Monday, February 29, 2016

Lent 3 Sermon: "Great Unexpectations"

+ Third Sunday in Lent – February 28th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have certain expectations when it comes to stories. The guy and girl fall in love. The bad guys lose. The good guys win. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Like it or not, in good ways and bad ways, we bring our expectations with us when we read Scripture. Today’s story in Luke 13 of Jesus and the crowds, and Jesus’ parable of the fig tree are no different.
When Jesus asks, “Do you think those Galileans whose blood was mixed with the sacrificial blood were worse sinners?” we expect the answer to be, “yes”. When Jesus asks, “Were the 18 on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem?” we expect the answer to be, “yes, they must have done something awful to deserve that”.
But what does Jesus say? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Jesus doesn’t give in to the crowds’ expectations of judgment. He doesn’t lay these tragedies at the feet of one man’s sin, but all sin. Jesus turns the crowds’ attention and ours, not to other sinners, but to us.
We expect Jesus to point out the sins of others, but instead he points us to our own sin. He turns the story on us. Unless you repent, you will perish.
Yes, we expect these stories to be about judgment, warning, and repentance. And they are. Repent. Run away! God doesn’t grade on a curve. Our sin is serious, deadly serious. Repent or perish. That’s the warning. The axe is laid to the root. Judgment is coming.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Hate the sin but love the sinner. No. God hates sin, but justifies the sinner. There’s a difference. God doesn’t love the sinner in his sin, not according to Ezekiel. Rather, God loves the sinner in his sinless Son Jesus. God is just and cannot tolerate sin, but God sends Jesus to the cross so we might be justified and live. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
Yes, this story is about judgment, warning, and repentance, but it’s about so much more. This story – just like Jesus’ teaching, death, and resurrection – defies, upends, and overturns all our expectations.
Jesus doesn’t say or do what we expect him to do. Just like the Vinedresser in the parable of the fig tree:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
We expect the vineyard owner to say, “I’ve had it. Give that worthless, barren fig tree what it deserves. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”  
But unexpectedly, the vinedresser intercedes: Let it be for this year. I will dig around it and put manure on it.
This parable of the fig tree is a story of God’s unexpected patience, mercy, and grace towards us. 
Let it alone, he says. Let it be. Forbear it. Forgive it. Jesus uses this word for forgiveness over and over again in Luke’s Gospel. We live, as the fig tree lives, under the shade of the cross. We live by forgiveness.
But of course we, along with the world, have different expectations of how that all happens. Oh yes, there’s repentance. But we expect repentance to be a little rehabilitation for sinners or only necessary for the really, really bad sinners. We expect that repentance and faith is something like a pat on the back from God.  
But God’s patience, mercy, and grace to us in Jesus are altogether unexpected.
Where we are impatient, quick to anger and abounding in steadfast stubbornness, Jesus is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Where we expect, and rightfully deserve judgment for our sin, Jesus is merciful.
Where we expect to be cut down and cast out of the vineyard, Jesus graciously roots us in the tree of his cross.
God doesn’t operate according to our expectations, but by the unexpected and outrageous folly of Jesus crucified for you. Jesus the Vinedresser becomes the rotten, dead tree for you. Jesus is sent to the hill of dust, ashes, and stench of death for you. Jesus the Vinedresser hangs on a tree of death to forgive you. He allows his own body to be dug deep by nails and spear; he is covered in the dung of our sin to plant our dead roots in his tree of life. What an unexpected love it is.
Jesus is merciful towards us; he takes the punishment and judgment we deserved. And Jesus is gracious, giving us his undeserved life, righteousness, and forgiveness.
Jesus doesn’t come to see if you are good enough: he knows the truth about our goodness. Jesus doesn’t come to see if we are sincerely and heartily sorry for our sin: he knows our repentance is never worth the hot air we put into it.  Jesus comes to forgive you. For free. For nothing. You are saved by grace, just like the fig tree.
You see, Jesus does not love us because we are good fig trees or because we bear good fruit. Rather, Christ’s love for you makes you a good tree. Jesus Crucified causes you to bear good fruit: the fruit of repentance, of rejoicing, of running to your neighbor to tell them you are redeemed and so are they. All by the unexpected grace and mercy of the Vinedresser.
Jesus is your Vinedresser, and by his death he bears good fruit for you in his body and blood. By his death you are a good tree, watered and at the font and the altar. By his death you are guests at the unexpected party of the Lamb’s high feast.
And as long as you are in Jesus, you bear fruit. As long as his death feeds your roots, you will never be cut down.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "I AM the Door and I AM the Good Shepherd"

+ Lenten midweek sermon – February 17th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
I AM the Door & I AM the Good Shepherd
John 10:1-18

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

Perhaps in English grammar class you were taught this simple rule: avoid mixed metaphors.

“If he plays his cards right he might just knock it out of the park and let the cat out of the bag.”

“Don’t open Pandora’s Box, you’ll find it full of Trojan Horses…after all, even Napoleon had his Watergate.”

You see, our teachers were teaching us English as well as sparing us from sounding illogical, foolish, or being laughed at.

So what do we do when we come across a Scripture passage like we hear in John 10?
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 

At first, it might seem like Jesus has committed a grave grammatical error in his teaching. I AM the Door…I AM the Good Shepherd. Is Jesus mixing metaphors?

Perhaps, but Jesus is more than a metaphor. There’s nothing illogical or inconsistent at all. Jesus is both; he’s your Door and your Good Shepherd.

When Jesus says, “I AM the door”, he truly is. Doors are a passage way from one place to another. Jesus your Door is no different. In Jesus you leave the wilderness behind and enter the Promised Land. Jesus is your doorway from death to life. Jesus is the entry to the Father’s sheepfold. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. This door is not, square, rectangular, or round; it is the shape of Jesus Crucified.

I AM the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

And when Jesus says, “I AM the Good Shepherd” he truly is. Jesus is more than a metaphorical, figurative, or symbolic shepherd. Jesus leads and guides us, feeds and provides for us, tends and cares for us.

I AM the Good Shepherd, Jesus declares.

What’s so “good” about Jesus the Good Shepherd?

Most of the pictures we see of Jesus the Good Shepherd portray him like a gushing hallmark valentine’s card, revealing Jesus’ goodness as his affection towards us sheep.

Now, in a way, there’s truth in those pictures. Our Lord does hold us in deep affection. God loves you as a Father loves his children. God loves you as a husband loves his wife. Jesus loves you as a brother. But the goodness of our Good Shepherd is not found only in his affection for us.

And neither is it found in his perfect goodness. Yes, it’s true and necessary for our salvation that Jesus is sinless, without spot or blemish. Jesus keeps the Law for you. Jesus does the good that we want to do but are unable to do. But that is not all that his goodness means when he declares to you, I AM the Good Shepherd.  

Jesus is your Good Shepherd because he is the right shepherd, the one you need. He is the only Shepherd that can lead us wandering sheep into the Father’s sheepfold.

If Jesus was our good shepherd only by affection or good behavior, then we could just as easily fool ourselves into thinking we could survive the wolf attack without him. “I’m my own shepherd,” we say. “I’ve been a good sheep,” we think, “better than those goats at least.”
We fool ourselves by looking to our emotions and behavior as a good shepherd. We look for other doors to enter into rather than the true Door; we turn our ears to heed other voices rather than the voice of the only Good Shepherd. Yes, all we like sheep have gone astray.
We are not good shepherds. But Jesus is for you.

I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus is your Good Shepherd because he lays down his life for you. It is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that makes him good. And by his sacrifice on the cross God declares you good and righteous.

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross he is your door as well. In Jesus you pass through death to life, from the grave to resurrection, from the wilderness to the sheepfold. This is why Jesus is your Good Shepherd.

Jesus gives his life for you, his sheep. Jesus overcomes the wolf by filling the wolf’s mouth with his flesh. Jesus stole you back from the devil, destroyed the power of death, and killed the robber once and for all. By his passion he paid for our evil passions. By his death he cured our death. By his tomb he robbed the tomb. By his nail-pierced hands he builds a doorway for you that leads to eternal life.

The goodness of your Shepherd is found in the cross he bore for you. And his goodness and cross are also found in the still waters of your Baptism, where Jesus the Door opens heaven to you. The Good Shepherd spreads a table for you where his body and blood overflow for you. The Good Shepherd speaks in his Word and his absolution where you hear his voice: “You are forgiven. You are mine. Enter the sheepfold with joy and delight. My goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.”

I AM the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus is your Door. Jesus is your Good Shepherd. And that’s no metaphor.

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lent 1 Sermon: "In the Wilderness"

+ Lent 1 – February 14th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Deut. 26:1-11; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

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

Why are you here this morning?

Duty, obligation, calling? Because mom or dad made you? The coffee and donuts? Whatever our motivation, there’s really only one this congregation exists. Only one reason we’re here this morning. Sin.

This place is here for one reason – for God to expose and forgive our sin. That’s the only business of the Church. And that’s why you’re here – or should be. This is what Lent is all about: Jesus takes away your sin. Everything Jesus does is to take away our sin.
Eden is gone. We live in the wilderness of sin.

Unfortunately, if we don’t think our sin is all that serious or deadly, then we don’t really need Lent, or Church, or Jesus. If we have no sin, what good is a Savior who bleeds and dies for us? Our sinful flesh would much rather live the lie: “I’m good. You’re good. We’re all good. It’s those other people that need saving, not me.”

This is why we confess our sins. It’s not because it’s popular, comfortable, or attractive to visitors. We do it because the words are true, even though they hurt. We are poor miserable sinners. We are sinful and unclean in thought, word, and deed.

If we ever lose sight that it is my sin that drives me out of paradise into the wilderness, and eventually, that if I had my way of things, I’d be out of heaven and into the total isolation of hell forever. If we ever lose sight that we need deliverance from our sin, and our family and friends need deliverance from their sin, and our neighbors and coworkers need deliverance from sin – then the Church has lost her purpose.

God put Redeemer Lutheran here, in Huntington Beach, in this very place for you, so he can forgive your sin. That’s why Jesus is here with you now.

This is why we’re here this morning, this Lent. We need to hear the truth about us. That our sin is an infection of death. It festers, rots, and decays. Satan comes to us as he did Adam and Eve and Jesus, with wave after wave of temptation. Our sinful flesh is no help either. We hold grudges, get angry, hurt our friends and enemies instead of praying for them, we reject others and are rejected, we fall ill, loved ones die. All of this is because we live in a fallen world.

So, if your marriage is perfect, your children are perfect, you’re in perfect health, have a perfect home, school is going great, nothing breaks down, spills, or falls apart, no one disappoints you and you have no pain or sorrow, then you can relax. You’re safe…sin hasn’t attacked you. You don’t need Lent or the Church or Jesus.

But if your life is not perfect, your health not perfect, your family not perfect, then something deadly is causing all this grief and pain.

It’s not God. God is love, not hate. God is peace, not chaos. God is life, not death. God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for you.

No, the problem isn’t God. The problem is sin. Mine. Yours. The world’s. We live in the wilderness of sin.

But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

You are not alone in this wilderness, Jesus is with you, also alone, starving, stalked and hunted by Satan. Jesus is on his way to death as well. But why is Jesus here? He has no sin, no grudges, no malice, no desires of the flesh. Why is he in the wilderness hungry, tempted, and suffering?

Jesus is in the wilderness because you are here.

God could not sit by and watch us suffer. So he sends Jesus to be with you when everything and everyone else is against you. If you lose all things, Jesus loses all things. If you hunger, Jesus hungers. If you sweat and squirm, he sweats and squirms. If you suffer condemnation, he suffers condemnation. If you die, he must die too. Jesus loves you too much to leave you in this wilderness alone to die. So Jesus goes into the wilderness, defeats the devil, takes your temptation, sin, and death nails it to his cross.

But there’s more happening here in the wilderness. Wherever Jesus walks in the desert, new life springs up. Jesus’ cross is your tree of life. The tree of the Garden is gone, but Jesus plants a new tree with himself upon it for you. And upon that tree, Satan is defeated. From that tree, you’re forgiven, fed, and live.

This is why we have Lent. Jesus suffers, starves, and wanders in the desert for 40 days because you are here. He’s not here to show a little sympathetic pat on the back go on his way. He’s here to rescue you from this wilderness. To give you a new paradise. To take you back to heaven. To forgive you.

And so he washes you, even as he washed the disciples’ feet. He feeds you even as he was fed by the angels. He forgives you because he died for you. His altar is our oasis in the desert; we’re nourished by his body and blood. His Baptism pours out living water of the Holy Spirit upon us. His absolution wipes the dust, dirt, and grime of the wilderness off of us, and cleanses us from all sin.

Jesus is with you in the wilderness. With you this Lent. With you today. You are forgiven. And that’s why we’re here.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday Sermon: "Jesus Christ is the Light of the World"

+ Ash Wednesday – February 10th, 2016 +
Lenten sermon series: I AM sayings in John’s Gospel
John 8:12

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

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Seems like a strange verse to reflect upon on this Ash Wednesday.

We live in a world enveloped in darkness and the shadow of death. The blindness of man’s sin rages on: the world rejoices in the destruction of marriage and family and calls it love and choice; pro-abortion advocates are upset about a Doritos commercial that humanizes a baby in utero; men call it a service to god when they chop off the heads of Christians. Yes, we’re surrounded by people who love the darkness rather than the light.

But the truth of Ash Wednesday deals us a death blow as well. The cross of ashes is a reminder that there’s a sinful heart of darkness within each of us. As our Lord said, Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. The cross of ashes is a reminder that our sin is black as death. The cross of ashes is a reminder that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

There’s no place darker than the grave. Adam and Eve walked in the darkness of disobedience, and so do we. Israel wandered away from God’s commands into the darkness of their own desires, and so do we.

Without Christ, all is darkness. But with Christ, all darkness is banished.

God did not let the darkness swallow up Adam and Eve. He spoke a promise. Light and life would come from a Virgin’s womb. A child was born to crush the devil and chase the darkness away forever.

God did not let the darkness swallow up Israel. He sent prophet after prophet to declare to them light and life in God’s mercy. Prophets like Joel,

Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

God will not let the darkness swallow you up either. Not the sinful world without, or our sinful flesh within.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world; the light no darkness – no sin, no covetous desires, no forgetful prayer and devotion, no malice or anger in our hearts, no lustful eye, no dark deed of ours, nor anything in all creation - can overcome.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

To walk in the light of life is to walk in the shadow of Jesus’ cross, for there alone is all darkness defeated for you. In Jesus crucified we are children of light.

Jesus dies for Adam’s sin and yours. Jesus bears the punishment for Israel’s wandering and ours. Jesus is swallowed up by the dark veil of death for you.

Yes, the ashes on our foreheads remind us of death, but they’re not in the shape of a dark, black coffin. They’re in the form of the cross. And that’s no accident. We bear the cross of ashes, but it is a cross – the sign of our life in Christ.

The cross of ashes is reminder that though our sins were as black as coal, in the cross we are white as snow. The cross of ashes is a reminder that death is swallowed up in victory. The cross of ashes is a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world, and he shines most clearly for you in his death on the cross.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

This Lent we follow Jesus to the cross. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. His Supper is a feast of light in the life of his flesh and blood. His Baptism makes us children of light, a city set on a hill that cannot help but shine in the night around us. For though the darkness surrounds us, we are not alone.

The Light that appeared to Moses in the burning bush not consuming the tree in fire, is hung on a tree in order to consume the flames of God’s wrath for you.

The Light which led Israel through the wilderness by fire and cloud now leads you through death into life on a new exodus in the waters of your Baptism.

Light that first broke the dark and void of creation breaks the seal of the grave and brings you into a new creation filled with the only light you need: the Lamb who was slain and yet lives. And Jesus, the Lamb is also your light.

Jesus is the Light of the World for you, this Ash Wednesday and always.

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sermon for Epiphany 4: "The Word of the Lord Comes"

+ 4th Sunday after Epiphany – January 31st, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Jeremiah 1:4-10, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:31-44

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

“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” so the saying goes. But that’s not always true is it? Words have power. Words have authority. To use a legal example, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. The words of a judge can put you in prison. The word of a law can bring punishment or reward.

When someone in authority speaks, those words carry that authority. When someone with power speaks, those words carry power. When the Son of God – the Word made flesh - speaks the Word, His words are full of God’s power and authority. We hear this in today’s readings. God’s Word has the power and authority to bring life.

For God’s Word is unlike any other Word. “Let there be light,” and there is light. God’s Word does what he says. When God speaks, something happens. God’s Word is more than audible patterns of speech. God’s Word is action. And so the Word of the Lord comes…

That’s the biblical pattern. The Lord calls and sends by His Word. God speaks and something remarkable happens. This is how God calls his prophets, like Jeremiah. It’s Lord’s Word that makes the prophet, not the prophet that makes the Lord’s Word.

The Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in his youth. Like Isaiah, the Lord touched his mouth and opened it and filled it with divine words: to pluck up and break down…to build and to plant.

The Word of the Lord came to St. Paul as well. The risen Christ appeared, sending Paul to proclaim the unending, abounding love of Christ to Jew and Gentile alike.

And then, the Word of the Lord came to Capernaum as well. Only this time it was not a prophet, but the Prophet greater than Moses; not an apostle, but the One sent by the Father, the Holy One of God. The Word of the Lord in human flesh speaks his Word of authority to bring life, freedom, and healing, and not only in Capernaum, but for you.

Last week we heard Jesus preaching his word in the Nazareth synagogue. This week he’s in Capernaum doing everything Isaiah promised he would: casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the good news. The crowds in Nazareth wanted to throw him off a cliff. But what of Capernaum? What’s their response to Jesus’ word?

The demons respond with what sounds like the right response: Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God. The truth is, Jesus did come to destroy them and all the works and powers of the devil. But Jesus knows that the devil takes his word of truth and twists it. Jesus would not have us listen to the voice of demons, even if they do speak the truth. So, he silences them by his Word.

Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” The devil can’t stand in the presence of the Word of God – not in the synagogue and not on the cross. Jesus defeats the devil once again…by His Word.

Seeing the demons run before their eyes, the crowds respond as well. They’re amazed and astonished. What is this Word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out! But instead of throwing him off a cliff, the word about Jesus’ Word of authority and power spreads throughout the region.

And then the Word of the Lord came to Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, a reminder that Jesus’ Word is not only for all people, but it is personal, given to each of us as a gift and treasure. She was ill with a fever. And Jesus stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her…
The same word that rebuked the demon also rebukes disease. Jesus’ Word is action. Jesus speaks and something happens. She was healed. And then her joyous response, freed from disease she is free to love and serve others. And immediately she rose and began to serve them.

But what about us? The Word of the Lord comes to us, and how do we respond?

Like the crowds in Capernaum, are we amazed and astonished by Jesus’ Word, yet lack wisdom and understanding? Like the crowds in Nazareth, do we close our ears and reject Jesus’ Word?

Like the demons, do we know the truth but twist it to serve our own purposes with lies and deceit?

Like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, do we hear the Word, receive Jesus’ healing and then begin to serve in joyful response?

Truth is, our life is a chaotic mess of it all isn’t it? In this life we wrestle with Jesus’ Words and our own words. We have an inner civil war of words every day: God’s Word and the words of our sinful flesh. What God wills and what we will.

You see, that demon in the synagogue serves as a warning for us too. Wherever God’s Word is given, wherever Baptism washes away our sin, wherever absolution declares sinner pardoned, wherever the Lord’s Supper feeds us with Jesus’ body and blood – that’s where the devil is going to work the hardest to try and remove Jesus’ Words from our ears, lips, hearts, and minds. This is the devil’s oldest and only trick: remove Jesus’ Word.

The Word of the Lord comes to us just as it did to Jeremiah, Paul, prophets, and apostles, even to Peter’s mother-in-law, and Jesus does the same thing he said he would long ago. He speaks his Word to Destroy and overthrow…to build and to plant.

With his Word Jesus calls us to repentance…and to rejoice.

With his Word he overthrows the devil and hell, and destroys sin and death forever.

With a word he rebukes your sin, as easily and swiftly as he did the demon and the disease. 
It is finished. Jesus Crucified for you. There’s your Word of life, freedom, and healing. And when Jesus speaks his last breath for you on the cross, something happens. Heaven opens. Sin is forgiven. Death is defeated. The devil is cast out. And you are healed. Set free.

For the man possessed by the unclean spirit, for the confused yet amazed crowds, and for Peter’s mother-in-law freedom, life, and healing didn’t come by their own words but by Jesus’ Word. So it is for us. The Good News is nowhere to be found in our own words, but in Jesus’ Word of power and authority.

By His Word, Jesus promised to go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise again for you. And he did, just as he said.

By His Word, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to speak continually to you of His death and resurrection, and he did just as he said.

By His Word, Jesus promised to be with you always, and he is, just as he said.

By his Word, we speak not with the clang and clamor of gongs and symbols, but with his Word of love that sets us free to love others.

The Word of the Lord in human flesh speaks his Word of authority to bring life, freedom, and healing for you.

Jesus’ Word comes to you. The same Word that silenced demons, that raised old ladies from their sickbed, comes to you. “I forgive you all of your sins.” “This is my Body given for you, my Blood shed for you. For the forgiveness of your sins.” Jesus says it, and it happens. Jesus’ Word comes to you with the same power and authority to forgive you, heal you, restore you, raise you up from death to life. You are forgiven. You are cleansed. The devil is silenced. Death has no dominion over you. Jesus gets the final word.

And so…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:16-17).

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

Funeral Sermon for JoAnn Staggs: “Christ our Caretaker”

+ In Memoriam – JoAnn Staggs +
January 17th, 1935 – December 30th, 2015
Psalm 116:1-9; Isaiah 35:3-10; Revelation 22:1-5; Matthew 25:31-46

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

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 

JoAnn’s family chose this Gospel reading because it her faith and life in Christ. And from what I’ve come to know about JoAnn, it’s well chosen.

Jesus’ Words in this parable paint a beautiful, yet humble portrait of JoAnn. When her friends or family were hungry, she fed them, even if there were a lot of mouths to feed. When someone she knew needed clothing, she was quick to provide them with a timely – and of course, fashionable – gift. When someone was sick she took care of them revealing the same loving kindness that would be given to her by family and friends in her last days. Though she was queen of everything, she ruled with a compassionate, caring hand. JoAnn was a caretaker.

And in the compassionate love of JoAnn’s care-giving, we see reflected the greater compassion and love of Christ our caretaker.

JoAnn’s care for others, like the righteous sheep caring for the hungry, naked, stranger, and prisoners in Jesus’ parable, is God’s gift. JoAnn’s faith – like that of all are baptized sheep in Christ’s flock – is an inheritance, prepared by the Good Shepherd before the foundation of the world. And an inheritance by definition is a gift, something we don’t earn. Jesus bestows it upon us freely by his death on the cross, just as he did for JoAnn.

After all, the righteous sheep in Jesus’ parable have no idea when they cared for Jesus.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Yes, JoAnn was a caretaker. JoAnn was well known for doing anything for anyone at any time, and without a thought for herself. And this is a fitting passage of Scripture for her life and faith in Christ. But it is also a fitting passage that reveals for us the greatest caretaker of all, Christ our Lord.

It was Christ who took care of JoAnn giving her life through her parents.

It was Christ who took care of her and gave her new birth by water, Word, and the Holy Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism.

It was Christ who took care of her and Gene as they were married and started a family of their own.

It was Christ who took care of her as she moved from Oklahoma to Texas to California.

It was Christ who took care of her throughout her 80 years of caring for others.

It was Christ who took care of her in her last days.

And it is Christ who continues to care for her, and all the faithful departed who rest from their labors, asleep in Jesus. With JoAnn and the faithful, we await the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

After all, Jesus is the greatest caretaker of all for JoAnn and for you. He would do anything for anyone at any time without a thought for himself. And he did. That is why he was born, naked and wrapped in swaddling clothes for you. Laid in the manger for you. Took on human flesh for you. And then on to the cross for you to die in naked humiliation that you might be clothed in his righteousness and holiness. He thought only of calling you his beloved sheep, just as he did JoAnn.

Jesus hungered and thirsted in the wilderness and then finally on the cross… for you, so that he might give his own flesh to feed you and fill you with his promises in his own body and blood.

Jesus became the stranger who received no welcome, no hospitality, and nowhere to rest his head so that we who were exiles of heaven might find in him our eternal rest and welcome, just as JoAnn did.

Jesus became captive to our sin and a prisoner of death for to come to us and rescue us.

Jesus cares for you by the greatest act of compassion, mercy, and grace that ever was or will be: Jesus crucified for you. Christ our caregiver trades his death to give us life, his righteousness in exchange for our sin, and his grave and resurrection for ours.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 

And so today we cast our cares, our burdens, our grief, our sin and death all upon Jesus. For Christ is and always shall be your caretaker in the cross.

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