Monday, April 30, 2012

Sermon for Easter 4: "The Lamb is Our Shepherd"

+ 4th Sunday of Easter – April 29th, 2012 +

Series B_Acts 4:1-12; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

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

             Jesus our Good Shepherd; probably one of the most widely known and well loved, not to mention comforting metaphors in the Scriptures. But there’s a difficulty for us when Jesus says, “I AM the Good Shepherd.”
            Jesus’ words are both unfamiliar and too familiar.
            Unfamiliar because most of us have no experience with sheep.  Farmville on Facebook doesn’t count. And good luck finding any sheep at Knott’s Berry Farm. The closest thing to shepherding we know is spending time with a herd of children; you teachers and VBS volunteers know what I mean – but that’s probably more like a being sheep dog than anything else.
            But it’s also too familiar. We hear the Good Shepherd reading every year. Most people know parts of Psalm 23, if not the whole thing, by heart. We hear Jesus’ words at funerals and confirmations. That’s not all bad, of course. But there’s a temptation for us to turn a comforting reality into a cliché, not by hearing too often, but by failing to understand what Jesus says.
            Jesus comes from a long line of shepherds in the Bible; it’s in his blood. Though Jesus grew a carpenter’s son, shepherding is His true vocation. Abel was a shepherd before his brother, Cain, led him to the slaughter. Jacob tended Laban’s flock for 14 years for the sake of his bride. Moses grazed the fields of Midian before leading the wandering sheep of Israel through the wilderness. 
            Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of the shepherd-king, David. When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he’s saying is, “Psalm 23, all that Shepherd talk in Ezekiel and the prophets - that’s all about Me, I am Yahweh.”
            That’s the key to understanding Jesus’ words, that it’s more than a metaphor. Jesus really is the Good Shepherd. The Arch-Shepherd; the shepherd who defines all shepherds and their shepherd-ness. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life on behalf of the sheep.”
           That also makes him the strangest shepherd of all, the kind of shepherd most people think foolish. What kind of shepherd thinks that the life of his sheep is more important than his own? What kind of shepherd gladly and willingly throws himself into the jaws of the wolf to set his lambs free? “Go ahead, pierce my flesh. Spill my blood. Kill me; not them.” None of course, but one. Jesus Christ is your Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for you, his lambs.
            And while we like this image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, it’s offensive to our sheepish pride. It’s not exactly a flattering image. Sheep are dumb, stubborn, and prone to wandering off. Mean too: kicking, biting, head-butting for position in the flock. We’ll drink from any rancid puddle that promises refreshment - religions, philosophies, pop-Christian fads and false gospels pedaled by hirelings. We’ll nibble on any weed in the pasture that looks pleasing to the eyes, no matter how poisonous it might be. We’ll wander off alone. After all, who needs a church when you can feed yourself from the comfort of your computer or wherever?  

            The prophet Isaiah knew us all too well, “All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned his own way.” That’s the problem. A flock of one is an oxymoron. Sheep – apart from the Shepherd - are defenseless, vulnerable and dead, wolf chow. Maybe you’ve seen those Discovery Channel shows. Remember, it’s always lone sheep, the isolated Christian, who becomes easy pickings for the wolf.
            That’s why the Shepherd calls you here to his sheepfold, the Church, to hear the Shepherd’s voice. It’s also a place where the flock circles one another in defense of the prowling wolves. Strength in numbers. The sheep live for others the way the Shepherd lives for us. Christians are made to be a flock. For there are also lost sheep out in our communities and families who need a shepherd. For sheep cannot save themselves any better than they can shepherd themselves. We need a shepherd. That’s exactly who you have, Good Shepherd Jesus, the Bishop of our souls.
            What a difference from the hired hand. The hireling does not own the sheep; he uses the sheep for his own gain like a pimp. The Good Shepherd owns his sheep, purchased at Calvary’s marketplace in exchange for his precious blood.
            The hireling cares only for himself. The Good Shepherd cares for others and denies himself. When the hireling sees the wolf coming he leaves the sheep and flees to save his own hide. The Good Shepherd stays and protects the sheep; he saves others but he would not save himself. By the way, that’s why pastors are ordained and called; not hired and fired. They’re shepherds of the flock of Christ, the Good Shepherd. The hireling is selfish. The Good Shepherd is self-giving; he lays down his life for his sheep.
            Jesus contrasts himself with the hirelings so you keep your sheep ears perked up, listening to the voice of the true Shepherd. You can always tell a hireling from the shepherd by the message he brings. Listen carefully. Anyone who does not preach Jesus Christ to be your Shepherd, who bore you sins on the cross, who laid down His life for your salvation, in whom you are justified before God freely for Jesus’ sake, is not speaking on behalf of the Good Shepherd. Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
            There’re plenty of hirelings both in the church and out of the church. Gurus abound. But none are willing, able or even claiming to be your Shepherd, to lay down their life for you, to die for your sins. But Jesus is. You don’t need a guide a guru or a hireling; you need a Savior.
            For you, his sheep, the Shepherd joined his flock; he became a Lamb. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God didn’t sit on his throne saying, “Look at those poor lost sheep, I sure hope they find their way.” No. “I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep,” declares the Lord. “I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life on behalf of his sheep.” It’s in his blood.
            Jesus is the greater Abel, sacrificed by his brothers, and this time, for his brothers. He the greater Jacob, labors in agony for you, his bride, adorning you in woolly white baptismal garments. He, the greater Moses, leads his wandering sheep to the Promised Land. He the greater David, is shepherd-king of his new Israel, a new flock, his Church.
            Ordinarily a shepherd’s death would leave the flock in peril. But in Jesus’ death there’s a different outcome. Shepherd Jesus saves his lambs by dying for them
            That’s what a Good Shepherd does, lays down his life for his sheep. Every night the sheep are herded into pen. The shepherd lies at the opening of the pen for the night. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “I am the door of the sheep.” He literally lays down His life for the sheep. He lies in the door of death, and through His death, His sheep can go in and out and find pasture. Through the narrow door of Jesus’ death there is abundant life for you.
            You shall not want. He makes you lie down in the green pastures of his Word. He leads you into the still waters of Baptism. He restores your soul from death to life. He guides you in the path of His righteousness, daily dying and rising. Even though you walk daily in the shadow of death, hunted by sin and the devil, you need fear no evil. Good Shepherd Jesus has gone ahead of you through suffering and death to resurrection and glory. Your Shepherd lives and so do you. He leads you with the disciplining rod of Law and his rescuing staff of gospel.

            He anoints your head with healing oil, forgiving your sin. What a marvelous image of confession and absolution. The shepherd gives his sheep a flea bath, like corporate absolution. But he also applies healing individually to those troublesome sores and spots become infected if left unattended, like individual absolution. Forgiveness, like sin itself, is both general and specific.
            And your Shepherd gives you more. He prepares a table for you; your cup overflows as the Shepherd feeds you with his own body and blood. This Shepherd is your paschal Lamb and his altar is your banquet table.
            Here in the sheepfold, we rejoice with David, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” Like a pair of sheep dogs nipping at your heels, our Lord’s goodness and mercy will dog you until your Shepherd calls you home into the stable: further up and further in! You are kept safe in His pierced hands. And there’s no better place to be.
            That way, when the wolf comes to huff and puff and blow your faith down, point him to Jesus, your Good Shepherd. “You want me for supper? You have to go through the Good Shepherd. You want to accuse me of my sins and flaunt them in my face? Take them up with Jesus. They belong to him now.” For anyone who tries to snatch you out of the flock your Good Shepherd, Jesus simply declares: “Over my dead and risen body. I AM the Good Shepherd.”

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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

E-nklings Cloud of Witnesses: Hope, Hobbits and Higher Things

Higher Things is a whole lot of Lutheran goodness. Good Theology. Good, historic worship. Good fun. And recently I was reminded, good friends. This is one of the places I identify most with the hobbits, good friends. Speaking of good friends, here's a smashing good post from my friends, Jon Kohlmeier from Higher Things. It's worth your time...not because he mentions my name in his post. And it's not because I enjoy being a guest on HT Radio (although I do, immensely). But because this post reveals a great deal about how to understand LOTR in light of the Christian faith. There  is much to admire about the Hobbits, even though their stature may fool you at first. So, you may know him as the voice that keeps Pastor Borghardt on task on HT Radio, but I know him as the Monk of Milwaukee and the Monk of Middle-Earth. Enjoy this edition of E-nklings Cloud of Witnesses, Hobbit style.

Hope for Despairing Hobbits

I always feel like I need to watch Lord of the Rings after Pr. Schuldheisz is on HT-Radio. So, this time I actually did start Fellowship of the Ring. I came across the Death of Gandalf scene that's posted above. The beautifully sad soundtrack at a time when it seems all hope is lost. Gandalf, the wise, unquestioned leader of the Fellowship is the first to fall. How can they possibly complete their quest after losing the wise, powerful friend? How can they even continue without Mithrandir, their grey pilgrim? All hope is lost.

Aragorn steps up. He lives up to his other name, Estel. He has hope. He does not fall into despair or abandon his purpose. Although his friend had fallen he must keep the rest of the fellowship from despairing to their own deaths. "Pick them up." They must get to a place where it is safe, a forest, a place of life. The Hobbits have no desire to get up they are lost in their despair. They can only be lifted up by those who have been placed in their lives and travel with them.

We fall into despair too. We have no desire to get up and keep moving forward. All hope is lost how can things ever be right again? We despair unto our own death.

The Lord places people in our lives to pick us up. To show that there still is hope. They direct us from that place that will kill us to a place that is safe, a place of life. Our pastors, friends, and family direct us to where there is true hope. Where there is no distress and only life. They direct us to God's Gifts. His Word and His Sacrements. They drown you in the life-giving water of your baptism. The hope in Christ's death and resurrection is placed directly into your mouth. Your despair and hopelessness is swallowed up in the unquestionable hope that you have in Christ.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Not a Tame Gospel

Today marks the feast day for St. Mark, Evangelist. One of the symbols most commonly associated with the Gospel according to St. Mark is the winged lion. The Gospel of Mark is the lion-hearted Gospel. Is he safe? No, of course he isn't safe. He's not a tame evangelist and his is not a tame gospel. But he is good. And more importantly the message he bears witness to - the good news he evangelizes - is none other than the voice of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus roars in the Gospel of Mark not as a tame God, but as the Crucified and Risen Lord of heaven and earth. But you don't find that out in its fullness until Mark leads you to the crucifixion.

That's what makes Mark's Gospel so riveting. Matthew captures the Old Testament fulfillment so superbly. Luke captures the wonder and mystery and joy of the incarnation in poetic historical prose. And John has the "I AMs" and Jesus the Good Shepherd (among a myriad of other images). But what does Mark have? Doesn't it seem like he gets left out of the Gospel party a bit? Like the last kid to get picked in gym class for dodge ball, Mark is often ignored, frequently misunderstood and even more forgotten.

Perhaps that's why I like the Gospel of Mark. It's underestimated. He's the underdog of the evangelists. And just about everyone (except President Snow of Panem) likes underdogs. But make no mistake, he is not a tame evangelist. Mark is the gun-slinging, "True Grit" Gospel. It's not just the pace: immediately! Straightway (in the old KJV)! It's more than the form - although Mark shows excellent prowess as a "playwright" for the greatest true story ever told - it's also the substance.

Right from the opening words of Mark's Gospel, you know Jesus is headed somewhere. "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way..."  Where is Jesus going? To the Jordan for you.  To be anointed for you. To be baptized for you. To tear the heavens open for you. And then to be tempted by Satan for you. Thus begins the binding of the strong man (Mark 3). According to Mark's Gospel, Jesus begins the plunder of hell immediately. Straightway! No time to waste. No dilly-dallying. That's where Jesus is headed. Even in death John the Baptizer is the forerunner of Jesus.

But before Jesus has his way with death, he must first have his way with the demons and diseases. He treats them all the same for they are all symptoms of the same deadly poison that infects his creation. Sin, death and the devil invaded Jesus' house and he came to take it all back. The demons quickly find out what kind of authority this Jesus has. They obey (Mark 1:27). They must. He is not a tame God. He's even the devil's keeper. And, as Mark will point out clearly, he is also the devil's destroyer.

That's one of the more intriguing and unique aspects of Mark's Gospel. There's more talk of the reality of the devil's lies, work and kingdom than the other gospels. It's almost as if Jesus is casting out demons every other verse. But that's all part of the plan. The diseases. The preaching. The casting out of demons. That's all part of the way Jesus must go. Peter tried to tame him along the way. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Get behind me, Satan! But He's not a tame God. Peter couldn't tame this Lion, neither could the devil. And death is no match for him either. The irony is that the blind man - even before he received his sight from the Lord - had better vision than Peter.

Mark's Gospel is clear, if it's not the Jesus of the cross - Christ Crucified for you - then you don't know Jesus at all. If you only know Jesus as the healer and the miracle worker and the powerful, amazing teacher, then you don't know him at all; he's just a cafeteria deity to you. Mark points us straightway to the truth about Jesus. It is necessary. Jesus must go this way, the way of the cross. The way of suffering. The way of death. This is the climactic ending of Mark's Gospel: the crucifixion.

It's not until Jesus is on the cross that all of these things done in his ministry finally make sense. It's only at the foot of the cross that we can make a true confession of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Truly this man is the Son of God. The Roman centurion's confession is also our confession. I too was once blind, but now I see: Jesus Crucified for me. Hopefully we realize it before the cross when reading the Gospel. But there's no better place to confess that Name above all names, then at the foot of the cross he bore for you. The strong man is bound as Jesus binds himself to the cross. Hell and the grave are plundered and Jesus emerges victorious from the death. The Messianic secret isn't revealed on Easter - not in Mark's Gospel. It's revealed on Good Friday.

There's Easter and Resurrection to be sure. But always in view of the cross. That's Mark for you. A monomaniac about Jesus Crucified. That's my kind evangelist. Not a tame one. Not one easily swayed by popular opinion or trends. One who will simply tell it like it is. Sin sucks. Death and sin are damnable. The devil is a liar. And Jesus has overcome them all for you. He is your life through his death. The Lion has pounced the devil. Jesus leaps from his grave and he takes you with him all the way. For he leads us through Baptism into the heavens, first torn open at his Baptism and later rend open by his death for us. The same Greek word for the heavens being torn open is the same word used for the temple curtain being torn in two. And there you have it, everything Jesus comes to give you: Baptism and the cross. Water, blood and Jesus. Font. Chalice. Word. His bloody, watery side is open for you. Heaven is open for you. Of course it's not a tame Gospel. But this Gospel and this Lion are good.

Come, ride on my back children; we have far to go. And as we ride, we rejoice in his victory. Immediately. Straightway! Truly this Lion is the Son of God! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark. Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last Will and Testament

Few things humble man more than signing a Last Will and Testament. It's the Ash Wednesday reminder: Remember, o man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return. It brings one's mortality to the forefront, something we try to ignore daily. But there before the lawyer and the witness, before God and the pen everything is disclosed. Every signature the sting of death needles you more painfully than a tattoo artist. And this is more permanent. There's no death removal laser treatment. Dust to dust. It is literally signing your life away. It's not fun. But then again it's not supposed to be. However, it is necessary. And it is good. Parents care for their children even before they are born, from conception to birth and their whole life through. Parents love their children in life and in death. In a way I suppose those marriage vows are not just between you and your spouse - vows kept by the mercy of God himself - but those vows that are also for you and your children. Till death us do part. But even there you are loving your kids, loving them to 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. Yes, it's true that there are few things more humbling than this.

I know of only one thing more humbling, in fact the most humbling of all. The one perfect Last Will and Testament. 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 predeceases you. That's the legal term for what the Scriptures confess: Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead. And he goes there for you, his children. That's good news for all of us, whether you've signed a will or not in your earthly life, you are heirs to a greater, everlasting will and testament, signed and sealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.

16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. 19 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, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”21 Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 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)

But in fact the Law's demands have been satisfied. Christ, your Testator, has dipped his pen in the Calvary's crimson inkwell to sign his life away to us, his wayward, rebellious children. Though we deserved no inheritance - though we squander it daily - he gives you all that he has, freely. Behold the crucifix, 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. Sure, it pokes and prods and pricks us here in this life, but no more than it did to Jesus. He has taken your death. He has swallowed your venom and sucked death's poison out of you. and onto him. He is your Testator. His death is the guarantee of all he promises you. His body and blood? Their yours. Take eat. Take drink. His death and resurrection? It's yours in Baptism. His word of promise? It's yours. Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven you. Jesus takes on our Ash Wednesday command - dust to dust - in order to bring you his Easter proclamation: Alleluia! He is Risen!

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 even when get a glimpse of it on earth in the Divine Service.

Good Friday wasn't any fun for Jesus either. But then again it wasn't supposed to be. It was, however good. And it was necessary. In this manner Jesus loves the world, that he lays down his life for his sheep. He lays down his life for sinners, enemies and all lost sons of Adam. Jesus loves us little children into birth and life in His Name. He loves his children to death. That's his vow to you. Not only till death us do part. But even in death, he will never depart from you. Nothing will snatch you out of his hands. Just ask him; He still has the fleshly documents to prove it to you. Do not be disbelieving, but believe. Look here; see my scars and touch me here on my side. There's nothing he wouldn't do - nothing he hasn't done - for you. Provides for all our needs of body and soul. Prepares us for the future of life with him by his work in the past bringing his cross and passion to us here and now in the present. Taste and see that the Lord, He is good and his mercy endures forever.

"How much does Jesus love you", you ask? With outstretched arms suspended between heaven and earth, he replies, "This is finished. Nothing is withheld from you. All that is mine is yours. I, the undersigned, do hereby declare it,

Jesus, the First and the Last, the Living One, for I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Two Kingdoms Bible Study

Here at Redeemer Lutheran, HB, we've been going through a Sunday morning Bible study series on the doctrine of Two Kingdoms or Two Realms or Two Kinds of Authority (among other names). The study continues to go well. At the completion of it, I'll post some further resources on the church website, including PowerPoint and selected handouts. In preparation for this study I was greatly pleased to see that the Lutheran Witness had come out with an issue on the very same topic for the month of April. I was kindly asked to write a short Bible study for online distribution in conjunction with the issue on two kinds of authority. You can find the Bible study online by clicking here where it is available for viewing and download.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sermon for Easter 2: "Jesus' Breath is Life"

+ 2nd Sunday of Easter – April 15th  2012 +

Easter 2_Series B: John 20:19-31

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

             Jesus breathes on His disciples.  How’s that for a welcome?!  You’re behind locked doors, scared out of your wits, the women have reported Jesus is risen and then, all of a sudden, Jesus appears out of nowhere.  Well, not out of nowhere.  Out of the grave. He is no ghost.  No figment of their collective imaginations. No hallucination.  “Look at my hands; my side.”  He is real.  He is alive. He is risen!  And risen Jesus can do whatever He wants to, locked doors and lowly bread and wine are no problem for His crucified and risen body.   

            But how rude of Jesus. He doesn’t even knock to see if they’ll let him in. No, “hi how’ya you?  What’ve you guys been up to?”  He’s not there for chit-chat.  He brings Crucified and Risen peace.

            “Peace be with you.”  The Hebrew word is “shalom.” It’s bigger and better than UN peace or the Laker’s Metta World Peace. Shalom is a blessing and a greeting all at once.  Shalom is harmony, wholeness, everything in its place.  All is well. Genesis 1 before the fall: very good. “Peace (Shalom) I leave with you, my peace (my Shalom) I give to you.  Not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

             This is exactly why Jesus is “apostl-ed” – sent – by the Father.  That’s what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean:  peace –for His disciples – and for you.  For the Father is well pleased by His obedient, Crucified and Risen Son.  His sacrifice has restored life, to His disciples, to you, to me.  Sin, death and the devil are defeated.  You are redeemed.  You are loved.  You are at peace with God and God is at peace with you in those precious wounds.  Jesus is sent from the ark of the heavens, a flesh and bone dove, to bring peace through His flesh and blood on the cross. 

            “As the Father has sent me to Shalom the world to Himself, even so I am sending you.”  And when Jesus said this he breathed on the disciples – a little Pentecost - the big one is coming in 50 days.  The God who once breathed life into Adam’s dusty lungs, the God who breathed upon the waters of creation and parted the Red Sea waters, the God who breathed life into the valley of dry bones now breathes on His disciples.
            “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
            Have you noticed that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are always together?  At His Baptism.  Good Friday.  On Easter.  At Pentecost. In his Church.  

             Jesus is born to breath our toxic, sin poisoned air, to suffer, die and give up His breath on Good Friday – suffocated by sin - so that he can breathe new life into our lifeless graves by rising from His own.  From the disciple’s panic room to His people huddled in His Church, wherever they are gathered, whatever fear, doubt, confusion or sin you are struggling with - Jesus gives his breath of life to his people. 

            Jesus has what you might call, holy-tosis; His breath doesn’t just give Life; it is Life.  Jesus is life. His Word is Life. His Sacraments are life.  The Spirit is life. Jesus doesn’t leave His church gasping for forgiveness.  If the church is going to preach and proclaim, she’s going to need breath; and if you as Christians are going to give a reason for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15), you need mouths to speak, words to declare.  You need Jesus’ breath. His life. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will breath out your praise.      

            Jesus ordains His apostles by this breath. Jesus gives them authority to do what God alone can do - forgive sin. He gives an Office.  A Spirit-breathing, life-giving office.  A preaching and hearing office.  Given to forgive and retain sins.  That’s what your pastor is called and sent to do.  That’s what the church is for: a wind tunnel of the Holy Spirit, bringing you forgiveness, from Jesus to through his appointed means to you.

            And this is no different Spirit than the 3rd person of the Trinity, into whose Triune Name you are baptized; the same Holy Spirit that fills the Church. All so that when you hear your pastor pronounce the absolution: “I forgive you all your sins” - you know that God is breathing new life into your ears. When the pastor baptizes, you know God’s hands are baptizing you. When the pastor gives you communion, you know Jesus is feeding you with his body and blood.
            Yet, we’re more like Thomas. Seeing is believing.  Peace on earth? A happy family? Healthy loved ones?  Recovering economy?  Yea, I’ll believe it when I see it. 

            Problem is, believing is not always seeing.  “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).    God masks Himself.  Jesus looks, lives and dies like a man – yet faith says, “Jesus is Lord.”
            You go about your daily work, sweat, labor, toil – no whistling while you’re in the daily grind – yet faith says, “This labor is holy, divine work, for I am God’s instrument for the good of others.”
            We get sick, lose jobs, loved ones die, we hurt, cry, suffer – yet faith says, “I am a child of God, Baptized and loved by Him.” And nothing and no one can snatch you out of his pierced hands.
            Believing is not seeing.  To believe is to confess that God is where God seems not to be, to confess that God is good when God seems to be bad, to confess that what is really real is not what you see, but what you hear.  That is faith.

             Just like our twin, Thomas, we want something real.  He issues Jesus a throw down. The ultimate reality show: “So you think you a dead man can rise from the grave?”   No apprentices, singers or fancy restaurants in sight.  “Just let me see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side or else I will not believe.”
            Thomas may have been many things – stubborn, hard-headed confused and most of all unbelieving – but John never uses the word doubt.  And for all that Thomas is I thank God.  Why?  Because as St. Gregory once said, “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe than the faith of the disciples who believed.”  Jesus takes the triple-dog-dare. Gives him hard proof.  “Go ahead, Thomas; read my wounds like Braille; put your finger here; place your hand in my side.  Do not disbelieve but believe.”

             “My Lord and my God.”  That’s the kind of confession that only the breath of the Lord can create.  Maybe Thomas touched Jesus like that Caravaggio painting.  Maybe he didn’t. Either way, our Lord did not condemn him. He gave him flesh and blood peace. Peace be with you, Thomas and all of us, his twins.

            This is how our Lord works. He takes your doubt, your unbelief, your sin and death and He makes it His own.  He gives you the kind of peace that knows that no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love – His peace – is greater.  Jesus’ breath creates believing.  It’s the same for you as it was for Thomas.

            What Jesus did for Thomas and the disciples after the resurrection, He does for your every Sunday until He returns.  Jesus speaks peace.  This Crucified and risen Jesus still blusters His holy breath upon His church.  He calls and sends pastors to announce His holy absolution into your ears.  He pours out his body and blood from those holy scars to fill the chalice.  The Spirit hovers over the waters of Baptism to make you a new creation. In His Church, by His Spirit you get to see and touch and hear the Crucified and Risen Lord.

            You are not given to see or touch the way Thomas did. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That’s you. You get a beatitude from Jesus. Blessed are you. But you are given to hear the testimony of these witnesses, including Thomas. And John, who was there, recorded these things for you, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing, would have life in His name. And now you too are witnesses.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Free Online Apologetics Conference: Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith

Here are some of the latest goings on from Gene E. Veith, one of my favorite literary experts, not to mention one of the foremost C.S. Lewis and Narnia scholars of our day. I have learned a great deal from reading his books, blogs, etc. on theology and literature, in particular, its apologetic appeal and use. The free apologetics conference he is guest speaking at (see details below) looks like a fabulous event all around. Literary Apologetics, the theme of the conference, also happens to be one of my great joys and one of the primary reasons this blog exists. The topic list looks superb and engaging. All the links and necessaries are below.

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual
Online Apologetics Conference
2012 Theme:
Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith
Dale Ahlquist
President of the American Chesterton Society
Other Speakers:
Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak
An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)
April 19th, 20th, and 21st, 2012.
Sign up for our mailing list to receive updates!
ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!
2012 Conference Goals:
  • Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
  • Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
  • Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
  • Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
  • Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
  • Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
  • Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.
Conference Framework
ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years. The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview. Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics. The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.
On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval). Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary. Note: all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public! Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.
Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)
  • Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
  • Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ: Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
  • Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O'Connor].”
  • Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
  • Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
  • Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
  • Paul Nowak, author. “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk's original short story "Fight Club" (later a novel and movie by the same title)].
Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)
  • Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
  • Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
  • James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions. “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
  • Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
  • Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
  • Mark Riser, apologist. “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
  • Tom Gilson, apologist. “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
  • Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. ” CSI: Golgotha”
  • Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author. “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sermon: "Welcome Home"

+ The Resurrection of our Lord – April 8th, 2012 +

Isaiah 25:6-9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus’ body. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

            Not exactly what you’d call a Travel channel’s top-ten Spring Break getaways. “Welcome to Disneyland, want to visit a graveyard today? Probably not. A tomb is a place of finality. No matter how many people are huddled around you in a cemetery, part of you still can’t help but feel alone. A tombstone is an ugly trophy reminding you that Death is the last enemy and he doesn’t like to lose.

            As the sun came up that morning that’s all the women knew. They saw the cruel beatings and the cold nails pierce his flesh. They saw the death march up to Calvary. They heard his final words. Saw him breathe his last. They saw God die that Friday afternoon. And they watched as He was laid in a tomb. That first Holy Week was anything but a vacation for Jesus’ followers, more like the week from hell.
            And though it’s hard to imagine how the women felt, we’ve probably all taken similar walks. We’ve all mourned the death of loved ones. Attended funerals. Been at gravesides. They won’t be sitting at the table with you at home. So you show whatever love you can with flowers on the graveside or silent, tearful words.
            The women weren’t on their way to a joyful reunion. But to finish the burial. Bring the spices. Anoint the dead. But what else was there to do? Where else would you go? Just go home. No welcome home party for Jesus.
            And as they walked they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

            Good question. Who will roll the stone away? Not the Romans. They don’t want Jesus causing another riot. Not the Jewish leaders; they wanted him dead. Not the disciples. What would they have to gain? Nothing. No, Jesus was dead. The Romans can attest to that.      
            Everyone who had a reason to parade the body of Jesus up and down the streets of Jerusalem had the opportunity to do so. But none did. Why? Jesus didn’t fake his death. His body wasn’t stolen and his resurrection wasn’t a hoax. It’s history. Your faith is founded on fact. It’s true; dead men don’t rise…ordinarily. But this was no ordinary man and his was no ordinary death.

            Yes, a tomb is a place of finality. But it’s also a place for faith and hope.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man – an angel – sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe and they were alarmed. Amazed. Astonished.

            Who could blame them? White knuckled with fear. Trembling in bewilderment. They were expecting to find a dead body and a stone in their way not an angel and an empty tomb. Let alone the flabbergasting headline. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus the crucified. He has risen. He is not here.

            The women had heard this message before: The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be killed….and after three days he will rise. But they still brought burial spices. They still trembled with astonishment. Jesus was lost. Dead. Buried. They still didn’t believe he would rise from the dead. How could he? It was too good to be true.

            The problem wasn’t that they thought too highly of Jesus but that they expected too little of him. He wants to give eternal life and all they want to do is cling to death. They were the ones who were lost and dead. Not Jesus.

            We’re no different, confused and lost as they were. The problem isn’t that we have false expectations – although we certainly do. The problem is that we – like the women and the disciples - don’t really expect God to keep his promises. We see how promises work out among our friends and family and co-workers - ourselves. The problem is that we expect too little from God. As if he won’t fulfill his promises to give us daily bread, to provide for body and soul. As if hasn’t already given us everything we need in the cross; as if he didn’t promise to rise again. O foolish ones, slow of heart to believe all that Christ has promised.

            For we who expect too little of God, Jesus delivers the unexpected. Jesus did not leave the women frozen in their fears and he won’t leave you either. He would not let the women wallow in their doubt, sin and death; He will not abandon you to the grave. He will not let you pay for your sins. He loves you too much for that. He insists on taking your fear, your doubt, your unbelief – your sin and death – all of it upon Himself.

            In the midst of your fear and trembling, Jesus comes to you just as he did the women and his disciples. He comes to roll away your hardened heart of stone and replace it with a heart of faith and trust. When Christ burst the bars of death’s prison he opened heaven to you; he opens your tomb. Do not be afraid. Jesus the Crucified is risen. Where he goes, you go. Where he dies, you die. Where he rises, you rise.

            Easter Sunday is the great “I told you so” of the Gospel. “See, just like I promised,” Jesus says. Jesus’ journey to the cross was not in vain. Your faith is not futile. For Christ the Crucified is risen. And that means you can take him at his word when he says:

            “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”

            “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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

            “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me lives even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in me never dies forever.”

            These are not the words of a liar or lunatic but of the One who died on a cross and rose from the dead. A fact attested by eye witnesses who would not change their testimony no matter what you threatened them with. Every detail fits. It defies our expectations and experience but it’s true all the same. The stone is rolled away. The sealed, guarded tomb is empty. The burial cloths are folded neatly like a freshly made bed. Eye witnesses saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, ate with Him, and they testified against hostile cross-examination. Their testimony speaks to us even today.

            You may be astonished or have doubt like the women. But your belief, or the lack thereof, changes nothing. You can believe the earth is flat, or that politicians will soon stop lying, but your belief doesn’t change reality. Reality is that Jesus the Crucified is risen. The grave could not hold him down. That’s what gives this Sunday, and every Sunday, a unique joy.

            For the angels no longer guard the door to paradise with flaming swords; they welcome you to the tomb of Jesus: “He is not here. He is risen.” The prodigal Son went out to the cross to gather you, his lost brothers and sisters. So let the welcome home party for all of Adam’s prodigal sons begin. Cover the sinner in righteous garments. Slaughter the fattened calf; it’s time for a feast. You who were lost have been found; dead but now you live.

            Your captivity to sin is over. Death has lost its grip. The hostages of hell have been released. Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak. And throw a party – or better yet a feast – the Sacrament.

The finest of foods, the best of wines. Here where the Lord is having His mountain. Here, where the bread is the Body of Christ, where the wine is His Blood. Here you will see him just as he told you.

We’ve finally arrived. The Good Friday journey is finished. Death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus’ resurrection is one gigantic, boisterous party. A blessed, unexpected party. A joyous catastrophe from death to life. Welcome home at last.

                        In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Sermon: "The Journey is Finished"

+ Good Friday – April 6th, 2012 +

Text: John 18-19

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

O Christ you walked the road Our wandering feet must go.
You faced for us temptation’s power and fought our evil foe.

            But isn’t there another way, another road? Can’t we go straight from the joys of Palm Sunday to the greater joys of Easter?

            No. There’s no detour around Golgotha. No Easter without Good Friday; no glory apart from the crucified one. You can’t have one without the other. For true faith does not worship Jesus first in his resurrection, but rather in his death and burial. “For this purpose,” Jesus says, “I was born and for this reason I have come into the world” – to be crucified, dead and buried – for you. It has been a long trek for Jesus: healing and miracles; teaching and preaching; raising the dead and casting out demons. It all comes down to this. To Good-for-you-Friday.

            Today all the great journeys of the Scriptures come to their final destination. All Biblical roads lead to and from the cross.
            Today the Father leads Isaac up the mountain bound in the cords of death. But no angel intervenes this time. The Lord will provide Himself as the sacrifice. He does not withhold his Son, his only Son from you.
            Today the Passover Lamb without blemish is sacrificed in order to lead you out of slavery by his exodus, accomplished in Jerusalem.
            Today the Holy One of Israel goes into Babylonian exile, to take captivity captive in his death that we might be welcomed home.
            Today Jesus ‘s body is carried and laid to rest in a garden in a tomb to restore paradise lost for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve;
            Today our anxious Palm Sunday question is finally answered: are we there yet?
            Yes. Look down the via dolorosa, the way of sorrows.  See the hillside before you. The road goes up to Calvary – the place of the skull - a hill of dry bones waiting for the Lord to breathe his dying breath. And just in case you thought you were lost, there’s a sign above his head; the inscription reads: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate’s words ring out with each swing of the hammer: “Behold your King.”

            You’ve come to the right spot. This is no mistake. No accident. Jesus’ hour of glory has finally come. Jesus is crucified between two criminals for criminals and sinners and exiles like us. Jesus is left to finish the journey on his own, alone, for you.

            That’s the problem with hell; not the heat. It’s that the God who made you turns His back on you. He ignores you. He gives you exactly what you want — to be left alone without Him. But he will not let you suffer alone; he steps into the grave ahead of you, for you.

            As if a world of pain and agony, mockery and scorn wasn’t enough. Jesus suffers hell for you. God forsakes God. All to welcome you home. You are Forgiven. Saved. His death brings you life. His exile returns you to the Father. His exodus ushers you into the Promised Land. He is crucified outside of the city walls to gather you into the courts of the heavenly city, Jerusalem.

            Jesus walked the lonely road into Jerusalem, through the palms and hosannas, through the spatter of hatred, through the scourging and nails to the cross for you who so often walk your own way. How beautiful the feet that trod, the road that leads us back to God. How beautiful the feet that walked the shores of Galilee, travelled throughout Judea, rode into Jerusalem; how beautiful upon the mount of Calvary are the feet of him who is pierced for you (Is. 52). Jesus leaves no road untrodden.                 

            The road takes one final turn as the funeral procession leads from Calvary to the cemetery. A hasty burial in a borrowed tomb. Even in death, the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.

            Although they did not understand everything Jesus said or did, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus still buried Jesus. Only those who stand at the tomb of Jesus can know the glory of the resurrection.

            So it is for us…all Christian funerals are acts of finality but they’re also acts of faith. We bury the dead in Christ, knowing that while it appears to be the end of the road, it is not. In fact, as far as God is concerned, our burial and resurrection have already happened. We are waiting for the welcome home of the final Easter. After all, not one of his bones was broken. He will walk again.

            So, on the eve of the Sabbath, His disciples bury the great high priest, adorn him in burial vestments and anoint him with costly, heavy spices and laid him to rest in a tomb. So complete was his suffering and death; he could not walk into his tomb; he had to be carried. Humiliation over. Justice satisfied. Sin is paid for. Atonement made. Sacrifice accomplished. The journey’s end is here.

O Christ you walked the road, For us the curse undone.
You journeyed to the cross for us And our redemption won.

 The journey is complete and all is accomplished. Jesus is crucified, dead and buried. For you.

It is finished.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Issues Etc. Interview: The Hunger Games Books

After the Holy Week marathon is completed, I'll post some additional thoughts on the questions from last week's radio interview with Issues Etc. on the topic Can Christians Read or Watch The Hunger Games? There is always more to say than can be said in a 30 minute segment. We covered a lot of ground, but I always find myself thinking about additional comments or points to make. Soon enough!

But for now, enjoy the link here to listen to the interview. 

And above all, a blessed Holy Week to you all.

Palm Sunday Sermon: "Are We There Yet?"

+ Palmarum – April 1st, 2012 +

Zechariah 9:9-12; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-47

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

            Spring is here. Summer’s around the corner. Time for vacation. Kick the tires. Load up the car. Hit the lights. Shut the door. Head for the hills. And don’t forget the kids. Because every five minutes for the next 8 hours you know that all you’ll hear is:  “Are We There Yet?”
            In a way, Holy Week is like the family road-trip. You’ve been on the road for 40 days; Ash Wednesday feels like ages ago; you’re hungry from Lenten fast; ready for the Easter feast. You’re road-weary and ready to go home. The home-stretch is finally here. Holy week. Lent. The whole church year. It’s one big procession, pointing us to the pilgrimage of the Christian life - a journey from Baptism to the grave, sustained by the Supper, and on to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

            Jesus has no time for dilly-dallying. No time to gaze on the beautiful Kidron Valley vistas or visit the world’s oldest olive tree. For Jesus, the road goes ever on and on to Calvary. The journey’s end is near. To the cross, or we’re all busted. Places to go. People to save.

Are we there yet?

            The road begins with the triumphal entry: palm branches waving; Hosannas shouting! “Lord, save us!” The King makes his grand entrance on a borrowed donkey. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Where did people think this road was heading? Certainly not to a cross and a grave! More likely to revolution and holy war. Jesus the freedom-fighter. “Occupy Jerusalem! Throw ‘em all out; Jesus, set up your earthly kingdom.” That’s the kind of messiah we expect. But that was not the Messiah who came. Jesus came in humility and weakness to lay down His life, to die for you and for the world.

Are we there yet? We’ve only just begun.

            The road winds to the temple, the place of God’s presence. Jesus cleanses it as the prophets foretold. His house of prayer had become a brothel of corruption. Meanwhile his opposition schemes in the temple corridors. The religious are out for blood. And there’s mutiny. A disciple agrees to betray his Master for 30 silver coins even as a poor widow puts her two pennies into the temple treasury. Faith and unbelief lie close together. Even among His own there are betrayers. Some things don’t change, do they?
            The road passes through the streets of Jerusalem, to a borrowed upper room. The Passover, the sacrament of the Exodus is fulfilled. The Lamb of God sits at table with His Twelve, His Israel. He is the host, waiter and meal. New Manna from heaven for his greater exodus from death to life. Take eat; this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood. A new and everlasting covenant poured out in Jesus’ blood. And the angel of death passes over his disciples, over you and onto Jesus. Give and shed for you. Yes, you’re on this road too. He gives his church this meal as sustenance until He comes in glory: Do this for my remembrance.
            Are we there yet? No. But we’re getting closer.

            The road leads out to Gethsemane, a quiet place to pray at the Mount of Olives. Jesus prays for another way, another road. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” He prays as He taught His disciples to pray: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” He is the faithful, obedient Son for us all. For Adam’s disobedience in a garden led to death for all, even so, Christ’s obedience in a garden leads to life for all. Obedient, even unto death on the cross. As He prays, He bears the sin of the world on His shoulders. Your sin and mine. The anguish is great. The road is stained with sweat and blood that falls from His brow.

            The once peaceful garden becomes like Eden: treasonous. The betrayer kisses his Master. And we’re no better: we confess with our lips but our hearts are far from him. Swords are drawn; the air is thick with hatred. Jesus reaches out and heals the servant whose ear was cut off in His defense. He does not resist His enemies. “If your enemy forces you to walk one mile,” He once said, “walk two.” Jesus walks the whole way with His enemies, for His enemies.

            The road marches on to the court of the chief priest. There Peter is the first to speak and the first to reveal what a coward and a denier we all are. Three times, “I do not know Him!” The eyes of the Lord pierce his sinful heart. Jesus knows our denying and cowardly hearts too. He knows the truth about us; He knows our denials better than we do. And for us he is denied so that in his death, the Father will never deny you.
            Are we there yet? Getting closer.

            Then the road takes a detour to Herod’s palace. Herod, the man who would be King of the Jews at any cost including the lives of those around me. He wants to be entertained by Jesus. He is mocked and ridiculed and sent Him back to Pilate dressed in royal robes of purple.

             The sinless becomes the sinner so that the sinner is forgiven. Behold the happy exchange that brings you life. He gives you double remission for all your sins.  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Behold your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation: a crown of thorns, a robe of suffering, a reed of weakness; His enthronement on the cross for you, his rebellious subjects, awaits.
            His sorrow, his grief, his suffering – it’s all so exhausting. Overwhelming.  You’ve probably all felt that way at some point too.  “I’ve no more tears to cry"...pull the blankets over your head..."do I have to get up today? I give up; I can’t go one step farther. I’m exhausted.  
            Are we there yet?    I know you’re tired. We’re almost there.

            That’s why Jesus goes on this journey. He goes for you. He knows that you can’t take one step in the right direction, let alone enough to save yourself. He knows what you need: someone to carry you – not part of the way - but all the way home.               
            For you who are exhausted by grief and sorrow; Jesus carries every last one of them to the cross. His tears are yours. His sorrows are yours. He sheds them for you.           
            For you who are overwhelmed and weighed down by sin and death; Jesus allows death and sin to overtake and overwhelm him. The wood upon which Jesus is set adrift under the storming wrath of God, He fashions into an ark of salvation.                    
            For you who are brokenhearted from life in this world; Jesus comes to bind your wounds in his. All of your sorrow, sin and death. All of your fear, anxiety and weariness. All the questions we can’t answer and problems we can’t solve are finally and ultimately answered once and for all on the cross Christ Crucified.

            Thankfully, you don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in order to get closer to God or to have some kind of religious experience. Jesus commands no such thing. If you set out to find Jesus on your own you’ll never find him that way. No. Jesus comes to rescue you. He sends His Holy Spirit to prepare you for a weekly pilgrimage here to the one place where heaven comes to earth. The one place where Jesus promises to live and dwell among his pilgrim church on earth; here we road-weary, sinners of this world find rest. Peace. Forgiveness. In Holy Week (as in every week), Jesus delivers his life, his forgiveness, the fruits of his cross and passion to you, for you and with you.

            Don’t starve yourself on this Lenten journey or the rest of your pilgrim life. For we’re impoverished if we don’t avail ourselves of the gifts of Holy Week, or any other week too. You can look at pictures of faraway places, and you can read books about it, but there’s nothing quite like being there. Holy Week is a kind of “being there,” for the Christian church, walking the road of sorrows and shame that leads to the one death that conquers Death for us all.
            Today the palms are behind you. The cross is before you. And Jesus is with you along the way.
                Are we there yet? No. Not yet, but very soon.

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