Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Thursday Sermon: "Jesus' Last Will and Testament"

+ Holy Thursday – April 17th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Exodus 24:3-11; Hebrews 9:11-22; Matthew 26:17-30

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Few things humble us more than signing a Last Will and Testament. It brings to our eyes the mortality we try to ignore daily. But there before the lawyer and the witness, before God and the pen everything is disclosed. Every signature the Death needles you more painfully than a tattoo artist. There's no death removal by laser treatment. Dust to dust. Signing a will and testament is literally signing your life away. It's not fun. It's not supposed to be. However, it is necessary. And it is good. Parents love their children in life and in death.

There's nothing you wouldn't do for them. Provide for their needs. Prepare them for the future. And give them life - an inheritance - out of your death. How much do you love me, daddy? This much. Nothing is withheld from you. All that is mine is yours.

There are few things more humbling than this. But there is at least one thing more humbling, no the most humbling thing of all. And he is the definition of humility, the spring of self-sacrifice from which all humility flows.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

In the Old Testament a covenant was not simply made; it was cut. That’s the literal word for covenant making: “to cut a covenant.” In the OT forgiveness was a bloody affair. You heard Moses: blood on the altar, blood on the people, blood everywhere. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The New Testament is no different. God still cuts a covenant with us. Forgiveness is still a bloody affair. But the chief difference, of course, is that now we have a new Lamb. And this Lamb gives a New Testament: his flesh and his blood. Jesus will give us nothing but the best, Himself. His blood. His purity. His holiness. His redemption. His spotless conscience. All to cover our impurity, our unholiness, our rebellion, our soiled, sin-ridden flesh.

Jesus cuts one last covenant in his own flesh. It’s a covenant and promise that works backwards and forwards. Backwards, for it fulfills and consumes all the sacrifices of the OT. Every jot and tittle of the Law, every sacrifice, and word of the OT finds its fulfillment in the covenant God cuts in the hands, and feet, and side of Jesus. A covenant that also works forward. From the cross to the chalice. Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper continue to do and give what he promises.

The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ Last Will and Testament for you. Take eat. Take drink. This is the cup of the new testament - the last testament, the everlasting testament - in my blood. Made by the perfect Testator. He is the one who pre-deceases you. That's the legal term for what the Scriptures confess: Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead. That's good news for all of us. You are heirs to a greater, everlasting will and testament, signed and sealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.

For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.  Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood.  For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,  saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.  And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. (Hebrews 9)

Christ, your Testator, has dipped his pen into Calvary's bloody inkwell and signed his life away to us, his wayward, rebellious children. The Law's demands – the 10 commandments you and I have not kept - have been satisfied. Though we deserved no inheritance, not a penny – and though we squander our Father’s riches daily - he still gives you all he has, freely.

Behold the cross, a divine notary public, declaring to all the world that the undersigned, hereby declares you the benefactors and heirs according to His name. There on the cross your mortality and immortality are both seen clearly. The death you deserved, Christ dies. The life you didn't deserve, Christ gives to you freely.

Death has lost its sting. Yes, it pokes, prods, and pricks us here in this life. But Death no longer has dominion over you. Jesus has taken your death. He is your Testator. His death is the guarantee of all he promises you. He gives you his body and blood. Take eat. Take drink. He gives you his death and resurrection. It's yours in Baptism. His promise and testament are yours. Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven.

And that's the chief difference between our Will and Testament and Jesus' Will and Testament. Ours ends on this side of the grave. His does not. His destroys the power of the grave. His is an everlasting covenant, a Testament without end. Our pain and suffering is but a shadow, our legal documents but a copy of the greater suffering endured and the greatest inheritance given by Christ for you and for the world. For Jesus is not only the giver of the inheritance. He himself is our inheritance. That's the joy of heaven come to earth. On the night in which He was betrayed…

…Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

That Holy Thursday - the long-suffering night, the betrayal, the trial, the mockery and beating, the stripping and cruel coronation, the death march to Good Friday - none of that was any fun for Jesus either. Then again it wasn't supposed to be. But it was good. And it was necessary. Jesus loves us little children into birth and life in His Name. He loves you to death. And that means nothing and no one will snatch you out of his hands. Just ask him; He still has the scar-tissued parchment to prove it to you.

There's nothing he wouldn't do - nothing he hasn't done - for you.

Tonight we taste and see that the Lord, and how his mercy endures forever. His table is prepared. Jesus provides you with a holy meal. Jesus’ body and blood is your food of forgiveness, your bread of life, your manna in the wilderness, your inheritance, his new testament to you.

Tonight we join Moses and all the saints as we behold God, as we eat and drink.

Tonight we are gathered in the Holy Place where Great High Priest Jesus pours out his eternal redemption from the cross to the chalice.

Tonight the Lamb of God without blemish gives you forgiveness without limit marking the very doorposts of our heart and soul with his blood.

Nothing is withheld from you. “All that is mine is yours,” Jesus declares. “I, the undersigned, do hereby declare it”

“Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the new testament, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday Sermon: "Entrances and Exits"

+ Palm Sunday – April 13th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: John 12:12-19; Isaiah 50:4-9; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:20-43

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits. Think about how many times we enter and exit places.
This morning you’ve already entered several rooms in your home, your car, and here into the Lord’s house. In a short while you’ll exit this church and leave the liturgy of the Divine Service for the liturgy of life in your vocations where you’ll enter into service where Christ has stationed you.
Entrances and exits surround our weekly routines: grocery store, school, work, and home.
Entrances and exits are also a part of our earthly life: in birth we enter, at death we exit. But that is not the final entrance. 

There is also your exit from sin and death in Holy Baptism – such as Jennifer and Donovan receive today. Our old sinful nature is drowned and buried and a new nature in Christ arises. Baptism is also an entrance, the doorway into the kingdom of God, a new birth by water and the Spirit. That’s why many churches place their baptismal font at the entrance of the church, a physical reminder that we enter the Church through the waters of Baptism. In Baptism we exit death and enter into Christ’s death and life for us.
Our Christian life is full of entrances and exits. Members move away and enter a new church home. Family and friends die and enter eternal rest awaiting the grand entrance of the Resurrection. And new members join. Confirmation continues. Baptism gathers God’s children into the ark of the Church and into the arms of Jesus and they’re blessed. We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise as we kneel in the Holy Place and receive Christ’s body and blood. Heaven enters earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross enters our mouth.
Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits, for you and for Jesus.
Today Jesus enters the holy city riding atop a prophesied donkey:
The crowds wave palm branches and shout the words of Psalm 118: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Today we join the crowds in this sacred song. Hosanna! Lord, save us.

Jesus entered Jerusalem for this reason. Jesus is your Hosanna. Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord for you. Jesus enters Jerusalem to save you. It is just as the prophet Zechariah foretold:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey's colt!”

Jesus’ life is also full of entrances and exits. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem he entered the home of Mary and Martha. And upon his Word, Lazarus exited the grave.
Before that Jesus entered a village and healed a blind man so that he could exit the darkness and enter Christ’s life-giving light.
Jesus entered the homes of the sick and the sinners. Jesus entered the synagogues proclaiming that he was the promised Messiah who would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, raise the dead, and free us from bondage to sin and death – a grand exit.
Jesus entered the towns of Samaria in order to rescue the outcast and outsider.
Jesus entered the wilderness in order to endure temptation for you and rebuke Satan for you, and to tell him to exit his presence at once.
Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan in order to enter into your death as your substitute.
Jesus entered the temple as a 12 year old boy with the Word of God upon his lips.
Jesus entered the temple at eight days old in order to fulfill the entire Law by receiving circumcision and his name, Jesus, for he shall save you from your sins.
Jesus exited the womb of Mary; he entered this world with our human flesh all so that he could make these entrances. So that he could make the most important entrance of all: into Jerusalem, through the gates, up to the temple, up to upper room, out to the garden of Gethsemane, into the city, up on the cross. This is the hour for which he came. Palm Sunday gives way to Good Friday. Palms give way to passion. Triumph gives way to crucifixion.
Entrances and Exits.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
The Palm Sunday crowds are right. Jesus is a king, But He is no ordinary King. His kingdom is not of this world. His donkey is borrowed. His royal robes are worn only in mockery. His head is crowned with thorns. His throne is a cross. His spends his Sabbath day rest in the tomb. He goes to holy war by dying for His people and kingdom. Never has the world seen such a King as this one.
Jesus exits Jerusalem and enters the judgment and punishment of our sin. He goes to the cross, to his death, for all the times we’ve entered into sin. There’s no deadly sin we haven’t stuck our noses in. And for all that – the sinner we are and the sin we do - we deserve to be ones entering our graves. But we’re not. Jesus takes your place. Jesus enters Jerusalem and exits it again for you. Jesus enters the cross for you. Jesus exits his last breath for you. Jesus enters the tomb for you. All so that Jesus’ mercy never exits from us, no matter how often we’ve entered into sin.
For Jesus did not stay in the tomb. Jesus exited. Jesus rose. Jesus lives. Jesus entered death and came out again, taking you and a fallen world with him. And like OT Ruth we confess: Where you go, I will go.
Jesus leaves the grave behind. Jesus ascends. Jesus enters the eternal reign of heaven. But Jesus does not leave you alone.
Jesus fills His church, this place - and every place where his word, water, body and blood are given – with all of his life-restoring, sin-forgiving, heaven-opening entrances and exits. The cross of Christ is the key and the door to paradise.
This is what Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is all about. Through all of Jesus’ entrances and exits you are saved, hallowed, blessed, given mercy, redemption, and the guarantee of an exit from death and an entrance into life.
Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Today we join the crowds and sing Hosannas as we enter the Holy Place and Jesus draws us to himself again. He gathers us around His table, His body, and His blood. His forgiveness of sins and eternal life enter the doorway of our lips. Hosanna! Blessed are you who come in the Name of the Lord!
Palm Sunday is a joyous reminder that in all the entrances and exits of life, Christ goes ahead of you, Christ goes with you, and Christ goes for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Theology Goes to the Movies: "Noah"

There's very little to say about the recent movie Noah that hasn't already been said, or written about on blogs, or debated ad naseum on social media. In this regard, I think one of the best critical reviews of this movie came from a fellow pastor and friend from seminary, Rev. Michael Schuermann. You can find his review by clicking here. It's well worth your time and thoughtful reading. Here are also a couple other interesting tidbits of review from the National Catholic Register, not that I agree with every conclusion, but there are some thought provoking things in this review, as well as the interview done with director Darren Aronofsky.

So, after a few weeks of reflection I only have a couple of main points that keep returning to my mind when people ask me what I thought about the movie.

First, I appreciate the work of Darren Aronofsky in presenting the Biblical account of the flood in a visually stimulating manner. Cinematography and visual effects were not schmaltzy or obviously digital, even though computer graphics were a major player in this movie. The visual effects were certainly working overtime as constant display of just how bad the world was under the curse of sin. And more than the visual effects, I appreciate Aronofsky for getting this part right. There were no smiling dolphins playing in the waters around the ark, or giraffes poking their heads from the ark, and Noah wasn't sitting around singing kumbaya for 150 days on the ark. The movie was dark, somber, and painted with realism, not idealist romanticism or nursery rhyme theology. If Aronofsky's Noah got one thing right it was the Law, and along with that, God's justice. However, as Rev. Schuermann reminds us in his review (and this is what I had noticed as well), Noah lacks mercy. Here are a couple of choice paragraphs:

For Christians, it is crucial that the account of Noah and the Flood is one of God’s mercy in addition to His justice because of what the New Testament reveals about this event. Christians see in the events of the Flood a picture of God’s care for His Church in the midst of trials: “if [God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” (2 Peter 2:5, 9)

Christians also see the events of the Flood as a preview or picture of God’s cleansing mankind of sin and saving them for Himself through the waters of Holy Baptism. “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:20–21).

Law, justice, and big, bad ocean waves make for great movie watching; and the Law might sell a lot of "How-to" books at a Christian book store. But the Law is not life; it is death. Just ask Noah in Genesis 6-8. All those awe-filled cinematic moments don't amount to much of anything without the Gospel. Had Aronofsky spent as much time visually pouring out God's mercy as he did depicting God's wrath, the movie might have fared better in the end. But then again, as it has been said, the book is always better than the movie. And this leads me to my second and final point.

I had the joy of seeing this movie with the youth of Redeemer Lutheran, HB. I've said it before and I'll say it again: our Lutheran youth are smart and we should never let anyone say otherwise. My favorite part of the movie Noah actually began once the movie ended. I overheard the youth talking about it the movie in the parking lot and then when we arrived back at church for dinner I waited to say anything for a while - actually it was hard for me get a word in edgewise what with all their critiquing and commentary. But I'm not complaining about that. This is a good thing. That was the best thing about this movie. For the first twenty minutes or so I heard things like, "Pastor, did you see those glowing bodies, what was up with that?" or, "That wasn't in the book of Genesis!" or, "What's with those rock people; I don't remember that in catechism class." and, "Can you believe they did that, pastor; that was just ridiculous."

The movie ticket may have been five dollars (and thankfully a gracious member paid for mine), but that reaction from the Lutheran youth made it worth any price of admission they would've been charging us. Priceless. I couldn't have been more proud of them. It may not always look like our Lutheran youth are listening when we teach them in Sunday School or Catechism class. But they're listening, learning, and when they are given the opportunity, they're remarkably brilliant, discerning, and faithful in their vocation as youth. They confess the faith; they care about the truth - at the movies, of all places, where they know it's going to be heavily influenced by Hollywood; and they dare to be Lutheran, even though the big screen and the entire world often seems to be dead set against them.

Maybe the next time someone wants to do a major budget, biblical movie they should come and hang out with our youth at Redeemer. After all, we're not that far from Hollywood; and they could learn a thing or two from our youth. I know I do, every day.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lent 5 Sermon: "Ain't No Grave"

+ Lent 5 – April 10th, 2011 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Here’s a strange question for you: what do Johnny Cash and Jesus have in common?

Still scratching your head? Well, listen to a verse from one of my favorite songs…

When I hear that trumpet sound
I'm gonna rise right out of the ground
Ain't no grave
Can hold my body down

How can this be? How can he sing about the resurrection of the dead, especially when our every day experience seems to suggest the opposite? Ordinarily, dead men don’t rise.

We hear the prayer requests and it seems like illness, misery and death win.  We watch the news, and every headline, every story seems to point us to death’s trophy case.

Every funeral, cemetery, and headstone appears to be a victory dance where Death shouts at us, “You, o son of Adam, have lost.”  Sin and death and the Law stare us in the face and echo the words of Ash Wednesday: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

No doubt, we’ve probably all asked the Lord the same question he asked of Ezekiel: Son of Man, can these bones live?

Now don’t expect any helpful answers from Satan. He’s still peddling the same lie he did in the garden: Surely you will not die.

And don’t expect any helpful answers from the world we live in either. Our culture thrives – even cashes in - on avoiding, sugar-coating, and hiding from death. You can put a pretty pink bow on a skull, but it’s still a skull. Death is still the death no matter how many funny names we use to avoid talking about it.

Lazarus was not expired, he had not passed on, or kicked the bucket; he was not taking a dirt nap, buying the farm, or pushing up daisies.  He was dead.  Jesus calls it like it is.  Death is not the opposite of life but the absence of it – like darkness is the absence of light.  Death is the last enemy. Really, there’s no such thing as death by natural causes – death is unnatural. Death was not God’s design.  God made us for life.  And the whole of the Scriptures is about Jesus having the last word over illness, suffering, guilt, sin, and death.

 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die forever.

That’s what Johnny Cash and Jesus have in common: faith in the resurrection. Specifically Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus’ words really are a matter of death and life, for us just as they were for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. You see, we don’t need euphemisms; we need rescue from and victory over the last enemy of death.

All of this makes Jesus’ behavior seem rather strange. Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. So, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, what does he do? Jesus waited two more days to go see Mary and Martha.
Lazarus, can your dry, dead bones live? Oh yes they can! Jesus let him die, but that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Nor is it for us. We were born dead in trespasses and Sin. Dead as dry bones. We may think we are alive, we may live in denial of Death, we may try to convince ourselves that we can have a life apart from the Word and the Spirit, but in the end there is only death and dry, dusty bones. Adam’s death is our death. We are born dead, and dead people can’t raise themselves up. But God in his mercy has made us alive in Christ Jesus.

“Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. Let us go to him.”

Let us go and die with him. And by “him,” Thomas means Lazarus. But Thomas unwittingly says the right thing.  “We must go and die with him.” Only, in Lent, the “him” isn’t Lazarus, it’s Jesus.  That’s what Lent is all about: dropping dead in Jesus. Repenting of and Dying to sin. And in Jesus’ death we see the death of our sin, even the death of the last enemy.

But this isn’t just our life in Lent, it’s the whole Christian life – daily dying and rising.  Daily drowning the old Adam – that dusty pile of bones parched by sin, and daily rising - living by the breath of life from the Lord who breathed life into Adam.  In his Dying we live.

John 11 is also a picture of the Last Day, falling asleep in Jesus only to have Him wake you up as soon as you’ve begun to rest. Martin Luther once commented that it’ll be easier for Jesus to raise us from the dead on the Last Day than it is to wake someone from an afternoon nap. No alarm in the world can wake us up from death. But Jesus’ Word and the Spirit can. Jesus goes to the grave not to mourn but to conquer, not only to weep in grief but to cry out against death and pierce through the darkness with His Word and breath. Jesus teaches us and Martha that our hope is not just for a day to come but for today. It isn’t only about a resurrection to come but a resurrection that is already here, and it’s yours.

That’s what Mary and Martha just couldn’t quite get their heads around yet – not until Easter Sunday.  “Lord, if You had only been here my brother would not have died.”

I think we’ve all said that same thing to Jesus at some point. If you were only there…my husband or wife, my grandma or grandpa, my best friend, my loved one…they would not have died.

Your brother will rise again.

And Martha confesses the truth…I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the Last day…but not the whole truth.  For the whole truth of the Christian faith is not just a future hope or a distant promise,  but a here-and-now promise. Resurrection and Life are present tense with Jesus. Martha, Martha – you are anxious about many things…this one thing is necessary: I AM the Resurrection and the Life.  Right now. Today. For you. Forever. 

But Jesus doesn’t stop there: “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Literally, “will never die forever.” Yes, we’ll die. But we live in Jesus in spite of death. And living and trusting in Jesus you will never die forever. Death can’t hold you. Ain’t no grave can hold your body down. Because Jesus broke the bonds of death and the grave forever with His own dying and rising.

That’s why Jesus had to go to the tomb.  Yes, Jesus loved Lazarus, but He also loves the rest of us – Mary, Martha, the disciples, and you – we who don’t always get it. “O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord: “I will cause the breath of life to enter you and you shall live.  Lazarus, Come out!  Unbind  him.  Release him.  Free him from death. 

Lazarus was really the only one in that cemetery who completely believed in Christ.  He alone truly listened to the word of Christ.  Mary, Martha and the crowds were still full of grief and doubt.  But the dead man believed.  No grave could hold his body down.  Our Lord awoke Lazarus with His Word and breath of Life. Death does not win. 

Jesus gives us a glimpse of his own death and resurrection when he would answer once and for all the question asked of Ezekiel. Can these bones live? Yes. By Jesus’ Word and breath you live, for He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is the dead whisperer.  The grave conqueror.  The Life giver.  “I am not the God of the dead but of the living.  My death is your glory.  My resurrection is your life.  I will rip you from the arms of your grave as swiftly as I pulled Lazarus out of his tomb.  I AM your Resurrection and your Life.  No grave can hold my body down.  And neither will it hold you.”

Today we join Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in rejoicing in Christ, in his victory over death. And we join them in praying for those who mourn.  And yet, like Martha and Mary, we do not grieve without hope.  Even today those who have died in Christ are not gone. We are closest to them where heaven comes to earth in the Lord’s Supper. He gathers us around altar, uniting us with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, with Lazarus and all the saints.  Heaven and earth are gathered around the Lamb and His life giving flesh and blood, his forgiveness given and shed for you.  And together with them we await Christ’s final word: “Arise! Come out! I will raise you from your graves, O My people.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Narnia in Pop-Book Format

As an adult, checking the mail is never as exciting as it was in one's youth. Most adults consider a good day of mail one that includes no junk mail, advertisements, or the dreaded curse word of grown-up life: bills. And yet peering into that mail box still seems, at times, to be a great adventure. Perhaps something unexpected will arrive, a letter from a friend or relative, an early arrival from Amazon, or a completely unforeseen gift. For me, at least, there's always a little bit of child-like wonder in going to the mail box. And so it was that on one such trip to the mail box recently, a happy occasion awaited me, a book in the mail that I did not order. Thanks to my good friend, Rod Zwonitzer at KFUO, Zoe and I received a copy of a pop-up book of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Not only was this an unexpected gift, but it has continues to bring joy to Zoe each nigh we read itt: "I read dada's book?!" "Yes, Zoe, we can read the book." Here are the pictures of each page along with a few annotations and quotations.

This page is Zoe's favorite. The look on her face as she opens it to reveal Aslan's face is exactly that the same as that of the Pevensie children in Lion. Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of awe-filled fear and joyful giddiness. After all, he is not a tame lion. But he is good. And the fact that Zoe comprehends that without having read a page is simply amazing and worth watching over and over again just like reading the book.

When Zoe opens the little slide flap containing the White Witch, revealing the wardrobe, she once again perceives that the Witch is bad: "Oh no!" Granted, we've read the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but even two year olds know that witches are bad. It's like rediscovering Narnia all over again every time the page is opened.

For the page depicting The Horse and His Boy, we enjoy taking the reins and riding off into imaginary adventures, moving the pages to mimic the horse's pounding hooves, while I hear Zoe urging me on, "Mo page, dada. I see anuh page." And ever since reading about this particular part of the story, she has taken a greater affinity in riding upon my back up further up our stairs.

The Prince Caspian page has become more fun as we read as well. At first she didn't realize the presence of the animals. But now each detail rarely escapes her attention, right down to the sword, the magical horn, and the bad guy in the middle!

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has always been one of my favorites (in addition to LWW) and this page certainly does not disappoint. It is fascinating to watch the imagination of a two year old at work as her eyes dart from the mermaids to the people on board the great vessel and then to the secret panel behind which Reepicheep hides.

Second to Aslan, I think Reepicheep (or Reesheep as Zoe says), is her favorite character. He certainly is one of mine just as he was for Lewis as well.

I'm a little surprised that the creators of this pop-up book chose to depict the parliament of owls instead of something from the under land or perhaps the freeing of Prince Rilian. Nevertheless, the owls are an important part of the story, and having Glimfeather soar off the page makes for superb reading with Zoe: "Hoo! Hoo!"

The last and final page, showcases the iconic scene from The Last Battle, where the animals stream through the stable door and further up and further in to the real Narnia. I couldn't think of a better illustration for the eschaton of the chronicles in pop-up format. The vibrant colors, key characters, and vivid imagination are all on display. Our nightly ritual of picking our favorite animals is usually accompanied by the ever-familiar request: "Dada, I read more book?! Gan. Gan. Gan." Apparently Zoe already appreciates a good fairy story, one that does not end but goes on and on, as each chapter is greater than the last.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lent 4 Sermon: "Three Miracles"

+ Lent 4 – March 30th 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 42:14-21; Eph. 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Seems like everyone in today’s reading has an opinion about who Jesus is.

Some of the Pharisees thought Jesus was a sinner. Other Pharisees thought Jesus was definitely not God, after all he performed signs on the Sabbath. And the blind man thought Jesus was a prophet.

The claim that Jesus is a sinner, according to the Pharisees was a fabrication. They had just tried to stone him at the end of John chapter 8 for claiming to be YHWH in human flesh. Now they tried to discredit the miracle Jesus performed on this blind man.

Certainly Jesus is a prophet. But he’s more than a prophet as the blind man finds out in John 9. Reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

I’m trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell…Either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…He simply did not leave the option of being a great human teacher open to us. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 2, chapter 3, p. 52.)

The same is true for the kinds of miracles and signs Jesus performed. Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the Son of Man, Messiah, Savior, Abraham’s son yet Abraham’s Lord. His signs and miracles are like those big orange signs on the 405 that shout out to us: “Turn here. This is the right way. Look and see, this is who Jesus is. This is what he’s going to accomplish in Jerusalem!”

And in this morning’s readings there are (at least) three miracles. The first one is obvious.

There was a man born blind. We’re not told why. Jesus won’t answer that question even though it gnawed at the disciples as much as it gnaws at us too. It wasn't his parents’ sin. It wasn't his sin. But he is going to use it. All we’re told is that God is going to do something good; He’s going to make good out of bad, which happens to be His specialty.

So Jesus spits on the ground. Like a potter, Jesus kneads the mud and saliva and anoints the man’s eyes with wet clay. It’s Genesis all over again. God made man out of mud in the beginning. Jesus takes the mud and restores.

And when the Pharisees ask him how he received his sight, he simply says: He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see

Jesus’ healing of the blind man opens our eyes to the kind of Savior and Messiah he is, not a conjurer of cheap tricks, but God of God, Light of light, very God of very God, the Messiah whose coming Isaiah foretold:

And I will lead the blind
in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42)

Jesus does as Isaiah foretold. The blind receive their sight. But Jesus had a greater miracle in mind for this man. After the Pharisees failed attempts at launching a successful Spanish Inquisition against Jesus, they kick the beggar out of the synagogue. But Jesus finds him.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” replied the man.
“You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”
“Lord, I believe.”

There it is. Did you hear it? That was the second and greatest miracle Jesus gave to this man. Faith. For the blind man and for you…the eyes of faith are your ears. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.

And here’s one of the great ironies in this story. The man born blind saw Jesus for who He really was while the Pharisees who watched Jesus like a hawk were completely and utterly blind to their Lord and Messiah though he stood and spoke to them face to face.

To the Pharisees, Jesus looked like a liar, a lunatic, and a lowlife sinner like his associations.
To the man at first he appeared to be nothing more than a prophet.
To the world and our sinful flesh Jesus seems weak and lowly, especially as he hung dead on the cross, the very moment John says was his greatest hour. But this is precisely how our Lord works: unexpectedly, opposite from our sinful ways.

We would expect the Pharisees to be blessed; what with their religion, piety, and all. We expect them to truly believe. But they don’t. It’s the opposite. The blind man truly believes Jesus.

This is the second miracle. And the third is like it.

Jesus saves us by these same backwards, opposite, hidden-in-the-cross-ways. He rode into Jerusalem a midst great joy, knowing the sorrow and suffering that awaited him. The most precious thing to him is to dwell with sinners and rescue us by His death on the cross. Where we flee from death, Christ embraced it; he went willingly for that blind man, for the Pharisees, for you.

Seeing is not believing. The man’s eyes worked, but he needed Jesus’ word to believe. And yet believing is seeing. The Pharisees did not believe, and even though they could see the miracles Jesus did, they would not believe.
But we’re no better; there’s a little Pharisee in each of us too. We’re not the good guys in the story. We do the same self-serving, prideful things they did: question Jesus; doubt his promises, close our eyes and ears to Jesus’ teaching. We’re liars, convinced we can see clearly while our sin has so blinded us to the point that we think darkness is light.

Left to ourselves and our sins we’d be lost forever in darkness and condemnation. But the Lord doesn't leave you to yourself. Jesus comes to you blind beggar though you were. He does not reject you, Pharisee though you were. Jesus doesn't let you sit in darkness. There’s room at his table for us Pharisees and beggars. Jesus finds you. Forgives you. Loves you unto death.

You see, more than one blind man receives his sight in today’s reading. What Jesus did for the blind man he also does for you. He opens your eyes to see his suffering and death on your behalf. He opens your eyes to his mercy for you. He opens your ears to hear his word. He opens heaven to you in Holy Baptism. And he opens your mouth to feed it with his own body and blood.

The Pharisee and the blind beggar, the sinner…that’s what you were. Past Tense. At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

As we confessed this morning. I justly deserved your temporal and eternal punishment. Deserved…past tense.

But what you deserved is not what you receive. The death you deserved, Jesus died for you. The punishment you had coming, he bore for you. The sin that blinded you, covered Jesus in death and darkness. Jesus became the Pharisee and the sinner for you. And you receive mercy, life, salvation, and a new identity. Jesus finds you. Jesus performs the greatest miracle for you too.

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Jesus gives you this third and greatest miracle of all. New life. Redeemed. Rescued. Restored. Reconciled to God. Resurrected from the dead. Life for you…all in Jesus’ Name.

And though you can’t see him now, at least not as the blind man saw him, Jesus is your Light of the world too. The Light of the world continues to shine forth to you in His word of forgiveness, in your Baptism, in His Supper. Jesus speaks to you and in hearing Him you see Him through the eyes of faith, the Light that has been shining on you and on the whole world. Jesus is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.

Today we hear Him, and with the man born blind we confess Him: “Lord, I believe.”

And just like the blind man, Jesus sends you to your own pool of Siloam. Go and wash. You are baptized. You are cleansed. Your eyes are opened and fixed on Jesus Crucified and then turned to your neighbor’s need. Jesus sends you from the font to your neighbor with the Word of Christ upon your lips.  

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lent 3 Sermon: "Living Water"

+ Lent 3 – March 23rd, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-26

Note: As I went looking for images to display with this sermon, I stumbled across a number of icons of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. As you look at the iconography posted below here look for the common theme in shape and design of the various wells portrayed. It's no coincidence that they look like baptismal fonts, one even being cruciform in pattern. After all, the waters of the font are teeming and surging for us with the living water of Christ's eternal life poured out on the cross.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It was the middle of the day – the 6th hour by Jewish reckoning - yet she walked in darkness. She came for well water; but she found living water. She came to quench her thirst; she found the cleansing of her sin. She came to Jacob’s well; she found one who is greater than Jacob, Jesus, the source of living water.
Give me a drink.

Of course our Lord was thirsty. He was weary. It was high noon. But Jesus was interested in more than a cup of cool water from this Samaritan woman. He was there for her.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

John’s little parenthetical note reminds us that the Samaritans were outcasts and outsiders. Most Israelites saw them as heretics and half-breeds (Harry Potter fans, think mudbloods or muggles). But again, Jesus wasn’t most Israelites. Jesus talked with Samaritans…just as he shared a table with tax collectors and sinners. 

Jesus came for outcasts and outsiders – like that Samaritan woman…like you and me. Jesus comes for those whose hands and hearts dirty and filthy with sin. Not the righteous, but sinners.
For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.

Christ dwells with sinners. Christ came to find that Samaritan woman, and to take her sin upon himself, to take it all the way to Jerusalem, to the cross. Christ came for you too, to take your sin all the way to his death.

 “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

There are two kinds of water. Well water and living water. Well water takes work. Every day she came to the well. Every day she lowered the rope and hoisted up the water. Every day she carried the water on her head back to town. Work, work, work.

Not so with living water. Living water moves freely from its source to you. You do nothing, the water does everything. It’s pure gift. Faith is like living water - we, like the Samaritan woman, are at the receiving end. And living water always has a source – like Portland and Mt. Hood. Jesus is our Source of living water; the stream was opened at His death when water and blood flowed from His side to supply the Sacraments. And a fountain of forgiveness flows from Calvary to you in Baptism and the Supper. 

“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? You bet he is! But, like the Jews always claiming Abraham as father, Samaritan pride kicks in. He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

Jesus has something better than well water to give her, living water from a well that goes deeper than Jacob’s well.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…
That’s how it goes with well water. It’s repetitive. She’d be back again tomorrow at the same well, same time, for the same water.

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Woah! Now that’s some high quality H2O. Never thirst again?! Sir give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water. No more buckets. No more balancing water jugs on the head. No more walking in the hot sun. But of course, that’s not what Jesus has in mind. He’s speaking about heavenly things, eternal things.

So Jesus moves the conversation a little closer to home.

“Go, call your husband, and come here.” Problem is, she has no husband.
“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

Jesus’ word of Law does its work. She dodges Jesus’ words and tries to change the subject. Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet

We’re no different. The Law exposes, convicts, and kills and we try to avoid, pass blame, and run for our life.

But where you and I see a meaningless question about where to worship - in Samaria or Jerusalem – Jesus directs the conversation back to who he is and what he’s doing in Jerusalem.

The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
This is what sinners do: we worship in ignorance. Our hearts are idol factories. And no amount of well water or work is going to keep us alive. Salvation is not in our hands and neither was it in the Samaritans’ hands. Salvation is from the Jews, says Jesus. So, what does that mean?

 “The hour is coming and now is. Now is. Now in her hearing. Now also in yours. Now with Jesus standing there in front of her. The time now is when true worshippers, including you, will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.” 

Jesus isn’t speaking of some kind of abstract new-agey spiritual gibberish. Spirit and Truth should be capitalized. Jesus is talking about the Trinity. True worshippers of the Father worship the Father in the Holy Spirit and in the Truth, namely Jesus the Son: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through the Son. No one comes to the Son except by the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus has been leading the Samaritan woman – and us– upstream to this final word.

 “I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus said to her, “I AM, the one who is speaking.”

Behold, someone greater than Jacob is here. Jesus uses God’s divine Name: I AM…YHWH. Jesus is saying that He is the God of Abraham in human flesh. And He is to be worshipped in Spirit and Truth.
And for the Samaritan woman that’s really the beginning of the story. She leaves her water jug and runs home telling her friends and neighbors about this guy “who told me everything I ever did and might actually be the Messiah.” And the whole town went to meet Jesus and believed Him too, all because of this sassy Samaritan with a messed up life who met Jesus at Jacob’s well one day at high noon and started talking about living water.

But of course this story isn’t just about a Samaritan woman. Jesus is your living water too.

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” 

He really knows everything we’ve done? Everything? Yes. Every sin. Every commandment broken. Every spot, blemish, and wrinkle. Admittedly this is terrifying…until you find out that Jesus loves you like he loved the Samaritan woman. For though he knew her sins, every one of them, and though he knows our sins – everything we’ve ever done or failed to do – he loves us anyway. Each one of those sins – the Samaritan woman’s and yours and mine – are paid for on the cross.

Jesus dives head first into the cesspool of our sin and soaks up all our lies, false witness, stealing, lusting, coveting, gossiping, hate, and lovelessness and drowns it all in living waters of Holy Baptism. All because Jesus barged into the sludge of guilt, sin, and death that we’ve dammed up in order to break us free from death and release the living waters of eternal life upon us
Remember that it was at the 6th hour that Jesus hung on the cross for you, enduring the scorching heat of God’s wrath for our sin. And now, at this hour Jesus floods us with forgiveness, a deluge of divine goodness and mercy. Jesus comes today, just as he did for that Samaritan woman, and sits beside us, here at this well, in His word, at His altar with His living water.  

No more well water for you. Jesus has something better: a refreshing stream of life and Spirit from Him to you. Living, Holy Spirit-ed water bringing you the new birth from above, making you a new creation, joining you to Jesus’ death and life. This isn’t water you work for, it’s water that works for you, a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ living water flows downstream from the cross to you. 

This is why Jesus comes to you as he did the Samaritan woman, to save sinners. Sinners with messed up lives that are beyond cleaning up. Lives like that Samaritan woman who was probably reminded of her messed up life every day on the walk to Jacob’s well, where the men stared at her and the women gossiped behind her back. 

That is, until she meets a Jewish rabbi who dares to ask her for a drink and offers her living water of eternal life, free of charge. For the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world, that this Samaritan woman, that you and me, would be saved through Him.
 “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but god shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for you. 

Are you thirsty? Then come and drink. There is a spring of living water flowing from Jesus’ cross to you. Do you wish to worship God in Spirit and Truth? Then you have come to the right place. For where Baptism, Body, Blood and Word are, there Jesus is, and the Spirit, and the Father, and there His true worshipers are.

“Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you shall be satisfied.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.