
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (15:19)

But, in his letter to the Romans, St. Paul states,
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (10:10)

Here is the contradiction: Jesus has said the heart is evil and yet St. Paul is claiming justification, in front of God, with that same heart. So who is right? Who is using metaphor and who is speaking literally and who is going to say so?

At the outset, we take Jesus at His Word. So, in one sense, reading Jesus literally, in the simplest sense, is ok to do. What its not ok to do, when we are reading like that, is make excuses for Jesus’ words when they get too difficult to understand. If you’re going to read the Bible literally, at least be consistent.

For example, the eating and drinking blood business we just mentioned. If we read the Bible literally, then Jesus contradicts God and there is no reason to believe Him or anything else He says.

If we force on Him the metaphor business, then there is also no reason to believe Him, because then all of Scripture becomes a self-help book of keeping you on the straight and narrow and keeping others out. It becomes of division instead of unity.

Repent. This is the default way we read the Bible. The easy reasonable things Jesus says are easy and reasonable precisely because we can put them into action with out own two hands. We can live a clean and moral life to the best of our ability and attribute it to God working in our lives, thereby showing everyone how great a job we are doing, with God’s help of course.

What then would we have to say about forgiveness, if we continue on this path? No, you say, no. God always forgives there would never be…“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he [is] an holy God; he [is] a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” (Josh. 24:19).

If one part of the Bible is metaphor, then nothing prevents the rest of it from being a metaphor. If one part of the Bible is true, and another not, then nothing prevents the whole Bible from being untrue and who are you to say otherwise?

Dear Christians, there is a third way to read holy Scripture which employs the two ways already described, combined with a third view: the Christological view. This means Christ is at the center, not just of helping you do all the things you read in the Bible, but is also the subject of all the things you read in the Bible.

So when we hear passages about drinking blood we can agree with the literal sense, don’t be a vampire (it doesn’t work anyway) and don’t eat raw food cuz it makes you sick. And then when Jesus talks about it, we can say also that it is a metaphor for spiritual eating, because faith is necessary.

But now we can also say that because the prohibition was against animals and men and not against Jesus’ Body and Blood, we can be confident that if we can find Jesus’ Body and Blood to eat and drink, that it will give us what He promised it would give us.

Since Christ is the center of Scripture, Abraham can be justified by faith AND by works. By faith, because Jesus went to him first and washed away His uncleanness simply by giving His Word and by works, because by them Abraham shows that he heard God and understood Him.

Since Jesus is the subject of holy Scripture, our hearts can be both evil and justified at the same time. Evil, because we remain in our sin and Justified because Jesus has suffered, died and risen again in order to justify us before God.

In the same way, your sin can remain with you, or rather you keep returning to it, and the promises of God are not affected. The Father can still look on your sin with wrath and disgust, but now because of His Son, He can also view you through the crucifixion of Jesus, that is forgiven.

Jesus does not contradict God. Jesus is God. Jesus says hard figures of speech, but they only offend your reasoned certainties, they do not offend His work of salvation in any way.

You may squirm that you have to eat and drink blood, you may protest that you have to forgive your enemy, you may balk at the idea of free forgiveness, but just because you are offended or “feel” its not right, does not mean you are right.

Jesus speaks to us in our own language and employs it all in the literal, figurative, and mystical sense. If we try to make Jesus simply a man, we replace Him with us and we lose the meaning of the whole Bible.

If we let Jesus be Jesus; if we let Him say what He means and be right (instead of us), then we can begin to see the Light. We can begin to uncover the depth and richness of God Who does all things well. We can say to the skeptic, “Look to Jesus” and all these contradictions fall away.

Jesus can say what He wants, offend Who He wants, and mean it how He wants to mean it and all can be right with the world. We may even find a loving, caring, and forgiving God in the midst of all that and come to understand that He does it all for you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Historic Jesus [Easter 5; St. John 16:5-15]


Who speaks to us today, saying,

What this verse basically states is what St. John records Jesus saying in 14:26, that the Holy Spirit teaches us by reaching into the past and causing remembrance. In this way, the Holy Spirit’s realm is the past for this is where all Jesus said and did dwells.

In our recent conversations about Church art and aesthetics, we see this important factor come into play. Our art is not new or innovative, but a retelling of the past. In this way, Church art and decoration is a work of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to the events of the past where Jesus suffered and died for us.

But Church history does not end with what happened for us in the past, but what happened to us through the past. Thus, it is of vital importance to the Church of Christ and to the Christians that dwell in it and live through it, to remember the past, for even the promises for our future with Christ were made in the past.

You can begin to see why history becomes so important in the Church throughout the ages. Why monks painstakingly record history and attendance and why the arguments for the true Gospel, in the Reformation, did not come from new ideas, but from appealing to those from the past; those who had gone before.

Author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

This past week, you have been witness to history. The USA is, even now, stepping onto grounds it has never trespassed before and written furiously against so that it never would. But that all ended when New Orleans city council decided it was time to erase history and remove Civil War monuments in the name of tolerance.

We will now be numbered with the totalitarian governments of the past who eradicated any and all opposition for the sake of their vision of the future. We will be numbered with the masses that violently silenced all opposing views because they didn’t fit the narrative.

But it isn’t really about monuments. It’s really about the devil severing any and all ties with God. So he cuts off the past because that’s where God is, in the past. God is in history. Erase history and you erase God. Whoever controls the past, controls the future. If God was there, then the past was about salvation. If He wasn’t, then its dog eat dog.

This is played out over and over again in history. A Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany wrote this

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Jesus is the One who remembers all His people. Jesus is the one who speaks up for all His people. Jesus is then the one, for His troubles, who is forgotten, whom His enemies come for, and no one speaks up about.

This is the perfection of the holy Trinity. The Father speaks up for the Son, the Son speaks the Father’s words, and the Spirit speaks up for the Father and the Son. The unity displayed between the three Persons of the Trinity is a perfect union with no need for anyone else to remember or speak for them.

But now that God has stepped into human history spiritually and bodily, everything changes. Now the perfect unity is made more perfect at the inclusion of you. Now, the Christian does not wait to be spoken up for, because Christ has already spoken up for and marked them as one redeemed.

All that the Father has is mine, Jesus says, and now you are a part of that. You are not to regard yourself as separate, or alone, or forgotten. You have also been brought to the Father and are joined eternally to Jesus, through faith and hope.

And what we are to hope for, the Lord, Who fulfilled this, has shown us in His own flesh; in His own history in which He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, as it is written, “He was handed over for our sins and raised for our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)

The world is now convicted of sin in those who do not believe in Christ and His history; and of justice in those us who will rise again in Christ, for He said, “That we might be made the justice of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). For if justness is not in Him, then it is in no one.

But if it is in Him, He ascends, complete with us (Head and Body) to the Father; and this perfect justness will be completed in us. We have risen with Christ. He takes us to the heights. Being risen with Him then, our final resting place is in heaven.

Jesus praises tradition and history, not just through the work of the Holy ghost, but He also says, “This do in remembrance of me.” Here we see the purpose of all of history come full circle and present itself to the present.

In Christ’s Church, all times collide. We remember the past and it is brought into our hearing. We live in the present and yet are promised a future. We hope in the future and find comfort and peace in the past and the present.

This space-time collision of all of time then is given to you to take, eat, hear, and see. All of Salvation History (a.k.a. the Bible) is compressed into tiny, little St. Luke and you are no longer a rebel or a nobody in sin. You are a somebody in Christ, because now God’s history is your history.

Jesus creates history for you and gives you history not in order for you to go searching for God in it, but so that you find God searching for and finding you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Who's next? [Easter 4; St. John 16:16-22]


Jesus speaks to you today, saying,

As you approach a red light in your automobile, you encounter another car in front of you, also turning right. Traffic from the left is preventing that car from making a safe turn. You get anxious waiting as he searches for an opening and when there’s an opening, that space begs the question, “Who’s next?”

You’re on a date at an amusement park. You’ve spent the day standing in line after line, waiting for “your turn”. As the ferris wheel slows to a stop, the operator reaches for the door of the next empty car and shouts, “Who’s next?”

Empty seats, empty spots in line, and the like all point to your chance. If you were waiting, now its your turn. Your turn to take a seat. Your turn to get a chance. Your turn to be your turn. This could be anything we are waiting for, really; job offers, school applications, or even medical treatments. There is nothing better a child loves to hear more during a game than, “Its your turn.”

However, not all empty seats are pleasant and eagerly anticipated. “It’s your turn to change the baby”, “It s your turn to take care of mom, this week”, or “It’s your turn to tell them he died.” We’d rather not have to pull duty for these types of situations, for obvious reasons: they’re unpleasant and downright depressing, but necessary no matter what we think of them.

Abraham was given an unpleasant “seat” to take. He had been called righteous. He followed his God to a far away land to begin making a great nation. He was promised a miraculous son, begotten in his old age. He was promised this son would make him the father of many nations.

Then he was told to kill this son. Having fulfilled and believed all these promises, Abraham is brought to a point in his obedience where he would rather not be. He is told to travel three days to a mountain. He is told to build an altar. He is told to prepare a fire. At this point, the wood is cold and the altar is ready for a sacrifice. “Who’s next?”, it calls.

Jacob also had a son named Joseph, whose brothers threw him in an empty cistern, faked his death, and sold him into slavery. Joseph was pulled out, but when it was empty it cried out to anyone else who would oppose the brothers, “Who’s next?”

When the Egyptian soldiers ransacked Hebrew houses in search of male children to kill, one soldier had no job to do, because Moses was hidden away. His clean sword asked, “Who’s next?” As Babylon rose to power and razed all of Israel to the ground, the smoldering ashes of the city rose to the sky signaling, “Next”.

As you walk into the casket room at the funeral home, you see many caskets. You only need one, but there are so many open and waiting. Who will be the next to need one of those? Then we secretly give a silent “thank you” that it wasn’t our turn, even though it will be someone we know and love in the casket we will buy, it won’t be our turn.

Empty caskets are not comforting, no matter the context. Everyone knows they are for people, not things and everyone knows what you do with them: bury them with a body in it.

In the same way, Jesus approached Golgotha and found an empty cross. It wasn’t a sign of rescue, it wasn’t a sign of comfort, and it sure wasn’t a sign of pleasantness. It was an empty spot and He was next. There were other crosses there, empty crosses, waiting for others to take their turns and the Romans always left them out, just in case anyone needed reminding of what it meant to disobey.

Empty crosses are joyless crosses for this reason. They stare you in the face and demand with deafening authority, “Who’s next?”

Just because we know the rest of the story, does not make an instrument of torture and capital punishment any less threatening to you.

The cross is full. Full of Jesus. There is no “Who’s next” from the cross if Jesus is on it. There is no threat from that full cross, because there is no room for anyone else on it, much less you.

Now, you say, what about the tomb? The tomb is lying empty now, so isn’t that asking the same question? The short answer is no. Because the cross is full and because this tomb was forced to produce life, even if another were to be placed in it, he would simply come out alive.

Because Jesus is on the cross and has been raised from the dead, the grave may stare at us and say we’re next, but because of the resurrection, there is another side to the grave. Now it is simply a way-station to eternal life, instead of a last stop.

Thus, when Jesus tells us that "a little while and you will see me no longer", He is not only speaking to His disciples about His death and resurrection. He is speaking to you and your flimsy flesh, where when you find emptiness in Church you fill it with worldly things, thinking you see one thing or another, with your mind wandering to laundry lists and scorecards.

But, again  little while and you will see Him. We do not fill this church, Jesus does. Jesus fills this church with all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily. Jesus fills this church to overflowing. No matter what we may do to it or think of it, the Gospel purely preached will fill any space to the brim.

Jesus does not leave our imaginations in charge. He gives us time, date, place, who, what, why and how. He specifies that forgiveness received from a pastor is forgiveness received from Him, which fills the space of where we find forgiveness from Jesus.

He details the Font with promises of salvation in the water and the Word, regardless of where or who. Jesus fills that space with His salvation, so there is no mistaking who is next. He specifically maps out that His Body and Blood are to be taken and eaten and drunk, leaving no room for doubt or speculation as to where life and light are to be found.

Jesus fills His Church with His Goodness in this way in order that His Name be great upon the earth, but also that we not mess it up in adding something in that’s not supposed to be there.

In unbelief, I am on the cross and I am in the grave and there is no comfort or salvation there for the entire world, there is only great pain for me and it has nothing to do with anyone else. We didn’t see Jesus in any place or maybe we saw Him everywhere, but either way it meant He was nowhere.

Faith sees Jesus, not everywhere, but here where His Word promises. It is easy to see Jesus in miracles and good feelings. Faith sees Jesus on the cross. Faith sees Jesus in baptism. Faith sees Jesus in His Word. Faith sees Jesus in bread and wine.

Now the question remains, “Who’s next?”, but it is no longer asked with blind eyes. For now, in Christ, we eagerly anticipate our turn as children once again, because we believe His promise of forgiveness and we know that the call is not to emptiness of death and grave, but fullness of life and light.

Though we still wait in the line that leads to the cemetery, we are not afraid, for Christ now fills the line with His salvation. The cry goes up: “Who’s next?” and it is a call to the throne of heaven. For where the King is, Body and Blood, there the kingdom is. There is no empty cross or empty casket in Church, only an empty spot at the rail, ready to be filled with the only thing missing here: you.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Shepherd smells [Easter 3; St. John 10:11-16]


The Good Shepherd truly speaks to you all today saying,

A shepherd smells like the sheep.

Able was called from the fields in order to go to church, to offer a sacrifice to God. Cain thought, what good is he? He does no real work and he smells like the sheep.

Moses was called from the pastures of Midian to stand, not just before Pharaoh and Egypt, but also in front of his own people. All of them, Pharaoh and Israel, looked at Moses and declared, “Why should we listen? He smells like the sheep.”

David was not invited to church when Samuel came to give communion. He was the forgotten son. His father said, “There is yet the youngest”, but he smells like the sheep.

Ben was sent to Rensselaer to stand in front of this community and his flock at St. Luke. They look at him; they listen to him and they conclude: “Isn’t he just one of us? He smells like the sheep.”

The vocation of shepherd is not on any top 10, or even top 500, of the most desired/well paid career lists. The hours are never ending, the pay is bunk, and the flock is stubborn and ungrateful and after a while, they pass their scent on to the shepherd. Though it does not change their disposition, they finally admit, “Huh. He smells just like us.”

Though he doesn’t look or act like a sheep, they can at least distinguish between him and the wolf or the hireling, if only by scent. And what is that scent? Wool. Sweat. Slobber. Feces. Field and barn.

Therefore Jesus says to all of you, “I AM the Good Shepherd” and He has always been here. Since the beginning, Jesus has literally been among His created sheep, both those that follow and those that turn away, even those who turn violently away, as in the case of Cain and Egypt and all the enemies of Israel.

In this way, Jesus is the most sheep-like, because, not only is He covered with all of the sheep-smells of His people, mentioned before, but He is also covered in their blood when it was taken, justly or unjustly.

But this smell is not just physical. It is also the smell of action and behavior, for sin, death, and the devil also have their own distinct stench that lies on the sheep. Thus, when Jesus presents Himself in sheep’s clothing, in the flesh, to stand in front of His own flock, they proclaim, “Don’t we know His mother? And His sisters and brothers are among us as well. He smells like the sheep.”

These are the very accusations we level at Jesus: that He is a sinner. That He is a sheep and no shepherd. That He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He eats and drinks with them. He consorts with them. He has a devil and speaks crazy things, claiming to be God!

Therefore He must also smell of death. He eats, drinks, and sleeps. He gets tired. He shows emotion. This must mean that He can bleed and die just like us.

Repent! What we accuse Jesus of, is that very thing that condemns us. We are the ones who smell of rot and sin. We are the ones who betray and slander each other. We are the hypocrites. We are the ones who die.

Yes, He comes as a sheep. He is born of a virgin and made man. He takes on the sin of the world and acquires its hellish stink. He is tempted by the damning lies of the devil, and He dies a guilty death, just like ours.

Dear Christians, rejoice that your Lord smells just like you, else how would you know it was He? If He was not like you in every way, you would cast Him out like a foreigner. You would ridicule and not believe. You would revile and crucify. And this you did, because He claimed to also be God.

And this you did according to God’s plan for your life: that the Shepherd would lay down His life for His sheep, in order that they would now begin to smell like Him.

“I know my own and my own know me.” You thought this was just a relationship thing, where Jesus talks to you and you talk back to Him. You learn about Him, He learns about you?

Stay close to me, Jesus says, not just in lip-service, but in heart, mind, soul, and body. Cling to His scarred and risen Body. Do this, and you will acquire a new smell. Draw near to Jesus in order that you not only share His mind-set and clothing, but that you also are so close that you share His Blood.

We are starting to get a better idea of what this sheepfold really is, where Jesus keeps His sheep. It is not just a club of like-minded hypocrites, good at hiding their sins from the world, but a sanctuary. Not just any sanctuary; not one made with hands or stone, but one made of Body and Blood.

So, now there is a new smell. One which only the Shepherd has, which the wolf and hireling will never possess. That is the stink of resurrection, of life, of forgiveness. The Good Shepherd has rolled around in death and has come out with only life. Jesus has plumbed the depths of sin, death, and the devil, scraped up the last of their odor, and left them all in hell.

In the Resurrection, only one of the false accusations thrown at Jesus is proved false: the one that said He wasn’t God, for He has died to sin, once for all, never to die again. The smell of life is the smell of God.

Now remember how He said to you, “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Lk. 24:47)

So now, the smell of God is the smell of forgiveness. The Good Shepherd is distinguished from all others, by His reeking of and giving of forgiveness. Anything else that is preached, in His Name or not, is not from the Good Shepherd. It may even be direct quotes from Him, in His holy Scriptures, but it is not from Him.

If the forgiveness of sins does not have top priority and is not the main point in a sermon, article, whatever, then that is a big red flag for you to say, “That doesn’t smell like the sheep.”

For now, the Good Shepherd not only talks to and herds His sheep, but He gives them new lives that smell like Him; that is forgiveness. They say you are what you eat and what you eat affects how you smell, so what are you going to ingest to begin and continue to smell like your Good Shepherd?

Jesus doesn’t leave behind tunic or cologne for us to splash on. His words and mimicking His actions only take us so far. Much more than those things, a fundamental change must take place in us. Our very constitution must be remade in order to be like Jesus; not only of the mind, but body and soul.

The Sacraments do this great work and those whom Jesus sends points out this great work to the sheep in order that they would come to know their Good Shepherd and not only have to trust their hearts. For Jesus gives us His Word AND Signs: Word and water; Word and bread and wine.

Abel, Moses, Thomas, and the rest sent by Jesus are like the Shepherd because they offer and give the forgiveness of sins. They preached the promise of new life found only in the promise of God’s Messiah. And today, nothing has changed. The same life Abel offered and was offered is offered to you.

The Shepherd elevates His sheep from death to life and you grab hold of this promise, because now you find that you are a sheep baptized into the Shepherd. You are a sheep spoken to and speaking the words of the Shepherd. You are a sheep that feasts on the Shepherd, Himself.

Really, there is only the Shepherd. You are no longer your own. You have been crucified with Christ. You no longer live as a sheep, Christ lives. The life you live, you live in faith, being one with the Shepherd, for the forgiveness of your sins (Gal. 2:20). Alleluia!