Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jubilate: John 16:16-21

                                                                                                Easter 4
                                                                                                Jn 16:16-22

            Today, almost one in three babies are born by Caesarean section - 31.9% of births.  That percentage his risen greatly since 1970 when only 5% of births were C-section.  This has caused some concern because studies have indicated that 19% is about the upper limit for C-sections to be a positive factor for healthy outcomes.  Beyond that, the overuse of C-sections begins to yield difficulties.
            A number of explanations have been provided for the increase in C-sections.  One is that we have much better fetal monitoring today, and so are far more aware about changes in the baby’s condition.  Yet because doctors have this information, they may be more sensitive to changes than they need to be, and thus quicker to decide on a C-section.
            Another explanation is the litigious age in which we live. When the outcome is not good in a natural child birth, the obvious question becomes: “Why didn’t the doctor do a C-section?” Doctors may be more inclined to do C-sections because it makes clear that everything possible was done and protects them against lawsuits.
            Finally, C-sections give mothers more control.  Rather than waiting on the unknown timing of labor, they can schedule a date for a C-section and make all of their other plans accordingly.  For Amy and me this sounded really good when she had the twins. She was scheduled for a C-section because Matthew was breach.  We got up thinking that we had a leisurely day to make final arrangements before the twins were born the next day.  But when Amy’s water broke that morning it was off to the hospital for the deliver – whether we had planned on it or not.
            This trend toward C-sections means that fewer women today experience what Jesus uses to describe the time in which we wait for his return.  He talks about the sorrow a woman has when the hour has come for her to give birth.  Amy certainly experienced this when she gave birth to Timothy.  Yet as our Lord says, when it was done there was joy that a baby – her first – had been born into the world and the difficulties didn’t matter anymore.
            Our text is found in the portion of John’s Gospel that is usually called the Farewell Discourse.  It was the night when Jesus was betrayed and our Lord and the disciples were on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus began to tell them that he was going way, but that he would then come back.  He was returning t the Father.  Jesus said, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
            The disciples were confused and distressed by what Jesus what was saying.  In our text Jesus again says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  Some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father'?’  They were saying, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about.”
            The disciples were confused. They didn’t understand, and Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him about what he had stated.  So he said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” Jesus’ departure would be a source of sadness for the disciples.  By contrast, the world would rejoice because it would be free continue as its own god, ignoring the Lord who seemed to be absent.
            That’s the way it is today.  Jesus has ascended – he has withdrawn his visible presence.  I don’t see him.  You don’t see him.  The world doesn’t see him.  The difference is that the world concludes that because this is so, Jesus is just a myth.  The claims made about him aren’t true. He is not the way, the truth and the life.  He is not the only way to salvation.
            Instead of believing these claims, the world rejects and attacks those who do. The very clear message is that polite people don’t talk about religion in public.  A person certainly does not speak if he or she is going to make any absolute truth claims about Jesus. Do that, and you will experience exactly what Jesus described in the previous chapter when he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
            Our response as we live in the world is often silence. But this is wrong. That is fear, not faith.  Our Lord doesn’t deny the difficulty of living in a sinful world when we are not of the world – when we haven born again of water and the Spirit as the children of God.  Instead he tells us what the future hold.  He gives us hope.
            Jesus says, “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 human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
            Jesus tells us three things. First, you have sorrow now. Suffering and hardships because of Jesus are simply part of the Christian life. That’s just the way it is. If you don’t think so, then we need to talk because you are doing something wrong.
            Second, you will see Jesus.  We pray, “Come Lord Jesus!”  We do because we want Jesus to rescue us from sin and all that it has done to this world.  We want Jesus to appear in power and might and glory so that every knee will have to bow and confess that he is Lord and God. We want Jesus to vindicate us before he world for believing and trusting in him while the world heaped scorn upon us. Jesus says that he will return and do these things. 
            And third, our Lord says your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  His return will bring joy that has no end.  It will bring a joy so great that, like the woman who has given birth, we no longer remember the pain and difficulties of the present. This is the hope that we have.
            It is a hope that is grounded in this season of the church year that we are celebrating.  It is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ ascension is part of one big upward movement that begins with his death.  His glorification begins at the cross, because it doesn’t end at the cross.  Instead, this saving work that Father gave him to do is a work that leads inevitably to resurrection; then to ascension; and then to return on the Last Day.
            Jesus came to do the Father’s will.  In the next chapter, he prays: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
            Jesus accomplished his work.  He cried out, “It is finished” as he died on cross as your Passover lamb. Because he shed his blood for you, God’s judgment passes over you and you suffer no harm.  Now, Jesus has risen from the dead and he gives you the eternal life that has already started in our Lord.
            At the end of this chapter Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  By his death and resurrection Jesus has overcome the world.  He has given you peace.  You have peace with God.  You have the peace of knowing how all of this turns out.
            Its result will be joy.  In his resurrection Jesus has already won!  His resurrection is the beginning of your victory.  Jesus has returned to the Father as the exalted Lord.  He completed the work that Father had given him to do.  You already now receive those benefits because Jesus has overcome the world. 
            And Jesus assures you that when he returns in glory you will have nothing but joy.  You will have a joy so great that it will drive out all memory of the present troubles; a joy that you will possess forever.  As Jesus says in our text, “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 human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”




Friday, April 20, 2018

Commemoration of Johannes Bugenhagen

Today we remember and give thanks for Johannes Bugenhagen.  Bugenhagen (1485-1558), from Pomerania in northern Germany, was appointed pastor of Wittenberg in 1523 through the efforts of Martin Luther and thus served as Luther's own pastor and confessor. One of the greatest scholars of the Reformation era, he helped translate the New Testament into Low German and wrote a commentary on the Psalms. He also worked to organize the Lutheran Church in northern Germany and Denmark, journeying to Copenhagen where he crowned both King and Queen and consecrated seven men to the offices of superintendent and bishop. 

Collect of the Day:
O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Johannes to be a pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter - Misercordias Domini: Jn 10:11-16

                                                                                    Easter 3
                                                                                    Jn 10:11-16

            To be sure, I love our dogs. They are a great blessing in the life of our family.  Luther, our golden retriever, is probably not the smartest dog you will encounter.  But he’s a really good looking animal who wants to be with his people and has a great disposition.
            Noel is technically Abigail’s dog. She’s a little white maltippo.  Now there is no way that I ever planned on having a small dog.  I didn’t want one.  However, when Abigail was six years old and wanted a dog like that for Christmas, there was of course no way that dad was going to refuse his only little girl. And Noel has been a surprise because she has been a joy.  She is a smart dog with so much personality, and she is the most affectionate creature you are going to meet.  Both dogs are heroes in my book for the way they were Amy’s constant companions when she was at home recovering from brain surgery.
            However, as much as I love those dogs and enjoy them, there is no way that I am going to sacrifice my life for them. It’s not happening.  I would certainly do everything I could to save them, but if it in any way involved risk to my own life that would be it. 
            The reason is very simple.  I am a human being and they are dogs.  I was created in God’s image and they were not. I was created to have dominion over them, not to give my life for them. And then beyond that I have vocations in which I am needed by people I love such as husband, father and pastor. So if push comes to shove and it becomes a matter of risking my life to save them, they are out of luck. 
            There may be a few exceptions, but I think most people would say the same thing.  And if we aren’t willing to give up our life to save a dear family pet, we certainly would not do so in order to save a group of sheep.  We would not give our life to save a resource that is there only to produce wool, milk, meat and hides.
            And yet … the Lord Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  I would argue that this makes no sense.  What makes sense is what Jesus goes on to say: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  Now sure, if I own the sheep – if they are my investment – I am going to do everything I can to save them.  But I am not going to give me life for them.
            Our Lord says something remarkable today; something striking; something that is frankly, shocking.  And it’s shocking because it is a metaphor about what he has done for you and for me.  Jesus says that he lays down his life for the sheep.  Jesus laid down his life on the cross for you.  Unlike the hired hand, he cared so much about you that he gave his life to save you.
            In the metaphor, Jesus describes himself as the shepherd and us as the sheep.  The metaphor shocks because it makes no sense – people don’t give their lives to save animals.  They certainly didn’t do it in the first century world to save sheep.
            Yet while the shepherd and sheep metaphor is shocking, the reality it describes is even more shocking – even more amazing.  After all, we are talking about the holy Son of God.  We are talking about the Word – the second person of the Trinity; the One who is God and created the world. This is the One who became flesh in order to give himself into death for you.  This would not be like you giving your life to save your family pet.  It would be you giving your life to save a bacteria.
            Not only are you insignificant compared to the Creator of the cosmos – you are a sinner.  You are most certainly not holy.  Instead, your life is characterized by greed and coveting; by hatred and angry words; by jealousy and lust. Even when you know that you shouldn’t be this way, it still keeps bubbling up and taking over.
            And yet … because you are this way God sent his Son into the flesh.  God’s intent and purpose was to save you.  Jesus laid down his life to rescue you. It makes no sense. And that’s why it is Gospel.  It is grace – completely unmerited; completely undeserved; completely off the wall, but in a way that means nothing but blessings for you.
            In our text, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.  Of course, if that were it, the whole thing would be rather futile.  The shepherd would be dead. And what about the next time a wolf came around?
            But in the verses immediately after our text, Jesus goes on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  During this season of Easter we celebrate and give thanks for the fact that on the third day, Jesus took up his life again.  He defeated death in order to give us life.
            The Shepherd who lay down his life for the sheep – for us – is not gone.  Instead, he is alive and he continues to care for us.  At the beginning of this discussion Jesus said, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
            Jesus called you by name.  He did it in your baptism.  In the first centuries of the Church, baptism was described as a seal.  It was thought of as the mark of ownership that had been placed upon a Christian.  You belong to Christ. He laid down his life for you, and then he took it up again.  He claimed you as his own by dying for you and rising from the dead.
            And now he continues to speak to you.  You hear his voice as he leads you toward the Last Day and resurrection of the dead.  You hear his voice through the inspired Scriptures.  His Spirit borne words draw you to follow him.
            They do so as long as you listen to his voice.  Our Lord goes on to say, “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  The voices of many strangers fill our world today.  There are voices that say only you can decide what is true for you.  There are voices that say you are free to use your sexuality in whatever way you want.  There are voices that say you can only be happy with more of this and a better that.
            These are voices from which we must flee. These are not voices that want what is best for us.  Instead these voices are really only one voice. They are the voice of the devil.  It is his voice that speaks through all that would separate us from Christ.  He is a murderer and the father of lies.  He wants to steal, and kill and destroy. 
            However the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd is the complete opposite.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus gives life now.  At the end of this chapter our Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  This is the confidence that you have as baptized child of God.
Jesus gives eternal life to those who follow him.  As the risen Lord he promises that those who hear his voice and follow him will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of his hand.
            The self giving love of Jesus moved him to lay down his life for us the sheep.  But this saving action is not limited to a small group.  It wasn’t even limited to God’s Old Testament people.  Instead, Jesus says at the end of our text, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
            You are the other sheep, that were “not of this fold”!   You were not part of God’s people because you did not descend from Abraham.  You were not part of the people of Israel.  And yet Jesus spoke to you.  You heard his voice.  He called you by name. And now you are part of the one flock that has one Shepherd.
            There are still others who are not part of this fold.  Jesus died for them too and rose from the dead. They need to hear his voice.  And the remarkable thing is that now you become the means by which Jesus’ voice is heard. Jesus speaks through you. 
            But for him to speak, you must speak. The Collect for last Sunday echoed the Gospel lesson in which Thomas confessed that Jesus is Lord and God.  It said, “Almighty God, grant that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God.”
            Your life bears witness to Jesus.  At the Last Supper Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The life that shares Jesus’ love with others is the voice of Jesus that calls them to join his flock. 
            And in our conversations we seek to share with others about who Jesus is and what he has done for us.  He is God in the flesh who died and rose again to give us life.  He is the incarnate Lord who was willing to be nailed to a cross and rise on the third day with scars that demonstrate his sacrifice and victory. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, and takes it up again.