The Unshadowed Victory
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
In a series, “The Shadow of the Cross” Luke 24:1-12 // Isaiah 65:17-25 // 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we take a look at the only story in the history of the world that truly matters. Today we remember the center of our life together. Today, we worship the God who became man, the man who died our death, and the God who raised him from the dead. Today is Easter Sunday, and it doesn’t get any better than this.
Except when it does.
I remember way back about seven years ago, on June 18, back on a day when Laura and I were on a walk at Minnehaha Falls. We had been together for nine months and it seemed like it couldn’t get any better than that. We were staring into each other’s eyes. We were spending our days talking and laughing together. We walked hand in hand, we took a little pathway right up to the Falls, and I asked Laura to marry me.
And she said.... “Are you serious?” “Is this real?” and after a couple minutes of that, I took it for a yes. And life couldn’t get any better. Except that it did.
11 months later, we stared into each other’s eyes and spoke vows to love each other in every chapter of life, and I thought that life couldn’t get any better. Except that it did.
Two years later, we had our first very precious baby boy, Benjamin, and I thought that I couldn’t love more than I did right then, that life couldn’t get any better, except that it did.
Two years after that, we had our second very precious baby boy, Amos, and I’m realizing I’m a slow learner. That life doesn’t get any better than this, except when it does. Now, we’ve had our ups and downs, our days of smooth sailing, and our sleepless nights.
But the point is, and you know this by now, it doesn’t get any better, except when it does.
That’s what we see in our text for today. For the disciples and the women in our text, things couldn’t get any worse. They were looking for closure. They were looking to finish the burial process after Jesus was laid to rest. They were looking to get on with the next chapter of their lives.
Their perception was full of grief and fear. Grief of Jesus being gone and fear of a gruesome end. But things were not as they seemed. That may have been their perception, but the reality was full of life and hope. They were despairing over things not real. Have you ever done that? The angels bid them to rejoice in reality, the reality that Jesus proclaims.
Dear Christian friends, today of all days, in the light of the resurrection, I would urge you, don’t be governed by your grudges and your hurts. Let the love of Christ overwhelm you. Don’t be governed by your fears and insecurities. Let the hope of Jesus lead you. Today of all days lay down your sin and see your savior. Today of all days lay down your hurt and ask for forgiveness. Today of all days, let the past be the past. Acknowledge it. Know it. But today of all days, and let the future be as bright as the promises that God holds out in Jesus Christ.
The women encounter angels, which tell them what they’d known for a long time, from Jesus’s own mouth. That he would be crucified and on the third day rise. And they say, “Are you serious? Is this really real?”
They saw the empty tomb, they saw the grave cloths there. They ran back to the eleven and try to convince them that Jesus is risen, and the eleven say, “Are you serious? How could that be real?”
But Peter runs back to the tomb. He sees what the women had seen, and he stands there, just standing there, marveling.
Are you serious? Is this real? They couldn’t but marvel in disbelief. Are you serious? Is this real? Things that day couldn’t get any better....
Except that they did. The Jesus who died, died for their sins. The same Jesus was raised from the dead. The same Jesus taught them, after the resurrection, opening up the Scriptures to them. He gave them the Holy Spirit. He promised to come back and complete a reality far greater than we could imagine.
Or perhaps greater isn’t the right word. Usually for us, greater just means bigger, but that’s not quite right here. C.S. Lewis said it this way, in the final book of the Narnia series, the Last Battle, as their world ends and the characters are led into a new land, their refrain is “Further Up and Further In!” Heaven is new but not other. Eternal life is greater but not bigger. Forgiveness of sins is deeper and richer than we could imagine.
Dear friends in Christ, in the resurrection we see Jesus as the first fruits of the world to come. We see the meaning that he infuses into every one of our days, ever one of our interactions. We see the strength that he gives, the strength upon which the whole fate of the world turns. In Easter, we see the focal point, the lynchpin, the center of the Christian story come where all the threads of the Old Testament and all the workings of the New Testament come together.
Blessed is the one who hears the absolutions and believes, because what Jesus says about you matters more than what you believe about yourself. Blessed is the one who eats the bread which is his body and drinks the wine which is Christ’s blood, for when he eats and drinks, he will be given exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins. Blessed is the man who hears the invocation and remembers that the waters of holy Baptism wash over him like a flood.
Three thoughts in conclusion.
First, because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Or, to say it in a different way, in the resurrection, Jesus proves that no enemy is greater than he. There is nothing that he hasn’t overcome, and he overcame it for you.
Second, because he lives, all fear is gone. Or, to say it in a different way, in the resurrection, Jesus reshapes our reality. He redefines our love. He reorients our values. He says that wine and bread are his body and blood, and since he says, they forgive our sins. He says that his word is life and peace to us, and because he says it, so it is. He says that nothing in this life could ever hurt or destroy, and because the one who died and rose again said it, so it is.
Third, because he lives, life is worth the living. Or, to say it in a different way, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, every thought, word, and deed of the Christian is significant because of what the God of the universe can do as he works through you. Are you serious, Lord? How humbling and empowering that is!
The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose life is a constant shipwreck, for no reason of his own. Every time he rights his boat, something else in the sinful world knocks him down. And yet, though all around him in the sinful world seems nothing but a sea of pain, still he rests on the solid rock of his savior.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman whose own mind calls her nasty names. Her own voice tells her she’s not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough. And yet, though even her whole self would say this, still she rests in the knowledge that Jesus’s words matter far more than her own, and through his blood he calls her precious, redeemed, valuable, sought after.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family who never can quite overcome the temptations to sin. They look good on the outside but inside, they feel the devil gaining a foothold on their souls. And yet, they know Jesus was tempted in every way for them. They know, in a place deeper than their mind, deeper than their heart, that the nasty old devil is like a dog on a chain. He can only go so far.
And the one who was raised from the dead is the one who will come back to make all things right. And it doesn’t get any better than that.
Amen and amen.
The Sabbath’s Shadow / Waiting, Resting, and Remembering
Easter Vigil. 2019
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this Lenten season, we have been studying and thinking our way through what it means to live full time in the shadow of the cross. We have considered the shadow of shame, the shadow of doubt, the shadow of sadness, the shadow of fear, and last Wednesday, the shadow of death itself. On Good Friday we focused on the darkness that covered the entire world for three hours starting at high noon, tomorrow we fix our eyes on “The Unshadowed Victory,” and tonight, our theme is “The Sabbath’s Shadow.” Three brief meditations as we think about Jesus as well as our loved ones who have died, who are resting from their labors, and who are waiting for the final resurrection. Three meditations, the first on the subject of waiting, the second focused on resting, and the third on remembering.
Tonight, first of all, we think about waiting - Psalm 126: 5-6 – Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
Secondly, tonight, we think about resting - Revelation 14: 12-13 – Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this; Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”
Third, tonight, we think about remembering; Psalm 16:5-8 – The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
The Foot-washing God
Maundy Thursday 2019
In a series, “The Shadow of the Cross”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is the first reading, from John 13. “You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s’ feet.”
This is how the meal starts, with Jesus washing their feet. Then Jesus says, “If the Lord of the universe decides that it is the supreme act of the One Who Is Love to wash your feet, you go and do likewise.
Just as I do, so you do.
I had a friend, his name was and is Kurt. His children are all grown up now. But when he was younger, he was a little bit rough around the edges. He told me a story of when his son was 2 years old, when he was working on the plumbing in the bathroom. It was a Saturday afternoon. It was hot. He had been drinking a few beers. He hit a roadblock. He got frustrated.
So, he started yelling at the toilet. He threw his drink. He gave the toilet a few good whacks with the wrench, and then he sat down.
Then his little son John comes into the bathroom. And what do you think he did? He started yelling at the toilet. He threw his drink. And he picks up his little toy wrench and gives the toilet a few good whacks before he sits down.
Kurt stopped. Wait, is that what I do? Is that who I am? Wait, he is hearing and seeing everything that I do.
Just as I do, so should you.
I can tell you that these days in the Muther household, Benjamin likes being around me. I can tell you that because I very well know that there will be a day when he can’t stand being around me, but still in this moment, he’ll say every once in a while, “Papa, one day when I’m big and you’re little, I’ll be the one putting on tall socks like yours.” “Papa, one day when I’m big and you’re little, I can drive the fast car like you.” “Papa, one day when I’m big and you’re little, I can help people like you do.”
Just as I do, so should you.
Today we consider Jesus as the one who serves his disciples. We hear the story on the night when he was betrayed. We hear how he serves them his body and blood in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of their sins.
But before that, he takes off his outer robe; he puts a towel around his waist. He stoops down before them, and he washes their feet. Why does he do that? Now, know this, he was doing the work that was so low that Jewish households wouldn’t even allow their Jewish servants to do it. It was beneath them. They asked their Gentiles servants to do it.
Why does he do that? And yet here is the Lord of the universe, stooping down at his disciples’ feet, washing them, and then he says... Just as I do, so should you.
The meaning is clear. “A servant is not greater than his master. Nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If I, whom you have confessed to be Lord and God, master and teacher, if I have washed your feet,” what do you think you’re supposed to do?
Chad Bird says it like this. “Jesus’s greatest delight is in serving us, washing us, feeding us, cleansing us. His power is cloaked in weakness, for in these acts of love he opens our eyes to see his heart...” Today, “we see what kind of God we have: the one who goes as low as it takes to lift us up to the Father’s throne.”
He served his disciples by washing their feet, and more than that, he served them by opening up to them the Word of God, and more than that he served them by dying for their sins on a cross, by being laid to rest in their tomb, by rising from the grave on Easter morning in glorious fashion as the first fruits of the foretaste of an even greater heavenly banquet feast.
And it doesn’t end there.
In your baptism, Jesus has washed you from your head to your toes. In the Lord’s Supper, he gives you strength for the week.
In Baptism, he has scrubbed you clean in body and soul. In the Lord’s Supper, he who has already washed you clean scrubs the dust off of your feet.
In Baptism, God has once for all called you his beloved son and daughter, bought by the very precious blood of Christ, given the new birth into the kingdom of God. In the Lord’s Supper, he feeds you. He grows you up. He leads you on. He gives you an unearthly peace and a godly strength so that as he has done, so should you do.
So, a few questions to conclude this sermon for tonight. Would you find delight in the meal that God delights to give you? Do you see the God who goes as low as it takes to lift us up to the Father’s throne? If Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, whose feet is he calling you to wash?
One last question. If Jesus picked up his cross and laid down his life for you, for who, are you called to lay down your life?
Come. The feast is set, for your strength and hope.
Amen and amen.
The Hour Has Come
Palm Sunday, 2019
John 12:20-27 Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven, I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why are you crying?
Years ago, when we lived near Lewiston, MN, a dear neighbor of ours was dying after a long and uncomfortable bout with cancer. Her name was Ida, she was a kind a jolly sort of a person with a lifelong history of trusting in and serving her Savior. Her husband Marlo called me up one day and indicated to me that if I wanted to say my good-byes, I should come on over. We talked for a bit about her family and the weather and how the dairy farming was going, I suppose, and as I opened my Bible and began a devotion, you won’t be surprised with this, I began to cry. She looked me in the eyes, and asked, “Why are you crying?” I replied something along the lines of “because you’re a really nice person and you’re dying.” At which point she scolded me for crying, she reminded me that she would soon be seeing Jesus, and maybe if I would eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies, I would feel better.
At least outwardly, it seems as though my soul was more troubled than hers. In today’s text, Jesus admitted that his soul was troubled, and he wondered out loud if he should be asking his father to spare him from what was about to happen. Quickly he answered, “No, it was for this very purpose that have come to this hour.” It was for this very purpose that Jesus had passed through his mother Mary’s womb, it was for this very purpose he was born, it was for this very purpose he had subjected himself to the law, it was for this very purpose he had put up with sin and decay and lived the perfect life.
Up until this point, Jesus kept saying, “My hour has not yet come.” When enemies tried to catch him and kill him, he always managed to escape. Now that his hour had come, he would allow the world to have its way with him. He would enter his passive obedience. In these next hours he would not be using his divine power. He would be passively allowing the crowd to arrest, beat, whip, and nail him to the cross.
Two truths we want to learn today as we fix our eyes on this turning point in human history. First of all we learn what it meant for Jesus, and secondly what it means for us.
First, what this meant for Jesus, “The hour had come for Jesus to reproduce by (dying).” The context of this teaching from Jesus was that a Greek man named Philip had expressed a desire to see Jesus. In response, Jesus announced that the hour had come for him to be glorified. That’s another way of saying that the time had come for Jesus to be lifted up on the cross, much as a bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness as salvation for Hebrews getting bit and poised by snakes. But it was more than Jesus just getting crucified, it was about him rising up on the third day and after 40 days of proving to eye witnesses that he was in fact alive and well, he would ascend into heaven.
Much as a grain of wheat needs to be buried into the ground and die before it can be rising up again and producing grain, so did Jesus need to die and be buried before he could rise up again and give us new life. It was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus suffered all that he was appointed to suffer and was crucified until he was dead and buried. It was for the joy of spending eternity with Ida and with all baptized believers who die in the Lord.
(Story of a children’s lesson where I was making the point that our good behavior would not be getting us into heaven, but rather believing in Jesus. Several times I asked the question “what do you have to do to get into heaven?” wanting the answer that there is nothing you can do, only by faith in Jesus can you be saved. Finally after I had asked the question for the third of fourth time, what do you have to do to get into heaven, little Ladonna, or maybe it was Deanna answered, “you have to die.”)
When Christians sing about how it is in the cross of Christ that we glory, the world would thinks, as Gail Wynnemer would say, we’re a little bit cuckoo. That our elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, that we’re a few French fries short of a happy meal, that our driveway doesn’t go all the way to the street!
But especially in this Lenten season, we Christians keep on insisting that the chief glory of our faith is in Jesus Christ crucified on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when he prayed for the father to glorify his name. He meant that the only way to glory was for him to endure the cross all the way into the grave.
Few Passover pilgrims seemed to understand what needed to happen. Their cries of hosanna and praise were good, valid, and sincere. They knew that because of Jesus the blind had received sight, the deaf had received their hearing, and lame people were now walking. Many of them had seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. Yet few of them seemed to understand that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”
The Pharisees didn’t understand this either. They saw the glory of Jesus in his popularity, and they were jealous. They were interested in the glory that gave them fame, honor, and respect. Their desire for their own exaltation drove them to plot against Jesus, their desire to gain worldly comforts and wealth for themselves nudged them towards doing away with this Jesus. As we enter yet one more time the holiest of weeks, we recognize that the hour has drawn near. First, the hour has come for Jesus to reproduce by dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven.
Secondly, what this means for us today, The hour has come for us to gain by (losing). Jesus says it this way, Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Two truths Jesus would teach us this mornings, and both of them go contrary to, as Pastor Muther might say, normal thinking.
Truth number one is that whoever loves his life will be losing it. That’s another way of asking what a man profits if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul. Woe be to the husband who loves being right but keeps on damaging his wife’s spirit. Woe be to the wife who loves her house clean but keeps on being too busy to spend time in God’s Word and prayer. Woe be to the teenager who accomplishes great things in athletics and academics but has strayed away from her confirmation vow. Woe be to the well to do couple who never misses a house payment but often misses out on confessing their sins, that God’s grace might be sweeping over their souls and ruling in their hearts.
Truth number two is that whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. That’s another way of saying that blessed is the person who daily drowns his old sinful nature through contrition and repentance, that a new man, a new woman might rise up and walk in the newness of life. Blessed is the man who hates the wrong he has done and the good he has failed to do. Blessed is the woman who confesses her faults and failures instead of defending and making her case. Blessed is the teenager who finds simple joy in the forgiveness of his sins. Blessed is the church member who denies himself worldly pleasure that the mission of the church could be supported. Blessed are they who know the joy that comes in serving and giving. Blessed are they know keep on experiencing the peace of God that goes beyond human circumstances. Blessed are they who keep on humbling themselves so God doesn’t have to do it for them. Blessed are they who understand that even as Jesus willingly submitted to his Father’s will, even when that is painful, so it is their assignment each day to be ready to go contrary to natural inclinations, it is their assignment to pick up whatever crosses are coming their say and to carry them.
It is in our very nature and in our upbringing to work hard and to play hard, in that order. Jesus would invite us first of all to rest in all the hard work he has already done, and to go from there. It is our inclination to seek out glory by picking ourselves up by the bootstraps, by standing on our own two feet, by setting worthy goals and going hard after them. And to be sure, there is much to be said for all of that. But this week, we would see Jesus. We would see him getting down on his knees and washing feet, we would see him emptying himself, taking up the form of a servant, and being obedient even unto death. This week, we would see Jesus love others more than he loved himself. This week we would wonder together what it means for us to walk in his footsteps, what it means for us to be denying our own inclinations, and what it means to be helping each other bear our crosses.
This is it.
Those were the words of a dear matriarch of this church named Agnes, as I visited her on the third floor of Mankato Hospital years ago. This is it, she said to me, meaning that she was pretty sure she would be passing away that day or the next. When I understood what she was saying to me, you know what I did. I didn’t do anything, my eyes started to water, and one more time, Agnes, the daughter of long time former pastor Martin Winter, one more time, Agnes gave me a talking to. She reminded her pastor that she had a good life, that she knew where she was going, and that the hour was near. Her work was soon to be finished, mine was not.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where more and more folks realize that this is it. Today is their day. Now is their hour to wonder what it means to be hating their lives, now is their hour to wonder which sins they should be admitting, now is their hour to wonder what it means to empty themselves for the glory of God. Or to say it another way, to gain by losing. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Hour of Condemnation
Luke 20:9–20 // Isaiah 43:16–21 // Philippians 3:4b–14
Fourth in a series of five, “The Hour Has Come”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is this parable of judgment, this parable of condemnation that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 20, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them...”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We see these critical hours, these crucial teachings of Jesus in our sermon series, and in the hour today, we find Jesus condemning the scribes and Pharisees, and we see in that very hour they are looking for a way to kill Jesus, and to that end, Jesus tells a story. To frame our conversation, I want to tell a story too.
I can remember when I was in 5thgrade. I took piano lessons from 3rdthrough 8thgrade. Looking back, I should have loved them, but at the time I didn’t necessarily like to practice 30 minutes, every day. There was one week when I had been avoiding my piano lessons, and they started to build up, from 30 to 60 to 90 minutes. My brother John, on the other hand, had kept up with it.
And so, when my mom went to a meeting one evening, she told us both to practice our piano, John did, but I didn’t. He tried to get me to do it, but I still didn’t. And then my mom came home. Can you guess what she did when she found out?
Condemnation and Salvation fall in the same (stroke).
What was salvation for John was judgment for me. What was vindication for John was condemnation for me. In either case, my mom’s action didn’t change; the relationship to her did.
So it is in our parable for today. The parable that Jesus tells to the Pharisees, a parable of judgment. It’s an easy parable to understand. The renters are the scribes and Pharisees. The servants are the prophets that went before Jesus. The son is Jesus himself. But when does it become a parable of judgment, a parable of condemnation? It becomes such when the Pharisees reject it.
Both judgment and salvation fall in the same stroke. What if the scribes and Pharisees would have repented of their ways? Then God who is faithful and just would have forgiven them and cleansed them from all unrighteousness. But in either case, God’s action doesn’t change; the relationship to him does.
And Jesus looks directly at them and says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces. If it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
The one who crushes is the (cornerstone). What in this world today is being crushed by our cornerstone? It is the sin in this world. It’s the idea that church doesn’t matter, that it’s just an old-fashioned bygone.
It crushes the idea that Christians are called to obey the letter of the law. We’re not. We are required to obey something far, far more than that -- the law of love, the law that fulfills all of our neighbors’ needs before they know them, the law so high and far above what our legislature would put in the books that it does all it would require and more. There is no law against love. And by love, I mean laying down your life for your neighbor.
The cornerstone crushes the idea that there’s too much to do, too many things on our plate to slowdown and be served the most precious thing ever by the master of the universe.
It crushes us when we have the tendency that so many of us have to be unkind for no particular reason at all, to be unloving because we didn’t feel loved by that person, to avoid telling the truth because it’s going to be hard, to avoid caring for and pursuing someone whom we’ve hurt because we’re scared of what they might say.
And it all comes back to the first commandment. You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The cornerstone crushes anything that is set up in our lives above God. He breaks to pieces every evil design of the devil, of the sinful world, of our very own nature.
But he was (crushed) for our iniquities. That’s Isaiah 53 language. “He was crushed for our iniquities, he was pierced for our transgressions, and upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
He’s crushed for our sake. He takes our punishment. All of the wrath of God, all of the judgment of God, all of the brokenness of sin is poured out onto Jesus – our sins, the sins of the Scribes, the sins of the Pharisees, the sins of the whole world are given to him, and in exchange, he gives us his righteousness.
Three questions in closing today, as we consider this parable.
In view of Jesus’s words today, what do you need to count as loss? That’s the saying of St. Paul that’s paired with our Gospel reading. What do you need to count as loss against the surpassing greatness of what you’ve been given? I count it as rubbish.
Who do you need to look at and love? I think of Jesus looking at these Scribes and Pharisees, he looks directly at them, and he gives them what they need from him. But so I ask, who do you need to look at and love? Who needs you to do what they need, not what they deserve, not necessarily what they want?
Where and when do you need to repent? Where and when do you need to hear the voice of Jesus, to fall on your knees, and to ask for forgiveness?
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that love their Lord, but oh-so-often, they find their hearts wandering during the prayers, oh-so-often they find their ears wandering during the sermon, so so often they need their savior to look them directly in the eyes. It is their prayer on their best days that their savior would be chasing after them, would be feeding them everything they need to eat, and would be holding them close.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther