5.13.18 Ascension


Ephesians 4:7-16

7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.



On a day when America takes time to recognize mothers, we are taking time for this festival called the Ascension of our Lord.  You might think that the two have absolutely nothing in common, that there is no possible way that these two days could ever correlate.  One is about love and sacrifice and selflessness and care and serving, and the other is about Jesus leaving this world to take up residence at his rightful place on heaven’s throne.

But maybe you noticed something as I read through Ephesians 4. Jesus’ ascension is also about love for his people, the sacrifice he made for us, and how his completed work means we now have something to offer others.  There is a word for this kind thing that shows up right in the middle of verse 12 in Ephesians 4:  διακονίας.  That’s the Greek word for “ministry,” or “service.”  When Christ ascended he had some work in mind for us to do.

That’s how it dawned on me that the two are very similar.  Mothering is a service in a way that it is selflessly serving children for their good.  It is loving care for children so that won’t be tossed back and forth by the waves of life.  It’s helping children grow and mature the right way. That is exactly what Christ’s triumphant return to heaven means for us, his church.  Jesus’ ascension means it’s time for ministry.

As we discuss this ministry we have received from our ascended Lord, I want us to answer three questions: 1) what does Jesus give us for ministry? 2) who does Christ give us for ministry? 3) what is the purpose of this ministry?

If Jesus going back to heaven means that he has left us to do his ministry work, doesn’t that sound kind of hopeless?  Why would a perfect God leave this very important work up to imperfect rebels like us?  But for one it means Jesus is done with his saving work.  He came and did everything that God had promised he would.  He completely finished the work of defeating sin, death, and the devil to open up heaven for us.  We have to also remember that Jesus promised to be with us to the very end of the age.  It’s still his church and from heaven he rules all things for our spiritual and eternal good.  His grace will not leave us.

Paul says “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” Now it would be nonsense for us to think that we have earned these gifts or achieved them by personal performance. Grace cannot be earned or deserved in any way.  Grace is not based on your performance. Jesus, the one who descended to earth to be the Savior from sin, the conqueror of hell, the crusher of Satan, he loves you and has an endless supply of grace for you because of who he is and what he has done.

His grace also supplies everything you need for this ministry.  Paul quotes from the Psalms to prove this point.  “When he ascended on high…he gave gifts to his people.”  What are these gifts we’re talking about? God’s gifts are the things and abilities he gives you to serve him, to be involved in ministry, to care for others.

He might give some of us talents in music or abilities with our hands to build or fix things.  He might give some of us administrative minds for group work and others jolly personalities to be warm and caring.  He might give some of us courage and optimism to press on and stand up against negative doubts and worries.  He might give some gifts at one time in life and then change the gifts at another time.  But the key that Paul wants us to know is that Jesus gives every one of us gifts.  It’s personal for each of us so that we can serve him and one another.

Now, it doesn’t make much sense at all that Jesus would ascend to heaven to watch over his church and give you the gift of being a good communicator so that you will use that gift to spread gossip and rumors. It doesn’t make much sense that Jesus would give you a knack for fixing things so that you would only fix your things.  That would be similar to a mother neglecting her children’s basic needs. Jesus would never give you gifts and abilities for sinful or selfish purposes.

And yet as he looks over his people today, does he see his gifts being used properly?  Does he see his gifts being used faithfully and regularly?  Or is it easy for us to fall into the devil’s trap and treat our abilities and talents that come from the throne of God as if we can do whatever we want?  If gifts come from God’s grace, then shouldn’t we use them for his glory?  He doesn’t owe us these things, gifts are from his hand so that we use them as his children should. If we don’t do use his gifts properly then he certainly has a good reason to remove them from us, wouldn’t you say?  If a mom is going to neglect her children’s basic needs, those children will be removed, right?

But the amazing thing is Jesus still has grace for us in this ministry.  We may prove too often that we are selfish, but Jesus proves his grace all the more.  He rolls the selfishness away by continually providing the gifts we need for his ministry, to serve him and others.

Now, the next question is who does Jesus give for ministry?  We’re on verse 11, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” 

Jesus was thinking of you when he ascended, because he knew that you would need more than certain talents and abilities.  He knew people would need a regular diet his Word and sacraments to create and strengthen faith all over the world.  Jesus knew that only his Word and sacraments could have the power and comfort to accomplish his saving work.  He knew that his word had to spread.  And so Jesus provided servants to do just that.  Today, we call them pastors and teachers.

These representatives and servants are trained and sent from Jesus through his church to serve his people.   No, that doesn’t mean there is some divine factory somewhere that miraculously churns out pastors and teachers every year.  Well, I take that back; actually there is.  It’s your homes and congregations just like Our Saviour’s.  That’s where God finds his next generation of called servants for his work. He watches over your homes and finds boys and girls who love him and his Word.  He finds ways of instilling the desire to serve when kids see parents serving in ministry with their talents and abilities on committees or helping out at events. He finds ways to motivate kids when called workers carry out their service with the joy of Jesus every day.  He prepares kids just like ours at our Lutheran prep schools and high schools, our Martin Luther College, and our Seminary.   And then Jesus does something incredible.  It happened yesterday at MLC and Thursday, May 24th at the Seminary.  He’s going to give these servants places to serve his people. It’s incredible how he takes care of his church.  Ever since he went home to heaven he has given gifts to his people and given servants to serve his people, because Jesus works through us, his people.  He gives pastors and teachers the powerful gospel message with his powerful promise to work through our feeble efforts to feed and nurture and build his flock.

Now these servants are not perfect.  I can personally attest to that.  But that’s what makes it easy to be a pastor and teacher.  I personally know what sin is and I personally fight temptations just like you.  I know the burdens of guilt and the problems of sin very well, and I know the solution can only be the grace of Jesus, his death and resurrection.  I know how Jesus can change lives because I know what he has done for me.  By God’s grace, as your pastor, I get to see his Word work in your lives, too.  I get to see God’s law crush sinful pride and self-righteousness.  I get to see God’s gospel soothe the aching heart and restore the broken spirit. I get to see how God’s Word gives you the humility and confidence to fight against sin and how you use your gifts to serve our Savior.  With apologies to mothers, there is no greater job on this planet than to be a servant of the Savior Jesus.

That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m on some kind of pedestal.  I’m not closer to God.  I’m not better at serving.  I’m a sinner who has been trained and called to serve in this ministry full-time.  You are a sinner who is just as vital to the ministry even if you aren’t serving full-time.  You are a child of God, and the last time I checked that means you get to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  You are a part of the service, the ministry, that God carries out through his church.  You are a crucial part of the body that needs all the parts to work properly.

That leads to the last question: what is the purpose of this ministry?  Why did Jesus ascend to give us gifts and abilities, to give us servants of the gospel?  Paul answers that for us: “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”

Ministry is all about serving God and one another. See when you have a ministry it’s not about a church building or list of projects or finances.  It’s not about a pastor or teacher.  It’s not about this talent or this ability. It’s not about emotional worship or the biggest, best events.  The ministry is about Christ. It’s about serving Christ, who is the head, and serving others, those who are either in the body of Christ with us – we call that the Church – or those who we pray might join us in this body of Christ.

If you want this body of believers to be strong and grow, it takes work.  As Jesus sits on his throne in heaven he gives you gifts, and he wants you to use those gifts. That’s ministry.  That’s service to our King. And that kind of ministry never stops.  As Paul says: speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. The truth is we don’t earn or deserve anything from God, but that didn’t stop God from loving you and giving you his own Son.  The truth is Jesus is the Savior for us.  He is the conqueror for us.  He is the ruler for us.  He is the head and by his grace we are the body.  That’s the truth at the center of our ministry. And so we work together as the body by doing what the head tells us.  We use his Word of truth and his gifts with his servants to accomplish his ministry.

That’s how the body of Christ is built up. And it’s a beautiful thing when it’s working.  Sometimes it means larger numbers of people and sometimes it doesn’t. Certainly, we want to reach more people, but growing in ministry can happen as each body member gets stronger in faith and uses their gifts more. Paul says it this way: From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  Ministry happens when each part does its work.

Growing in ministry also happens as we band together to fight off all the errors and assaults that come our way.  Using God’s Word and serving one another in love will strengthen us to defend our ministry against the devil, the world, and our sinful natures.  As that ministry work is done: then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

Kind of sounds like what a mom does, she helps her kids grow so they won’t be tossed back and forth by the storms that come in life.  Today, thank God for moms.  But don’t forget to thank Jesus for ministry, the service that we all have to do.  Jesus gives us the gifts, the talents, the abilities to carry out his work.  He gives us the servants like parents and children but also full-time pastors and teachers.  And he gives us the real purpose for all our ministry: to equip all God’s people so that the body of believers is built up.  That’s not just a job for a caring mother.  Because of Jesus’ ascension we all get to be a part of ministry.  God grant it.  Amen.


4.29.18 Easter 5B


John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.


Spring is a beautiful time of year.  The days are getting warmer and longer.  The trees and bushes are budding.  Some of the early flowers are coming up.  Nature is coming alive.

But as much as the signs of life are all around us, there is the other, darker part of Spring.  What about all the decay?  Sure, there is grass that is popping up green, but that seems to ignore all the dead grass that needs to be raked up, bagged up and taken away.  Sure, the trees and bushes are budding, but I also had my kids gather up bunches of twigs and branches that are not.  They have broken off the tress.  And do you know what those twigs and branches are good for?  Fire!

That darker part of Spring is not just evident in nature.  There is clearly decay and death in humanity.  This world isn’t a very fruitful place, because there are connectivity issues.   What I mean is people are separated from the One who gives life; branches are broken off all over the place.

Do you know why there is this problem?  Has God lost that loving feeling?  Is he trying to destroy everything he sent Jesus to build?  Is Jesus simply less effective in this world now?  Is God’s law and gospel not powerful enough to reach people as it once did?  Is the resurrection less amazing 2000 years later?  No!  Nonsense!  The problem is not in God.  The problem is with branches who just aren’t connected to the vine.

Statistics show that it’s happening a lot. One of the fastest growing religious groups is the “nones” – those that have no church affiliation.  They make up 1/5 of the US population and 1/3 of those under 30, and the numbers are rising. That’s a whole lot of separation from the vine.

How do you react to those kinds of statistics?  What do you think when you see a whole lot of fallen branches out there that are gathered for the firepit?  “I’ll bring the lighter fluid.  If there are people who want to be separated from God, if they want to ignore the life God gives, if they want to serve only themselves, then let them!”  Maybe some of you aren’t as harsh.  “I would try to help some of those broken branches that I know, but I’m not sure I know what to do.  I don’t think I know enough, or I might say the wrong thing.”  Or maybe some of you can’t add that to the list of your concerns.  “I have too much of my own problems to think about the connection my friends and family has with the vine.”

As much as we can look around and shake our heads in disgust at all the broken branches around us,  what does that accomplish?  Not much.  In fact, it kind of proves that maybe we don’t have to look so far to see the separation that sin causes.  I don’t need to look around at those other people at work, at school, and around the neighborhood to know that the connection to the vine is not where it needs to be, that there are some pretty battered and bad-looking branches that are heading for the burn pile.  I can look at my own life for that.  So can you.

And what do we see when we look at our branch?  You probably are like me and see someone who doesn’t always value just how important the vine is.  You’re too busy admiring your branch to look at the vine that much.  You probably see some little buds that withered up or broke off.  Good works that you didn’t do, because whatever the excuse was at the time.  You probably see some scarring to the bark, where you got hurt by someone and you still hold a grudge.

That’s not the connected life.  That’s the kind of branch that is heading to the firepit.  And you know, trying harder to produce more is not going to fix the connection to the vine.  Trying to fill your branch with more fruit will not get rid of all the places that are broken, scarred, and unproductive.

The only way a branch stays attached and healthy is from what the vine provides.  That’s why Jesus says today, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”  Christ makes you who you are.  Jesus cleans up the scarring, the withered buds, and the snapped off edges.  Jesus connects you to God’s eternal family.  Jesus makes that connection strong and secure, your branch is healthy and nourished. This is the cleansing we have in Christ through Baptism.  This is the cleansing he gives us through faith in him.

You have his Word as the one who conquered death.  Christ Is Risen. He Is Risen Indeed!  You have his living and endure Word as the God who left heaven to save you from hell.  You have his Word as the spotless Lamb of God who made the perfect sacrifice for your sins and mine.  You have his Word as the light of the world that removes our darkness.  You have his Word as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep only to take it up again.  You have his Word as the vine who always supports and sustains. Jesus gives you his word and it makes us clean.

Now, the vine is not going to change what he provides.  Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” Jesus doesn’t tell us today, “I was the vine for your branch back when you were trying really hard to stay connected.”  He doesn’t say, “I will be the vine for your branch again when you start making some changes in your life, when you adjust your attitude.”  And Jesus doesn’t say, “I am a vine, but there are other options.  You can choose what you like.”  Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m a vine, and I’m totally cool with it if your branch isn’t too connected or very fruitful.  I can tolerate and ignore pretty much anything.  NBD.”

You won’t hear those things from Jesus….EVER!  But you do hear him say, “I am the true vine…”  “If you are struggling with addiction or some past mistakes, if you have some scarring that hurts, if you are worried and afraid, bitter and angry,  if you have some jagged broken parts,  if you are letting some other things get in the way of what’s most important for your life, if you have been admiring your own branch a little too much,”  then Jesus says, “I am the provider of forgiveness and compassion, and my supply will never run out.  I am the nourishment that keeps you alive forever.  I am the support and stability that you need.  I am the foundation of your faith.  I am the source of your salvation.”

If Jesus is the true vine, you hear what he calls you, right?  “…You are the branches.”  The vine is absolutely, 100% the reason for the branches and the support and feeding of the branches.  And when branches are connected to the vine, then there is life. Branches will show the signs of life, won’t they?  That’s just part of the connected life.

Jesus says, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” God has done the work so that you are connected.  Part of the connected life is the fruit.  Jesus is living in us and gives us the power and strength to do what he says joyfully and naturally.  He is working on us to prune away certain things that are damaging to our branch.

The connected life means doing what God calls productive: (keeping the 10 Commandments) proper priorities where everything is lines up behind our relationship with Jesus; prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to God in all circumstances; gladly studying the Scriptures and attending worship often; showing honor and respect to parents and other authorities God has placed over us; valuing the lives of others the way our Creator does; using the gift of marriage and sex the way God made it; helping others with their possessions; defending and encouraging our friends and neighbors; being content with what God has given us.  The connected life is going to be connected to God’s commands bearing fruit.

The connected life is also going to look for opportunities to reach some of those are not a part of the vine.  See, we know who the vine is and what he does.  We know that there is life, fruitful, abundant, and eternal life being connected to the vine.  But there are some who do not know or care.

God has brought us in.  He has made us branches of the vine.  So each one of us personally knows the kind of power the gospel has to destroy death and bring life.  Each one of us personally knows the kind of power his gospel has to build and strengthen, to produce fruit.

The connected life is going to give us a new way at looking for separated branches.  Rather than looking for the lighter fluid, rather than looking for excuses to avoid them, we look for ways to show how great our vine is.  We look for ways to show that life connected to him is not wasteful or suffocating, but fruitful for eternity.

That’s the kind of ministry we have here.  We are connected to the vine by the power and grace of his Word.  We are connected to the vine, which means we will bear fruit.  And that certainly doesn’t mean that we will start admiring how good of branch we are.  Instead, it always goes back to the vine who makes us who we are and gives us the joy of the connected life.  Jesus says,  “This is to my Father’s glory. That you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Brothers and sisters, now is not the time for fewer branches connected to the vine, but more.  Now is not the time for fewer Christians built off of Jesus, but more.  Now is not the time for fewer students in Sunday Schools, our Lutheran elementary schools, and our ministerial education schools (MLS, LPS, MLC, WLS) but more.  Now is not the time for fewer teachers and pastors, but more.  Now is not the time for fewer people in our churches.  Now is the time for more.  Now is the time for the connected life where we get to glorify our living and enduring vine, Jesus Christ, and we bear his fruit.

God grant it.  Amen.


4.15.18 Easter 3B



John 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”


They say, “Ignorance is bliss,” but I’m not so sure.  Is it really bliss to not know what turn to take when you are in a new place?  (running in Miles City, MT) Is it really bliss to not understand what is causing your sickness or pain?  Is it bliss to not have all the information that was covered in the last unit before the test?  Is it really bliss to not know what is causing problems between you and your spouse or your children?  Is it really bliss to misunderstand the real problem in your life?  Is it really bliss to not recognize that the biggest, most soul-crushing, most peace-removing, most fear-creating, most life-draining problem has already been completely taken care of for you?  Is ignorance bliss?

Turns out that it’s not.  And so, we try to convince ourselves that we are not ignorant.  We try to make sure that we have it all figured out.  If some questions arise, then we make sure we have good places to find the answers that we want.

This is exactly the way the Pharisees operated during Jesus’ day.  They were the religious gurus.  They knew all the laws and had all the answers.  So, when they heard that a man who was born blind was healed on the Sabbath, they had some questions.  And when they heard that it was Jesus, they were more than upset.  “Healing? On the Sabbath?  What is this world coming to?  This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath…We know this man is a sinner.”  No ignorance there.  They knew it all, supposedly.

But later when Jesus finds the man he healed, he says, “…I have come into this world so that the blind will see and the those who see will become blind.”  His point is that those who are ignorant of Jesus will be brought into the know, and those who think they have it all figured out, in reality, have no spiritual insight at all.

Some Pharisees hear what Jesus says and thought it was absolutely ludicrous.  They retort,  “What? Are we blind too?”  They didn’t see it, couldn’t see it.  They were ignorant of Jesus, thinking that they had all the answers.

This is the context that leads Jesus to start talking about sheep and shepherds.  Sheep have the reputation of being stubborn, ignorant animals, and that can lead them into dangerous situations.  That’s why they need a shepherd.  They need one who knows them, knows their wayward tendencies, knows their foolishness, and knows how to care for them.

It’s great that sheep like us have a good shepherd.  Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I absolutely love to hear how much Jesus loves us and cares for us.  How about you?  This section of Scripture is so comforting that way.  But this next line is one that makes you stop and think: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me –  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  There is no ignorance with Jesus.  He knows us.  He knows EV – ERY – THING about us.  He knows …all of it.  You cannot hide it.  He also knows his love for you and how he saved you from your ignorant, dangerous sin.  He stepped in for you.

But then there’s this line “my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  Sheep do have the reputation of being dumb and ignorant to their surroundings and any kind of danger.  But when it comes to the shepherd – there is no ignorance – they know their shepherd.  You can look up YouTube videos of it.  Strangers call the sheep and they don’t even look up from grazing, but when the shepherd calls…they look up, they bleat, and they start running toward the shepherd. The shepherd did the work to get that close familiarity.  He brought them into his flock or he reared them and made them accustomed to his voice.

So, I guess it makes me wonder, how’s that going for you?  Do you know your shepherd?  Can you tell when it’s him or someone else?  Can you answer questions people have about Jesus?  about the Bible?  about faith and spiritual life?  Can you talk about Jesus and the Bible with the same familiarity that you talk about your family, your work, and other passions you have?

Or is it possible that sometimes we say, “Ignorance is bliss?”  Have you done that before?  Have you made excuses for not knowing your Good Shepherd the way you should? Sometimes we come up with some doosies.  Maybe you have tried some of these:

“I did that already.  Isn’t that what catechism class is for?  I studied a lot back then, but that was my graduation from studying passages and reading God’s Word so much.”   Does that work for your job?  “Oh, well I studied that type of stuff in depth when I was 13.  I don’t need to study the new developments in technology, laws, code, systems.  I’ve got it all from when I was 13.”  Yeah right!  The same is true for Catechism class. It is just the beginning.  The problem is laziness, apathy, ignorance, prioritizing or just plain old stubbornness.

The Good Shepherd responds, “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“I get it.  I should study what Jesus says so that I can hear his voice better, but there are a lot of voices.  It’s hard to make sense of them all.”  That’s not really a good reason to neglect the place where your Savior’s voice is heard. If anything, that is a huge reason to get into his Word even more, to hear what he says and not what others say about him.

The Good Shepherd calls, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  He says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 

“But I’m so busy with kids, work, and all the stuff that goes on.  I’m so drained. I try to make it to worship, but that’s the best I can do.” During the business of life is exactly when we need the Shepherd.  He’s got the right perspective for us.  He’s got the right goals for us.  He’s got the nourishment that sustains us.

The Good Shepherd says, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

“Pastor, I just don’t think it’s my job to know all this Bible stuff so much.  Isn’t that your job?  I’ll call you if I need anything.”  I hope you realize that God did not write the Bible just for pastors.  He gives his law and gospel to everyone.

The Good Shepherd reminds, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

These kinds of excuses prove that we are sheep who are lacking – whether we want to admit it or not.  Too often, we live as ignorant sheep, and it is not bliss at all.  It’s dangerous.  It’s destructive.  It’s leading right to the open jaws of the wolf, who wants nothing more than to munch on lamb chops for eternity.

Jesus is not ignorant of all this.  He knows the situation, that sheep wander, that sheep are helpless, that sheep without a shepherd will die.  So, the Good Shepherd put himself in danger.  He paid the price for our ignorance.  He laid down his life, so that we would never know that kind of pain.  He gave himself up so that we would be unfamiliar with sin’s real punishment.  You and I will never know what hell is like because we have a shepherd like Jesus.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

But if that’s all he did, we would be left alone to our selfishness and pride.  Our sin would fracture the flock.  We would be constantly harassed by the victorious wolf, who felled the Good Shepherd and foiled his plan.  We would still be lost in eternal ignorance.

But we don’t just have a Good Shepherd who took our death.  This is the continuing celebration of Easter.  We have a Good Shepherd who gives us his life, his victory over death.  “I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”  The wolf thought he could creep in among ignorant sheep with no shepherd, but he was wrong.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN, INDEED! The Good Shepherd lives.  And because he does our hopelessness, our excuses, our ignorance – all of that is rolled away.  Instead, God reveals everything he does for us.  The Good Shepherd washed us clean and brought us into God’s flock.  His refreshing spring of Baptism is an ongoing reminder of who we are.  He gives us the comfortable pastures of his Word where there are no enemies who can come in and snatch us.  He nourishes and strengthens us with the green pastures of his Supper.

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”  Easter is the end of our ignorance.  Jesus knows us and we know him by the means he has given us, his Word and Sacraments. Easter is also the end of selfish ignorance, thinking that you are all alone with your Good Shepherd.  No, there are more sheep in this flock. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Sometimes you might not know it, but there are wandering sheep who are watching you and listening to you.  They see how you are well fed and cared for.  They see how you have peace and joy.  They see how protected and safe you are in the face of enemies and even death.  These frightened, lonely sheep might just ask you about your shepherd.  They might want to know him, too.  Brothers and sisters, your ignorance is rolled away. Don’t ever think that you don’t have what it takes to talk about your shepherd.  Don’t ever think you don’t know enough.  Don’t ever think your words won’t work.  Your Shepherd knows you and he will guide you.  Don’t be surprised that he can use you to reach more sheep.

They say ignorance is bliss, but I don’t think so.  Jesus knows you and he says that you know him.  That means ignorance is rolled away and in it’s place you have life in the Good Shepherd’s flock forever.  Amen.


4.8.18 Easter 2B


John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

We have a really important question to consider today.  It’s an important question about Christianity and people who call themselves Christian.  It’s an important question for churches that want to teach Christianity and make more disciples of the Christian faith.  It’s an important question that comes up today because I imagine it is probably running through the minds of eleven men that we hear about in the Gospel from John 20.  It’s an important question that has been thoroughly thought about for centuries since those men locked themselves up with different answers.

Here’s the question: Is Christianity the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ, or is it a set of God’s guidelines and principles for you to follow?  Ok, ok, ok it’s a little bit of a trick question because obviously it’s both.  However, one is the foundation and the other builds off the foundation.  One is the first and foremost and the other is secondary.

So, which is it?  Because there is a difference, a huge difference, a difference that affects you for eternity.  One is going to leave you with doubts and fears and the other is going to give you great certainty, confidence and boldness now and forever.  If you don’t really see the difference, then you need to get back into the Bible to study and learn what Christianity is all about. Is it the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ?  Or is it a set of guidelines and principles for your life?  If you need help answering that than this section of Scripture is a really good one for you.

Can you see how the answer to this question would greatly affect those men behind the locked doors on that first Easter?  They were a wreck.  They didn’t know what to do.  They were together, but they felt more alone then ever before.  They thought that Jesus was going to give them a good life.  He was God’s Messiah.  He was the deliverer.  In their hearts and minds that meant life would be good following Jesus.  They would be delivered from the bad things.  They would be delivered from illness and disease because Jesus could remove those kinds of things from people.  They saw it first hand. They would be delivered from the annoying power of the Roman government because Jesus would restore the nation of Israel to its former glory under great King David.  They would be delivered from the falsehood of the Pharisees, chief priests, and teachers of the law because Jesus would not only restore Israel as a nation but also as true believers and worshippers of the Triune God.  All the people would not just go through the motions anymore.  They would all gather to the Lord Jesus because he was the Messiah, the deliverer. God’s people would be on top again.

But those hopes and dreams came crashing down hard when Jesus was betrayed by one of the disciples, deserted by all of the other disciples, denied any relationship at all by one of the closest disciples, Peter, falsely accused and sentenced by the Jewish religious leaders, handed over to Pilate, beaten and flogged, sentenced to death by crucifixion, forced to carry his cross until he couldn’t, nailed to it, put on public display to be harassed and shamed while his life ebbed away, and then finally gave up his last breath and died.  The disciples were crushed to the core.

It should not have been so crushing, because Jesus had told them this is what would happen.  This was his mission.  This was the way God had planned to deliver the world from sin and death.  Jesus took the punishment for us.  But the disciples couldn’t see it.  Their own ideas, their own set of principles and beliefs had blinded them to what was going on.  They were following Jesus thinking that he was going to be the one to give them a better life.  They were going to love people like he did.  They were going to serve people like he did.  They were going to spread goodness and kindness like he did.  But without him, how was any of that possible.  Without Jesus, how could they have the good moral life they wanted?  How could they follow his guidelines and principles if he wasn’t there to give them?  None of it made sense to them.  The doubt was unbearable.

A lot of people have been in that position before.  Maybe they haven’t locked themselves in a room overcome by their doubts and terrified of their enemies, but people have experienced this kind of crushing doubt before.  People have been absolutely grief-stricken at news reports like another school shooting, a terrible accident, a devastating natural disaster and thought to themselves, “if God is so loving, then how could he allow these bad things to happen.”  People have been in tough situations and questioned God’s power and protection and presence, saying “can God actually do what he promises.” People have been weighed down by their own guilt and shame, wondering “could God ever love someone like me.”

These kinds of doubts and fears flood the lives of so many, just like what was happening behind those locked doors.  And it happens because of the way people answer that important question: Is Christianity the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ, or is it a set of God’s guidelines and principles for me to follow?   To a lot of people the answer is that Christianity is more about a way of life, principles to live by, and good moral advice.  To a lot of people the main character of Christianity is the person following it.

To them it makes sense.  If I want a relationship with God, then I have to follow his ways, I have to live by his principles and guidelines, I have to be his kind of person.  A lot of Christian preachers (people who call themselves Christian preachers, anyways) make Christianity all about what I am supposed to do, what I am supposed to think, and what I am supposed to say.  They turn the main goal of Christianity into producing a club of do-gooders earning respect, love, and rewards from God.

It is totally true that Christianity is about living a godly life.  It’s true that Christianity will change the goals you have and the way you go about reaching those goals.  But when Christianity is first and foremost about God’s guidelines and principles that you have to follow, that’s when the doubts trickle and then flood people to hopelessness and despair just like the disciples.  Because it’s all about me.  Faith is resting on my love, trust, obedience, worship, and service to God.  And when Christianity depends on a person like me, I know the kind of person I am.  I know the weaknesses and failures.  I know where I have made a mess of God’s way of life.

The disciples were in a lot of doubt because they thought they knew Jesus and what he was supposed to do.  They thought their faith was about following him and his way of life.  They thought they were heading to a better life here on earth.  When he died, all of those things were gone and they only had their doubts.

This is not just a problem for the disciples, for Thomas, and for other Christians.  You have doubts, too.  Would you have been any different behind those locked doors?  Do you react any differently to troubling news reports, difficult personal problems, or your own load of guilt?  Can you and I really say that we are immune to doubts.  It’s part of our sinful life.

It has to do the way you and I answer that question.  Too often we make Christianity about me.  We make the foundation of faith my way of life and my morals.  We do exactly what the disciples were doing.  “I thought it would be this way…  I believe this to be true… I think that God… I hope… I feel..”

For the disciples to get rid of the doubts, faith couldn’t be about them.  It couldn’t be about their beliefs and their guidelines.  That question needed a different answer: Is Christianity the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ, or is it a set of God’s guidelines and principles for you to follow?

And do you know who was there to give them a different answer?  Christ himself.  He showed up behind the locked doors to get rid of their doubts, to shift the focus from their thoughts, their beliefs, their dedication to the guidelines and principles, to make Christianity about the facts of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  And then he says it again.  In order to get rid of the doubts, Christianity can’t be about my way of life.  It has to be about Jesus.  It has to be the facts of his life, his death, his forgiveness, his salvation, his resurrection, his power over death.  It has to be the truth of his peace.

This kind of peace is not that everything in life will go smoothly.  The disciples’ lives actually got more difficult after the resurrection than before it.  But they were more content and courageous after Jesus’ resurrection than before it.  Because they had the facts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  They had the answer to their toughest fears.  They had eternal peace from Jesus.  They had peace with God not based on their way of life but based on the facts of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, you have the same facts of Jesus Christ.  They haven’t changed.  CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!  And that means you have his peace, too.  Everything in life might not go smoothly.  Problems might arise.  Disasters will rage on this earth.  But the doubts are gone, because Jesus came back from the tomb.  The doubts are gone because our faith is founded on Jesus, the one who forgives sin, conquered death, and brings us eternal life through the gospel.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not see and yet believed.”  Do you know why you believe?  It’s not because of your way of life.  It’s because of your Savior Jesus.  It’s because of the facts that he died to forgive you, rose to remove the doubts, and rules you with his power and love.

That’s the main message of the Bible.  John tells us, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that be believing you may have life in his name.  Christianity is all about the undeniable, unchangeable facts of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior, God’s Son.  When you have him, doubts and fears are removed and rolled away just like that stone that covered his tomb.  Then, there is only one thing to say, “My Lord and my God!”  Amen.


4.1.18 Easter Sunday


Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


We all ask the question.  “Who will roll the stone away…?”  Ok, for you and me it’s not literally a huge rock that is covering up the entrance to a friend’s tomb, but I’m guessing you have asked this type of question before:  “How do I roll this insurmountable obstacle out of  my way?  How do I deal with this really tough relationship?  How do I pay all the bills?  How do I help a sick or dying loved one? How do I fix what’s wrong in my life?  How can I do it?  And if I can’t, then who will?” We all ask those kinds of questions, right?

The women don’t really have an answer to the question.  It just hangs there on this dismal morning like fog.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

They had followed Jesus, because he gave them what no other teacher could.  That’s because Jesus didn’t tell them that following laws was their way into heaven.  He didn’t say you had to be better than others to get in good with God.  He spoke good news of forgiveness from God.  He promised peace that the world could never give.  He had compassion that no one could match.  And he was serious about the work he had to do, the work his Father gave him, the work of saving you from your sins.  These women had been with the crowds that hailed his name with hosannas just one week earlier.  They had watched, dumbfounded, as the crowds turned on him, as Pilate unwilling sentenced him to death, as he carried his cross until he couldn’t anymore, as the nails were pounded into his hands and feet, as people sneered and jeered the dying God-man, as he gave up his last breath, and as his lifeless body was quickly wrapped in linen, placed in a tomb, a shut in by that big stone.  The women saw it all.

Now, early on this Sunday morning, all they could do was properly prepare the dead body of their friend, their teacher, their Lord according to their Jewish customs.  The work was grim and devastating. Their arms were full of sweet smelling spices and their hearts full of sour sadness.  And they didn’t know what to do about that stone.

We try to come up with answers for the things that are blocking us, don’t we?  We don’t just let the fog hang over us.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” people say. And maybe that works for a while.  Maybe you can kick a few little pebbles out of your way: a little stressful scheduling problem,  a family member who is being difficult, a class and teacher that is just unreasonably tough.  People find their way past those things in life.  Maybe you can learn how to deal with the bigger rocks, too: a large debt, losing a job, a relentless bully, a divorce.  You muster up the courage and strength and you find a way to keep going.

People think that’s the way to answer the questions.  They think they can fix it, but there will be more pebbles.  The rocks will keep coming, and they will pop up more and more often.  And then the time will come when we all have to deal with that large boulder of death, no one has come up with a way to roll that stone away.

When they went out to the tomb, they were looking for disappointment.  They were looking for help moving the stone that covered up a dead Jesus. But when they go to the tomb, something wasn’t right.  The guards that Pilate had posted were gone.  That large stone had been rolled away. Inside the tomb was an angel dressed in white who said to them, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  “Ladies, I know what you are looking for.  You thought you needed help rolling the stone away.  You thought you were coming here to see a dead man.  You are looking for the wrong thing.”

That reminds me of a man named Alexander Flemming. He was Scottish physician and microbiologist. In September, 1928, he stumbled upon something by complete accident.  He was trying to figure out how to kill bacteria infections.  He had failed time and time again.  One of those times when he failed, he was so frustrated he just left the old petri dishes with the bacteria infections in the corner and went away for the weekend.  When he returned he got down to cleaning up his mess.  That’s when he noticed how nasty these petri dishes were, some were covered in mold.  But that’s when everything changed.  Some of the mold had covered up the bacteria and actually killed it.  Alexander Flemming went to his office looking for dirty petri dishes and instead found what is now called penicillin.  A famous quote from Alexander Flemming is this: “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.”

The women were looking for a large stone in the way and a dead Savior inside the tomb. They were looking for the Jesus who was crucified.  They were looking for the wrong thing.  But sometimes “one finds what one is not looking for.”  The angels said that dead Jesus, who you are looking for, he is not here.  Suddenly those ladies found out what we know: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.  They had come looking for help with a large stone, but it was rolled away.  They had come looking for Jesus, “who was crucified,” but he was risen.

Do you ever look for a Jesus that matches your expectations?  We get this idea sometimes that Jesus should line up with what I want.  He should help me the way I want him to and when I want him to.  Have you done that to Jesus?

Maybe you’ve turned him into an ATM Jesus.   You go punch in a certain code of prayers, throw in a couple religious works to get his attention, maybe show up for Easter worship, and then he dispenses the goods you’re looking for. Or have you treated him as the Vacuum Cleaner Jesus?  You keep this kind of Jesus in the back closet and once a week you bring him out or, if necessary when there is a big mess on your hands, you’ll bring him out more often when you really need to clean things up.  Or have you treated him like a Reasonably-Good-Friend Jesus? You are comfortable hanging out with him, but you don’t want him stopping over every day after supper.  There needs to be some space. This reasonably-good-friend Jesus would be the type that you can let the voicemail take the call now and again because you have other things going on or other people to see.

Have you done that with Jesus?  I have.  I’m sure you have, too.  Like those women, sometimes we go looking for the wrong thing and the wrong Jesus.  We think we can dictate what kinds of things we want in our life and what kind of Jesus will work for us.

And that would be fine for a dead Jesus.  A dead Jesus doesn’t care if the women are worrying about the large stone and the spices.  A dead Jesus doesn’t care if you try to figure out how to remove all the pebbles and rocks from your life in your own way.  A dead Jesus doesn’t care if we turn him into an ATM, a Vacuum Cleaner, or a Reasonably-Good-Friend kind of Jesus.  A dead Jesus might not care, and quite frankly, can’t do anything about it if we did that to him.

But Jesus is not dead.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

They should have known.  Jesus had told them what kind of Savior he was here to be. This was all part of the plan to save you and me from sin.  Sin is all those pebbles and rocks in our life that get in the way of our relationship with God.  They make us stumble.  They make us look for what we think will be a better, and easier way.  They make us falter and fall.  They make us give up.  We want it to get better.  We want less pebbles and rocks in our way, but it’s like working in the fields, there will always be more rocks.

What we need is more than wants and wishes.  What we need is more than broken promises and useless attempts.  We need a solution.  “Who will roll the stone away?” the women asked.  God will and he has in Jesus Christ.

God sent Jesus to be the solution for my sin.  God put Jesus on the cross to remove all the pebbles and rocks that get in the way.  Jesus took the pebbles and rocks of the whole world, so that we wouldn’t be tripped up and broken anymore.  He took our place in the tomb so that he could roll that large stone away, too.  He rose from death to provide us a life with God forever.  Nothing can change what Jesus has done, no one can change the facts that God forgives you, that Jesus conquered death for you, and that heaven is yours forever.  The stones of sin, death, and hell are rolled away to reveal life with God that never ends.

“One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.” Flemming said.  The women would have agreed.  They came to the tomb looking for help to roll away the stone, but it was already rolled away.  They came looking for a dead Jesus, but he was alive.  They came looking for failure and found victory.

We are told that the women were “trembling and bewildered…and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  Seeing the kind of power that can actually keep a promise that seems to good to be true, seeing the king of power that can actually roll away the insurmountable stone of death is shocking.  It was traumatic and amazing all at the same time.

But you don’t have to leave here today like those women.  Do you know how the story continues? Spoiler alert: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  The living Jesus appeared to the women.  The living Jesus appeared to the disciples.  The living Jesus went back home to heaven and he continues to live as the champion over death.  The stone can never be put back over his grave. He continues to rule all things by his grace and for you benefit, so that your life doesn’t have to be afraid of death.  The stone is rolled away, and with it all of death’s power is gone, all the guilt of sin is removed, all the fright of hell has been destroyed by our living Lord and Savior, Jesus.

This is the comfort and this peace the women were not looking for when they went out to the tomb.  They were looking for that large stone.  They were looking for a dead Jesus.  Brothers and sisters, we don’t have a dead Jesus.  No, all the pebbles and rocks and larges stones of sin, death, and hell have been rolled away by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s the victory celebration we hold every week here in worship and every day in our lives.