Saturday, February 17, 2018

Funeral Sermon for Todd McDonald: "Lost and Found"

+ In Memoriam – Todd McDonald – June 22nd, 1967-February 11th, 2018 +
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14; Romans 8:18-30; Matthew 18:12-13
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

“Lost and Found”

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

The Lord is my shepherd, declares Psalm 23. These words are both familiar and unfamiliar all at once. We know and love this Psalm, perhaps even by memory; these words of Scripture bring us comfort, as they did for Todd in his final days of life. And yet, even if we have never set foot on a farm or seen any sheep except at the Orange County Fair, these words fill us with peace:

The Lord is my shepherd.
The Lord is Todd’s Shepherd. The Lord is your shepherd.

Jesus is the kind of shepherd described in Matthew 18:  
If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.

Jesus reveals himself in this story of lost sheep and rescuing shepherds. Jesus reveals his love for you as he did for Todd in this parable. Jesus is the kind of shepherd who cares nothing for making profit from his sheep; his care is only for the life of his sheep. He is not a cold, calculating business man, or else he would let the one lost sheep go; cut his losses, save the other 99. But not Good Shepherd Jesus. Jesus is the kind of shepherd who chases down the one lost sheep to rescue it, pick it up, place it on his shoulders, and bring it home. Jesus is the kind of shepherd who follows us into the valley of the shadow of death, as he did for Todd, to come out again alive through his death and resurrection. Jesus is the kind of shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, as he did for Todd and for you.

This is what our Lord, the Good Shepherd, does best. He finds us lost sheep and brings us home. Jesus the Good Shepherd found Todd in his lostness and declared him to be his own dear sheep and child in Holy Baptism. Jesus led Todd to the still waters of life and restored his soul.

Jesus the Good Shepherd followed Todd all the days of his life, just as he does for you, even when it looks to everyone else around us that we are not following him. Still, he watches over us, his goodness and mercy following us, chasing us down like a pair of sheep dogs. Still, he searches us out, finds us, brings us home in his dying and rising for us.

Jesus the Good Shepherd laid down his life for Todd and for you, and for all. This Good News, above all other good things in life, gave Todd comfort in his last days. For Todd knew that all we like sheep have gone astray, each to our own ways. Yet, Jesus the Good Shepherd carried our disease, despair, and death all the way to his death on the cross. He knew that though our sins are as scarlet, in Jesus we are white as snow. And he knew that the Lord was, and is, and ever shall be his Shepherd.

In Jesus the Good Shepherd, we who were lost are found. In Jesus the Good Shepherd, we who were dead in sin are alive in Christ Jesus. In Jesus the Good Shepherd, we who suffer are redeemed and restored, just as St. Paul declares:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.

Todd knew this sad and painful truth as well. That in this life there is much suffering.
But he also came to know, and find comfort in a greater truth. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or cancer, or despair, or any other darkness, Jesus the Good Shepherd is with us. More than that, Jesus the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us, suffered for us, died for us, and rose from the dead for us, just as the did for Todd.
And that’s why, even today in our grief and tears, there is joy, hope, and comfort in Jesus the Good Shepherd. When Jesus tells this same parable of the lost sheep in Luke’s Gospel there’s rejoicing at the end.

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

So it is for you today. We rejoice that Jesus the Good Shepherd has defeated death for Todd and for you. We rejoice that Jesus the Good Shepherd rose from the dead for Todd and for you. We rejoice that Jesus the Good Shepherd will one day raise our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Like Todd, you are no longer lost; you are found; you are rescued and redeemed. For the Lord is, and always shall be, your Good Shepherd.

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

Sermon for Ash Wednesday: "Out of the Ashes"

+ Ash Wednesday – February 14th, 2018 +
Joel 2:12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus met with his disciples. He showed them his hands and feet. He ate with them. He spoke to them: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

Today, as the season of Lent begins, and we prepare to journey to the cross and the empty tomb, our Lord gathers us as he did his disciples. Jesus reveals and gives himself to us in the breaking of the bread, his body and blood poured out for you. Jesus meets with us as he did with his disciples, with his peace, presence, and promise. And Jesus opens the Scriptures – that’s NT way of saying the OT – to see his passion and promise for us foretold by the patriarchs and prophets.

We don’t have to play hide and seek or bring out a Where’s Waldo book to find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, miracles, suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. It’s all there, declares Jesus. His suffering and death for us is on every page.
And what about the prophet Joel, our Old Testament reading today?

Is Jesus there? Yes he is. Jesus gives us repentance and redemption through his servant Joel, just as he did his people in the Old Testament. YHWH sent the prophet Joel to warn Judah. Israel had turned from YHWH to false idols. And punishment was coming in the form of the Assyrians. They would descend upon Israel like a swarm of locusts on a ripe wheat harvest. The dark clouds of locusts foretold by Joel mirrored Israel’s sin, black as night, covering everything and everyone in Israel.

“Yet even now, declares the Lord, turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
Rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,

Today our Lord sends his prophet Joel to us warn us as well.
It’s easy to tear our garments, to rip our clothing in a great spectacle of repentance. Much harder to rend our heart. To rip, tear, and break us from our sin. To die to sin. To have our sinful heart broken and revealed for what it is. That can only be done by the Holy Spirit.
He is a farmer sent to break up the hard soil of our hearts and plant the living seed of God’s Word. He is a physician who diagnoses our deadly disease of sin and pronounces treatment in God’s steadfast love. He is a bulldozer called to level our pride, tear down our foundation built on sinking sand, and firmly set us on Christ our rock and Redeemer.

Mourning. Weeping. Fasting. Like Israel of old, that’s all we deserve. We are a compost pile of sin and death. That little smudge of ashes on our foreheads captures our problem pretty well. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

But notice that the ashes aren’t a shapeless blob. It’s the cross, the place where God gathered all our sin, decay, disease, and death and placed it upon Jesus for us.

Jesus joins us in the ash heap and sits with us in the dust and dirt of our sin. God gets down in the dirt with his creatures by becoming a creature for us. The Lord who formed Adam from the dirt and dust of the earth, assumes our humanity. Jesus took all our sinful dirt and ashes upon himself and was judged, condemned, and broken for you. And on the third day, Jesus rose from the earth for you. On Easter Jesus is our new Adam, perfect for you, obedient for you, risen from the ground for you.

Jesus is flesh and blood proof that YHWH’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament are fulfilled. Even in Israel’s exile, YHWH saved a remnant, from whom came Jesus. YHWH preserved his promise until the fullness of time. Jesus is flesh and blood proof that his promises to you are true as well. Like his disciples at Emmaus, Jesus opens our hearts and minds to see the Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation – as pointing to his death and resurrection for you. Like those disciples, we see Jesus’ steadfast love revealed for us in the breaking of the bread, in his body and blood.

Joel foretells this blessed reversal. Behold, I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied. Like Israel, we bring nothing but sin, dirt, and death to our Lord and in return he gives us forgiveness, life, and his holy body and blood.

For the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him—
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the Lord your God?

Thanks to his prophet Joel, and the rest of the Scriptures, we do know the answer. Our Lord does relent of disaster. Jesus spares us. Jesus saves us. Jesus takes our sin and forgives us. Jesus takes on our dirt and ash and leaves us with his blessing. Jesus takes our death and gives us life. For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses – or yours – against them.

The prophet Joel – and all the Old Testament – repeatedly testify to this steadfast love of the Lord in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection for you.

A blessed Ash Wednesday and Lenten season to each of you…

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

Lessons and Carols: "For You"

+ Christmas Eve – Lessons and Carols – December 24th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
“For You”

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

As the mailman makes his afternoon rounds, he delivers an endless stream of Christmas door by door.

Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa place a large, lovingly wrapped present under the tree.

A co-worker walks into the office with a shimmering, glittery bag stuffed to the gills with homemade delicacies.

But all these things – the beautiful Christmas cards and family letters; the toy that’s been on your Christmas list since June; or the delicious, melt-in-your mouth cookies – we would have none of it without two words written on a card or a sticker:

For you.

This gift is yours. It belongs to you. It is your very own.

These same two words are the very the heart of this God’s love for you in Jesus; at the heart of this holy day; and at the heart of the Good News we hear and sing tonight:
 “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

Jesus is God in human flesh for you.
Jesus is born for you.
Jesus is the promised Savior for you.

God’s gift of His Son is yours. Christ belongs to you, and through his birth, life, and death on our behalf, you belong to him. Jesus becomes our very own brother to unite us to God our Father.

This is the way God has always worked. God is the consummate cheerful, joyous, gracious, abundant giver. Those two gracious words: for you – are written on every page across the entire Scripture. We’ve heard some of them tonight:

The Lord made all of creation and declared it “very good”, for you. Even after the fall of sin, God promised a Child, who would be born of a woman, and would crush the serpent…for you.

The Lord promised Abraham that his Offspring would bless all nations; God spared Isaac so that one day on a different hill many years later He would offer up his Son, his only Son for you.

The Lord promised to send a great light to us who dwell in the land of deep darkness; and in Bethlehem, the Light of the World shines forth in the night…for you.

The Lord promised that the root of Jesse would be lifted up as an ensign for all people; and the resting place of his manger and the cross is glorious for you.

The Lord sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, declaring that her womb was to be the royal palace for an everlasting King whose kingdom comes…for you.

The Lord sent this same angel to Joseph as well; “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife; for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. It is just as Isaiah foretold. Emmanuel is born for you.

The Lord sent his angels again, this time to shepherds, pictures of us all in their lowliness and outcastedness. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

Not in Jerusalem, but Bethlehem, the magi found the star pointing to the Child that was born as the King of all creation…for you.

In the fullness of time, the eternal Word of the Father, became flesh and dwelt among us…for you.

There is no greater gift given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe playing in the lap of his mother. Jesus is born for you, given for you, made man for you.
Jesus comes to take all our sorrow, suffering, and sin upon himself; he makes our disease, despair, and death his own. For us, who are unholy, unlovable, and unworthy, Jesus is born for you. To give you his life; to call you his own; you belong to him because he was born for you and died for you.

These two little words – “For you” - separate Christianity from everything and everyone else we worship; for every other religion of man requires us to give to a fleshless god to receive something in return. But not this God; this God gives himself for you and asks for nothing in return: Jesus is given freely for you. This God comes down for you; He is laid in the manger for you, cried for you, felt pain and sorrow for you, grew up and lived a perfect life for you; was tempted, hungered, and thirsted for you, suffered for you, was betrayed for you, laid down his life for you; entered the grave and came out again three days later for you; even now he lives and intercedes for you; and promises to return again for you.

God places before us a baby in whom we take refuge. There is nothing to fear in this Child, for with him and in him and through him all fear is cast out. All our earthly gifts – as good and fun as they are – are merely a glimpse of this greatest Christmas gift of all:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

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

Christmas Day: "A Christmas Sequel"

+ Christmas Day – December 25th, 2017 +
Series B: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-18
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
“A Christmas Sequel”

In 1937, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit longed for a sequel to this beloved tale of adventure; their hopes were later fulfilled when The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954.

When movie goers went to the theaters in 1977 to watch Star Wars for the first time, they left wanting more epic space battles, lightsaber duels, and lovable characters. They wanted a sequel. And they got it when the Empire struck back in 1980.

More recently, in the summer of 1999, Harry Potter fans lined up and camped out waiting for the sequel, The Chamber of Secrets, to hit the shelves at their local bookstores.
When a good story or movie ends, we find ourselves wanting more. And when a good story ends in tragedy, we long for redemption and a happy ending. We long for a sequel; and not only for our favorite stories, but for ourselves, our family and friends; in this sinful world of sin, despair, and death, we long for rescue, consolation, and life.

The great joy of Christmas is that the wait is over. As one Christmas carol declares: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. The eternal Word of the Father became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ is born to redeem and rescue you, to restore creation.

In the hills of Judea, the angels publish the Good News: Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And like excited fan boys running to a comic book store for a new release, they make haste to Bethlehem, to the manger, to find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Christ is born for you.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Christmas is the unexpected sequel that we, and all creation, have been longing for ever since our human story was marked by tragedy, sin, and death in the Garden.
But we are not alone in our longing…

Adam and Eve longed for the day when a Child would be born of a woman to crush the serpent, turn back the curse of sin, and rescue from death.
Noah longed for true rest in a new creation that would no longer be subject to flood and famine, wickedness and wrath.

Abraham longed for the promised Offspring that would come from his family to bless all people. Jacob longed to see heaven reach down to earth just as he had in his dream.
Moses longed for YHWH’s promised prophet who would be like him, only greater.
David longed his descendant and Lord who would establish an everlasting Kingdom.
Isaiah and the prophets longed for the long-expected Savior they proclaimed; the One who would bare his holy arm before all nations that all might see His salvation; the One who would bring comfort, restoration, and redemption to all people.
Creation too, longs and groans with eager expectation for our redemption and the new creation.

Jesus’ birth for us God’s answer to our greatest need. Christmas is the sequel to Genesis 3.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

In many and various ways, God spoke to his people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.

God’s New Creation begins in Bethlehem, where the Lord of all Creation became a creature to save all creation. The thorns are in retreat, while fields, and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. The animals surrounding this infant King reigning from his throne of straw in the stable have as much right to be there as the angels.

In Jesus’ birth, the second Adam has come to trample the serpent under foot and become the curse of sin for us; Noah’s rest and ours is won as Jesus rests in the manger, upon the cross, and in the grave for us; God’s own Son becomes our brother to set us free and make us children of God, heirs of his promise; Christ comes down from heaven to earth, to upon to lift you in his death on the cross; the prophet greater than Moses both speaks God’s Word and is the Word made flesh for you; David’s son and David’s Lord establishes his throne in the crib and the cross to bring you into his kingdom that has no end; Isaiah and all the prophets’ words are fulfilled – the Lord bares his holy arm in the manger and upon the cross for you; the Lord of Creation, who feeds the ravens when they call, feeds us with the Bread of Life in his holy body and blood.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

At long last, the wait is over; the sequel has arrived. The Word became flesh.
Jesus’s birth is the unexpected happy ending we didn’t ask for, earn, or deserve; but he comes by grace and changes the ending of our story forever. In Jesus’ birth, life, and death we have more than we could have ever imagined. In Jesus’ birth, we hear, receive, and rejoice in the never-ending story of God’s love for us.

For…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

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

4th Sunday in Advent

+ 4th Sunday in Advent – December 24th, 2017 +
Series B: 2 Samuel 7:1-11; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

“There’s no place like home” says Dorothy. “I’ll be home for Christmas”, sang Bing Crosby. “Home is where your rump rests”, declares Whinnie the Pooh.

Christmas, perhaps more than any other holy day of the church fills us with this longing for home. For many, home and family gatherings are a joyous glimpse of heaven on earth. Still, for many others, home is a place of trouble, despair, and brokenness.

Whatever each of our homes are like, we long for safe haven from a world gone mad with sin and death. We long for light and life to cast out the cold, dark grip of sin and death upon us. We long for rest from the weariness of that which plagues us in soul, body, and mind.

And into our longing, the Lord speaks a word of comfort to us through his prophet, Nathan:
I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you 
that the Lord will make you a house…I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

The Lord first declared this Good News to King David. The Lord promised David an everlasting throne, an eternal home, and a kingdom without end through his offspring, through a child born for David, for you, and for all.

And yet, God’s promise to David of an eternal home, an everlasting kingdom, and a Savior was not to be found in the halls of David’s palace, nor among the wealth and wisdom of his son, Solomon. But rather in the womb of a humble Virgin from Nazareth in Galilee, named Mary.

Gabriel came to Mary just a Nathan came to David, with God’s promise:
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

In Mary’s womb, God makes his home to dwell with us and be our Savior. Mary’s Son dwells with us in the manger and our humanity, to rescue us and bring us home. David’s son and David’s Lord leads you to a home that is bigger in Him than the whole universe outside of Him.

So, whoever you are, no matter how far you have journeyed in the dark, now through this Child, you are home. Our earthly homes may still be a mess of papers, toys, dishes, and other kinds of messes that are far harder to clean up. But no matter. This holy child dwells with you.

At Christmas, Christ makes his home with us, to live, die, and rise that we might have an eternal home with him.

Jesus makes his home with us to give us a new and everlasting home with Him, in his manger and his cross. Jesus became a member of our family, so we could become members of his. That makes our Lord’s house, the Church, our true home at the holidays.
This is the Good News of great joy that our Sunday School children will now sing and speak of:

From heaven above to earth I come to bear good news to every home…

From our Lord’s house to your house…

A blessed Advent and Christmas to each of you…

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