John 15:1-8 // 1 John 4:1-21 // Acts 8:26-40
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is the Gospel lesson, John 15:1-8, “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit because apart from me he can do nothing.”
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, and last week Jesus shepherding us. The next three Sundays we will focus on Jesus choosing us to be his disciples, and finally Jesus praying for us. Today, we focus on Jesus abiding in us.
I am the vine; my Father is the vinedresser. I am the vine; you are the branches. I am the vine; if you abide in me, you will bear much fruit. Jesus is using metaphorical language, and he’s using metaphorical language that he didn’t make up on his own. He’s borrowing it from the Old Testament, namely from Isaiah (chapter 5, called the song of the vineyard), from Jeremiah (chapter 2), from Hosea (chapter 10), from Ezekiel (chapter 19), and from Psalm 80. In each, the Old Testament writers are calling on the corporate identity of Israel – the whole kingdom, and you’ll note that all of the “you’s” in our text are plural. He’s saying, I am like a grape vine, you all are like all of the spurs and shoots that come up and produce clusters of grapes. My father prunes to make them fruitful. So, and this is his “therefore” statement abide in me.
So, what does it mean to abide? John uses it all over the place in our text for today. So, what does it mean? It’s an old-fashioned kind of word. When I looked it up in the dictionary, one of the most common usages was in the negative – I cannot abide this / I will not abide that! – and that basically means to agree.
But that can’t be what Jesus is saying in our passage. Branches don’t agree with vines. The Father isn’t just agreeing with his Son. You don’t hear Christ calling us to agree with him. No, instead, you can look at a similar word, abode. You abide (verb) in an abode (noun). To abide is to stay, to remain. It is to live in.
Three points from our text for our sermon, three points on what it means to abide, what it means to remain, to dwell in Christ.
Point number one, the purpose of the gardener is to encourage growth. That’s the first point of our text for today. “I am the true vine and (did you remember that this is the first thing Jesus says? I had to read it twice) I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. And do you notice how he does it in the text? He prunes. He cleans away the dead branches, so that more branches can sprout. He prunes those who bear fruit, so that they may be more fruitful. Can you imagine that?
That is, to say in in another way, in this metaphor the truth that comes forward is that the trials of your life, for the Christian, are meant to prune you back. One pastor said it like this: “Some of the biggest pruning moments in my life are the first 2 years of my marriage and my fight with brain cancer. I would never want to do them again. I would not wish them back for a moment. But I recognize that I would not be who I am without that pruning.”
This passage is key, because I listen to people struggle with this concept. They appreciate where they are and its hard to talk about where they have been. I would not be who I am without this, and yet, it was a terrible time. Here the ancient words of Scripture apply. The Father is a vinedresser who prunes us.
Second, the purpose of the vine is to bring life to the branches. Without the vine, the branches wither. Without being connected to the vine, the branches are cleaned away. Without the vine, the branches cannot bear fruit; they cannot do anything.
So, what is the vine? It is, first, Jesus. That’s pretty obvious. It’s the man, Jesus. But notice what the Gospel lesson says as well. Jesus equates his own identity and his own abiding with his word and the abiding of his word. Verse 7, “If you abide in me and my word abides in you.” That’s the message of the Kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.” It’s forgiveness. When we dwell – when we abide in forgiveness, and the word of forgiveness abides in us, that is Christ and it is life.
That’s a bold statement. Have you ever thought of that? It’s a bold statement to say that forgiveness is as essential to spiritual life as water and air are to physical life. So, what relationships are withholding water and air from?
Thanks be to God that while we were still dead in our trespasses, the author of life died in our place and rose up again with our new life. Thanks be to God that the cross held God himself, Jesus Christ, who was doing the will of His Father in heaven.
Third, the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit. Last week we left off with the interesting and challenging statement, Jesus is not ok with the status quo. This week, we see Jesus reminding us that the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit.
What is that fruit? Galatians 5 tells us. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” One pastor would have us note, “Fruit is singular. You don’t grow just one of those nine qualities and call it good. In fact, if you lean on one to the detriment of others, it becomes toxic.” That is, joy without self-control turns unfruitful. Patience without gentleness becomes toxic. Kindness without goodness is unhelpful. The fruit grows together.
Let’s circle back to the beginning of this sermon. The question I asked was, what does it mean to abide? Right, because earlier, right at the beginning, I quoted Jesus as saying, “Abide in me.” But that’s only part of the statement. It’s “The one who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” And we see another dimension to this idea of abiding, that Christ abides in us and we abide in him.
Most of the time we think of that as a static kind of question. When you abide somewhere, you live there. You stay there. But, and here’s the but of the Christian life – but what does it mean if you are called to abide in a growing, living, dynamic love, if you are called into the mystery – for the Christian the greatest mystery – of the Trinity, the God who is three in one and one in three.
Here’s the truth behind that truth: the God who is three in one is love. Why? Because love can only come in giving and receiving it. Love doesn’t happen in itself. It happens in giving and receiving. The God who, in our text of the day, is at the same time the Gardener, the Father who prunes, the vine, Jesus Christ, which gives life, and the spirit, the Holy Spirit, which works the life and brings the fruit and uses the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of others.
C.S. Lewis, he says it really well. To abide in Christ is like entering into a dance. I quote: “And [the living dynamic activity of love of God] is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: … almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” And later he explains more: “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-[person] life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got enter that pattern, to take his place in that dance… If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a flock that is a kingdom, that is a body, that is a grapevine. They know in whom the trust, and its’ the same one that prunes them back. They see the promises of God not only in the good times, but also in the bad. They ache to draw near to the source of all that is fruitful in life; they ache to enter the dance.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young family that is remembering once again how the seasons of life change. Lean years and full years come and go. Healthy times and sick times come and go. Laughter and tears come and go. And through all of the dynamic changes of life, the ever-growing realization is there, that through it all, the love of Christ sustains.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are remembering again and again that they are branches of the vine. They understand in their tough days that their Father is going to be pruning. They pray that they could have the privilege of bearing fruit, and they rest – they abide, they live, they move – in the truth that their life comes from the vine.
Amen and Amen.
Gordon Dumdei funeral
April 19, 2018
“The Good Shepherd”
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a family going on a trip. They’re all packed up, the father is closing the garage door, and the kids are as happy as they can be. You ask them where they are going, and they don’t know. You ask them which highway they’re taking, and they don’t know. You ask them where they will be sleeping that night and when will they come back and they don’t know. But ask them who they are going with, and their faces light up, their smiles reappear, they answer, “We’re going with Mom and dad!” They knew with whom they were going, and that was enough for them.
So also was it true for Gordon as he approached his final hours. He didn’t really know how much longer he had, he didn’t really know exactly what life after death would be like, but he knew with whom he was going, and that was enough for him. He knew that Jesus Christ wasn’t just some hired hand who maybe would take care of him and maybe not. He knew Jesus Christ was the Good Shepherd who had laid down his life for the sheep, he knew that his sins had been paid for at the cross, he knew the resurrection on the third day had sealed the deal, he knew by faith that his name had been written in the book of life going all the way back to Holy Baptism, he knew that as often as he ate and drank at his Lord’s Table that his Lord loved him and was with him always, he knew by faith that through all the ups and the downs of life, His Good Shepherd was following him around with goodness and mercy.
So also is it true for us, as we fix our eyes today on our Good Shepherd. We travel our own journeys of life not knowing exactly what the twists and turns of life will be, but knowing who is with us and will never leave us. Even as we walk in these days through the valley of the shadow of death, we do so knowing that the Lord is our Shepherd, as often as the thorns and thistles of life threaten us, he keeps on leading us into the green pastures of his word, he coaxes us toward the still waters of his grace.Two truths we want to rest in as we think about what it means to be watched over, protected, and provided for by the Good Shepherd.
The first truth in which we rest is that Jesus was both sent and he came willingly at the same time. He was simultaneously drafted and volunteer. It reminds me of my brother Curtis who volunteered for the draft back in 1968. If my memory serves me correctly, he drafted into the army in those days of Vietnam, and if he volunteered he would spend three years instead of two, but he would have something to say about where he would be sent.
The fact that Jesus was both sent and he came willingly is meant to comfort us. Jesus said once that he and his father are one. They had one mission, one purpose, they were on the same page. In our text, Jesus makes it clear that he knows his sheep and his sheep knows him, just as the father knows him and he knows the Father.
My father grew up in the dusty depression years in North Dakota. From age 5-15 or so, he spent spring, summer, and beginning of fall months watching over the family flock. He and his brothers would use a sheep dog and a little pony, and they would spend long days watching over the sheep, making sure they didn’t get into the neighbors fields, making sure they didn’t scatter when lightning would strike and thunder would roar. My dad was a man of few words, and later in life, I was trying to draw him out a bit into some story telling. I asked him if he grew fond of those sheep, and he said, “No. I hated them. They were dumb.”
What a contrast we have in our Good Shepherd – no matter how dumb, no matter how foolish, no matter how often we stray into trouble, He keeps on being patient, he keeps on loving us, he keeps on helping us up and saying, let’s try that one more time. He keeps on finding a way to be fond of us, he favors us with his grace, He covers us with his forgivness.
Jesus is that Good Shepherd who not only loved His Father, He loved us. He came down into our world not only out of a sense of duty, but with a sense of compassion. No one forced him to lay down his life, he laid it down of his own accord, we rest this afternoon in truth #1 – that this Good Shepherd was both sent and he came willingly on our behalf. For the joy set before him, this shepherd fixed his eyes on the city of Jerusalem, he would not be distracted until he had endured the cross, suffered every bit of shame, and was crucified until he was dead and buried.
The second truth in which we rest is that this Good Shepherd didn’t stay dead. He rose up again on the third day, and because he lives, at least four things are true. 1) Because Christ is risen, we may be confident that He is who he said he was, the Son of God. 2) Because he is risen we may sure that all of Holy Scripture is true. 3) Because Christ is risen, we may be sure that the Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son as full and complete payment for our sins.4) Because Christ is risen, we may be certain that the day is coming when the archangel will shout, the trumpet will sound, Jesus will come back in all kinds of glory, and this kind and generous man of faith will rise up again. Already now, we believe that his soul, his spirit is in the presence of Christ. Already now, we know he is resting from his labors, already now, we know that no more troubles or trials can even get close to touching him.
So many sweet memories you all have of Gordon, this is most certainly true. He was easy to like, a pleasure to know, and as consistently cheerful a man as you could know. Some of you have fishing stories to tell about Gordon, others could tell about his golf game, many of you will long remember how he would wear button down shirts, not sweatshirts, he would wear dress slacks, not sweat pants, real shoes and not slippers. A man with his life in order, he was. If he said he would call you at 8:30 in the morning, he would call you at 8:30 in the morning.
We remember today how grateful Gordon was not only to share 43 years of God’s grace with LaJune, but also 27 years of his Good Shepherd’s love with Ella. There was no way of him knowing where his journey of life would go, no way of knowing which roads would be taken, which cities would be his dwelling places, no way of knowing how long the ride would be, but he knew who it was that was always with him, he knew his sins were forgiven, he knew his mansion in heaven was on reserve.
I will long remember him coming forward for communion, and as I handed him the little glass of wine, he would hold it up in the air, as if to say cheers, as if to say how blessed am I, as if to say, Jesus loves me, as if to say, I know in whom I trust, as if to say, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, I have everything I need, and down the hatch it would go, and on his way, Gordon would go, resting in God’s promises, standing in his grace.
For a couple of years now, Pastor Muther and I had the privilege of driving on down to Blue Earth, talking smart, visiting with, and then inviting Gordon to taste his Lord’s goodness in the mystery of Holy Communion. Always I would ask him if he was sorry for his sins, if he believed in Jesus as his Savior, and if he promised to live the strong Christian life to the best of his ability. Always he would say yes, and always he would receive God’s forgiveness into his heart and soul. After communion, we always prayed.
This afternoon, I close with a prayer similar to a prayer I often pray with the older Christians after communion, and with Gordon, the prayer went something like this. “Gracious God, I pray today for Gordon’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I pray that you would send your angels to be with them, that the wicked foe would have no power over them. I pray that all of Gordon’s descendants, family, and friends would be in the Christian faith, that they would be strong and growing in that faith through all the chapters of life, that they would be a blessing to so many others along the way. I pray that you would follow them around with the goodness and mercy that only you can give and that Gordon Dumdei would rest in peace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Jesus Prepares Us
Confirmation Day 2018
Acts 3:11-21 // 1 John 3:1-7 // Luke 24:36-49
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is the Gospel lesson, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace to you!” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We’re taking a look at all that Christ does on our behalf in these days past Easter.
In our sermon series this Easter, we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in this school year that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. The last two Sundays we focused on Jesus living for us and Jesus persuading Thomas, in the next five weeks, we will focus on Jesus shepherding, Jesus abiding, Jesus choosing, and Jesus praying. This morning, we see Jesus preparing us.
A story of preparing. I was making a pizza the other day for friends to come over… I had the dough all made up. I had the chicken all cooked. I had everything ready except for the sauce… but I didn’t have tomato sauce for a base. So I think I’ll make a white sauce. I don’t have ranch dressing. So I think I’ll make some, but I don’t have mayonnaise, so I think I’ll make some, and it doesn’t go well, and my friends come over. And they get me my sauce.
The point is, there was preparing to do, but I hadn’t done it. There was a future to be ready for but I was not ready.
Not too far away from here is an older gentleman, one that has had to take steps back, and not a one has been willingly. I tell him that he’s in his eighties, doesn’t he think he’ll need to think about it sometime? To which he says, “Well, I don’t want to think about that today.”
Not too far away from him is a set of confirmands that are just excited to be done with memorizing and speaking into microphones. The knowledge that came in one ear can start to go out the other ear, and life can move forward.
And not too far away from them is a young mom that had kids before she expected and has felt like the last 5 years has been living by the seat of her pants. Everything seems to be last minute. Everything is a surprise. Nothing seems to go as planned or to have enough time for thought.
Today’s sermon theme is on Jesus Christ preparing. Two points to make on this question: What does it mean that Jesus is preparing? First, Jesus is taking away the sting of our past. Second, Jesus is going ahead to prepare for us.
First, we see the disciples in a room together, hearing first how Jesus appeared to Peter, when Cleopas and another disciple burst into the room to tell them that Christ was made known to them in the breaking of the bread and in prayer, when Christ himself stands among them.
The Scriptures record that they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. To which, when I think on it, I imagine them asking the same question that my wife asked over and over again when I proposed to her: Are you serious?
We see in his presence Jesus is taking away the sting of their past. He is incarnating a living hope into their being. He is undoing the power of sin which is the law, and thanks be to God for the Victory in Jesus Christ. Mark who ran away needs no longer to be ashamed. Peter who denied needs no longer to be ashamed. Thomas who doubted needs no longer to be ashamed. Jesus comes and his presence takes away the sting of sin.
Can you believe that? When Christ is present, there is no reason to hold onto our shame. Now, note in all the examples above, there was a real and legitimate shame and failure. These weren’t throw-away sins. But in the presence of Jesus, their power is gone.
When was the last time that you considered what the presence of Jesus could do to your shame and to others? The sin of others has no effect on you. The hurt of others has no effect on you, because the presence of Jesus means that new and other things are important to you: death is not the end of your life, so there is no reason to fear death.
Second, Jesus is preparing for us. Once or twice a week, early in the morning, before anyone else is up, I’ll get up and run and come on back. By the time I’m back, some amount of people are up in our house, and we are getting the days started. But what I will do, about once or twice a week, instead of coming up immediately, I’ll stay downstairs, get the coffee going, get the breakfast going, and bring up breakfast and hot coffee for Laura.
She might hear me, or she might not. She might suspect what I’m doing or she might not. She might just be wondering why it’s taking so long for me to get up the stairs, but the point is that when I am away from her, I am preparing for her.
In our text, Jesus indicates that he is sending the promise of the Father upon them. He is preparing to clothe them in power. He will be leading them out into Bethany. He will be leaving them, ascending into heaven and preparing a place for them.
He is with them, whether in his active presence, or in his absence. One pastor type talked about it this way: we think often about a ministry of being present with people. We don’t often think about the ministry of our absence. What does he mean by that? He doesn’t mean to make sure people “Thank God” that you’re gone. Don’t do that. But yet, he was urging pastors to not only think about the time you get to spend with people, but think about what your last words are, what lasting action you can take, think about how you can influence someone even when you’re far away.
Consider: If these were the last words someone said to this person before they died, would that be ok? If this was the last thing I would say to this person in 10 years, is it a good statement?
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man that is more thoughtful now than he was 10 years ago. He cringes to think what he would say without thinking, but he is glad to know that his Lord has been leading him deeper.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town, one where the Lord has appeared and proclaimed he is risen. The Presence of their Lord is always on their minds, especially as they pray for those who have conflict, especially as they seek to act in peace and love, especially as they consider not only the active ministry they do, but also the way that their God is working in their absence.
Amen and Amen.
Second Sunday of Easter / April 8, 2018
Second in a Series “Jesus Building His Kingdom”
John 20:19-31 / Acts 4:32-35 / I John 1:1-2:2
Dear Friends in Christ,
About 25 years ago or so, a Lutheran pastor was arrested in the small town where my parents lived. He was a highly respected preacher and family man right up until he was arrested for window peeping. Some time later, I was chatting a neighbor and friend of my parents who happened to be a member of that congregation, and she spoke to me about how devastating it was for their little church. It was even more awful for her family, she said, because her husband hadn’t been brought up a Lutheran, he didn’t belong to any church, but in fact, he was almost ready to join the (Church). Of course this scandal put a stop to any interest he had in joining a Lutheran church, or any church for that matter. I haven’t talked to her for many years, and I have no idea if she and the Holy Spirit were ever able to persuade him to change his mind, but this we know in this Easter season, while it’s of first importance that we preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen, it matters that we pastors and people practice what we preach. While on the one hand, our good behavior can be part of a witness that helps attract others to the Church, the opposite of that is true as well – bad behavior can be a major obstacle to the spread of the Gospel.
In our sermon series this Easter, we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in this school year that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Last Sunday we focused on Jesus living for us, in the next five weeks, we will focus on Jesus preparing, Jesus shepherding, Jesus abiding, Jesus choosing, and Jesus praying. This morning, we see Jesus persuading Thomas and us that He is in fact risen from the dead.
Statistics these days suggest that few and fewer Americans are believing that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, fewer and fewer are holding on to the believe that Jesus is the only way to be saved, fewer and fewer folks are joining and attending Christian churches these days. While 40% of Americans say they attend church regularly, churches report that less 20% do so. Whatever the statistics are, we can see that the Holy Spirit has a lot of persuading to do. Paul writes that “no man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” Luther explains the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, etc.
The Holy Spirit is the great persuader. In John 16, Jesus said that he would send a helper and that when he comes he would convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment In these days, the Holy Spirit persuades and convicts primarily through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. In our text for today, we see Jesus persuading Thomas face to face. We would learn three lessons about the work of the Holy Spirit. First, we see Jesus reaching out and being patient with Thomas. Secondly, we see Jesus inviting Thomas to examine the evidence for His resurrection. Third, we hear Jesus hinting at a grand plan for his resurrection good new and peace to spread.
First, See Jesus (reaching out) to and being patient with Thomas. For whatever reason Thomas was absent the previous Sunday evening, he missed out on Jesus standing in their midst and declaring with his familiar and reassuring voice, “Peace be unto you.” For seven long and miserable days, Thomas missed out on the gladness that came along with Jesus showing his wounded but now healed hands and side. He missed out on Jesus commissioning the other ten disciples, as the Father had commissioned him, to be witnesses and messengers of Easter peace. For seven restless and distressing days and nights, Thomas resisted, he wondered, he doubted that in fact Jesus had risen from the dead, as promised.
This morning we see the Holy Spirit at work as Jesus reaches out and is patient with Thomas. Jesus draws near, and I’d like to think with a smile on his face, he gives Thomas a second chance. Jesus takes his time, he listens, he makes a special effort to help Thomas think more clearly about the events of the past ten days. One more time, we see how patient is our God, we see how determined is our God for us to be on the same page as Jesus and these early disciples, “As the Father sends me, so I am sending you.”
The kingdom of God is like a grandma who reaches out on a Sunday afternoon to her grandson who has drifted away from the church. With tears in her eyes, she asks him why he doesn’t go to church anymore. With a heart that is breaking, she listens to him say he’s not really sure why. With her familiar and reassuring voice, she tells him one more time how much she loves him, she mentions how her daily devotions and church involvement have blessed her over the years. In that very moment the Spirit of God is stirring in this grandson’s heart. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus building His Kingdom in His time and in His way.
If step #1 in the art of persuasion was for Jesus to be reaching out and be patient with Thomas, step #2 is to See Jesus (inviting) Thomas to examine the evidence for resurrection. In this conversation, Jesus had an advantage we don’t often have. He knew exactly what Thomas had been thinking and saying. He knew that Thomas had been saying that unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, I will not believe. Unless I am able to thrust my fingers into the mark of that nail, I will not believe. Unless I am able to thrust my hand into the wound of his side, I will not believe. Notice, dear friends, how Jesus patiently invites Thomas to examine the evidence. Go ahead, Thomas, and see my hands, draw close and put your finger here where the nails went through, step on up and put out your hand and place it in my side. Please Thomas, no more doubting, no more disbelieving, it’s time for you to believe.
Unbelief always has been, is today, and will always be picking away at the faith of God’s people. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds /tares. Jesus pictures Satan as the enemy who goes out while the farmers are sleeping and sows weeds among the wheat, and then he slithers away in the darkness of night.
So also in the hearts of those of us who have been baptized and instructed in basic Bible teaching, Satan is constantly finding ways to plant seeds of doubt. In times of tragedy,we find ourselves struggling to be certain there is a good and a gracious God ruling all of heaven and earth. In times of failure, we find ourselves doubting that God is answering our prayers in the way that is best for us. We find high school aged believers doubting that church attendance is important, we find college age Christians doubting that the traditional teachings of the Church are still relevant, we find Christian parents doubting that the spiritual disciplines still need to be insisted on, we find middle aged folks doubting that you really have to choose between the kingdom of God and all these other things, we find the elderly doubting that God still has important work for them to do.
The kingdom of God is like a middle aged believer who sees all that is wrong in this world, but he can’t really see God being present in the midst of it all. As the years go on, he finds the Easter message ringing more and more hollow. He is pleased when a confirmation classmate of his reaches out and takes the time to listen to his story. Together they remember what they learned at the knees of their dear mothers, together they reminisce about what old pastor so and so taught them years ago, together they examine the evidence of nature, the evidence of Scripture, and the evidence of the witnesses and messengers in their lives. In those very moments, the Spirit of God is stirring in their hearts. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus building His kingdom in his time and in his way.
If step #1 in the art of persuasion was for Jesus to be reaching out and being patient, and if step #2 was for Jesus to be (inviting) Thomas to examine the evidence for resurrection., then step #3 is to Hear Jesus (hinting) at a grand plan for His resurrection peace to spread.
Whether or not Thomas actually did touch his Savior’s hands or thrust his hands into his side, we don’t know. What we do know is that Thomas saw, he sank to his knees, his doubts gave way to a clear confession of faith. Jesus accepted this confession, but he didn’t really commend it. Not the way he had commended the Canaanite woman whose daughter was healed of demon possession (Woman, you have a great faith!”), not the way he praised the faith of the centurion whose servant was healed of paralysis. (I tell you the truth, not in all of Israel have I found such a faith!”)
To Thomas, Jesus speaks, and I’d like to think with a smile on his face, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus knew what He wants all of us to know this morning- Blessed are they in every generation who hear the Word of God and believe it.
This is the grand plan our Easter season sermons would lay before us today and in the five weeks to come, that as the Father commissioned His Son to seek and to save lost sinners, so as Jesus commissioned us to spend our days spreading God’s resurrection peace and strength, near and far. Tradition tells us that Thomas was martyred in India for proclaiming the Christian message. There is a church in today’s India that attributes its beginnings to the work of Thomas. Proving once again that the Spirit of God is stirring wherever and whenever the seeds of God’s Word are sown. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus Himself building the kingdom in his way and in his time.
Our sermon series in this Easter season is focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom. I read an article this past week that suggested that as many as (10,000) Chinese become Christians each day. A Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, who is a published author on the subject of religion in China, writes that according to his calculations China is destined to become the country with the largest population of Christians in the near future. He writes that China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949 and which has been subject to a government trying to eliminate Christianity, has grown to 58 million in 2010, and is predicted to swell to 160 million by 2025. By 2030, China’s total Christian population would exceed 247 million. We don’t have time to explain in depth the secrets of church growth there in China, but we may be sure there areallkinds of little home churches living out their life together in the spirit of our first reading today- Christians taking care of each other, Christians confessing their faults to one another, Christians walking in the light and in fellowship with one another, and the grace of God getting poured out in rich measure.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks getting down on their knees tonight along with Thomas as all kinds of new believers in far away lands. They are quietly rejoicing that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, they are taking their doubts and questions to Jesus Christ in prayer, they have not seen, and yet they believe on the basis of testimony of those who have gone on before them. Even as they pray, the Spirit of God is stirring. Silently, invisibly,and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, the Spirit of God is stirring, and the Kingdom of God is advancing.
Jesus Lives For Us
Easter Sunday 2018
Isaiah 25: 6-9, I Corinthians 15: 1-11, Mark 16:1-8
Mark 16: And the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Just a couple of days ago, I was talking smart with one of our elderly members, who is over 90 years old, he’s all crippled up, his wife passed away years ago and he misses her more than ever. He often wonders why the Lord doesn’t just let him die and go to heaven. Somehow our conversation weaved and wandered around to the subject of coffee. In the news recently were two different articles, one suggesting that the state of California would be requiring Starbucks to put a label on their coffee warning that it could cause cancer, and the second article suggesting that good strong coffee in fact would clean out your arteries and prevent heart attacks. Both of us prefer the second bit of research, and Bill looked me in the eyes and declared, “If I can’t have my three cups of coffee every day, you may as well shoot me!”
Which reminded me of Judy, one of our members in a nursing home going through all kinds of health troubles and frustrations. Not yet 70 years old, she is unable to walk, restricted from doing the simplest of tasks in life, when I asked her how I could be helpful, she looked me in the eyes and said, “just shoot me, Pastor Griffin.”
Which reminded me of Lyle, his friends called him “Hammer,” who used to live where our church parking lot is now. Hammer could talk smart with the best of them, and on one of my last visits with him, as he struggled with all kinds of cancer and seemed to be approaching death, I prayed with him, he received his Lord’s Supper, and as I was about to leave, I asked if there was anything I could do for him, he looked me in the eyes, and you guessed it, he said, “yes you can take me out back and shoot me.” To which I said, “That wouldn’t really be a very good career move for me, Lyle.” He replied, “I suppose you’re right.”
It is when pain and suffering are overwhelming us that we have a hard time standing strong and saying proud, “If God is for us, who can be against us!” It is when the days drag on with boredom and purposelessness that we forget about the promise that “If God spared not his only Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? It is when our prayers seem to be going unanswered and the world around us seems to be going to hell in a hand basket that we hear Easter preachers going on and on and on about Jesus being alive and Jesus being with us always and God being on our side, we say to ourselves, “blah, blah, blah, I’ve heard it all before, why doesn’t the preacher tell me something new and exciting?”
I don’t have anything new to tell you today, and folks don’t very often tell me that my messages are exciting, but I do have for you three Easter truths that have the potential to in increase your level of patience, to re-order your priorities, and to leave here today with a renewed sense of purpose. Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for. Easter truth#2 is that Jesus is of first importance. Easter truth #3 is that Jesus goes on before us.
Easter truth#1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the nation of Israel is speaking. Actually they are singing in response to their God doing marvelous things in their history. They are singing praise to a God who had proven himself to be a refuge to the poor, he had proven himself to be a stronghold to the needy, he had proven himself to be a shelter from the storm, and he had proven himself to be a shade from the heat of the desert.
They looked forward to the day when their God would swallow up death forever, and even beyond to a heavenly banquet where the bacon cheeseburgers would be well done, the beer would be ice cold, the French fries would be the best ever, and fellowship would be hilarious, the conversations will be free from pettiness and all conflict. Or to use Isaiah’s language, the delicacies would be nutritious, the wine would at its peak of flavor, their tears would be wiped away from all their faces, their disgrace would be taken away.
Dear friends in Christ, no matter what is trying your patience these days, know that Jesus is not only risen, he is alive and well and living for you. He is in these very days sitting at the right hand of his Father interceding for you and wanting good things for you, He’s pulling for you to be patiently enduring every one of your challenges. Listen to the entire nation of Israel singing, “Behold this is our God, we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for him, let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The kingdom of God is like a woman not too far away from here reeling from weeks and weeks of chemotherapy, she’s cold and she’s sick and she’s frail, but this morning you’ll find her being glad and rejoicing in her Lord’s resurrection!
If Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for, Easter truth #2 is that Jesus is of first importance. In our Lenten midweek series, we studied the dangerous distractions of the Passion Story, even as we rejoiced in the simple truth that Jesus Christ would be not be distracted from his mission of going the way of the cross, suffering under Pontius Pilate, enduring crucifixion until he was dying, dead, and buried for us.
We saw Jewish leaders and mobs distracted by their own false views of the Messiah, we saw Judas distracted by a love of money and power, we saw Peter distracted by his own pride, distracted as he followed at a distance and in the wrong company, we saw Herod distracted by his own desire to be amused, we saw the sophisticated and full of himself Pontius Pilate distracted by his own unbelief and scoffing at the idea of absolute truth.
There is perhaps no more dangerous distraction from the Easter message than the death of our loved ones. If my counting is correct, there are over 165 names of departed loved ones, italicized in our bulletin, and remembered with all kinds of flowers and plants. All kinds of death beds, all kinds of caskets and urns, all kinds of trips to the cemetery and crying in the night are flooding through our memory banks this morning. Memories which threaten to distract us from what we believe that if God is for us, who can be against us?
#62 italicized name in our bulletin today is our grandson Gabriel Erickson. Gabriel, as many of you know, is the son of our daughter and son in law, Michelle and Brandon. In her second trimester, he was diagnosed with renal agenesis, which meant that his kidneys did not form, which meant he had no bladder, which meant he produced no urine, which meant there was no amniotic fluid, which meant that his lungs did not develop, which meant that if he was born alive, he would likely live only an hour or two. Which is exactly what happened. And so in our memory banks this Easter Sunday is this nightmare vision of Michelle holding onto her breathing little boy and then he wasn’t breathing anymore, our distraction includes a funeral ending with Brandon carrying out of church the tiniest casket we ever saw, distraction includes our son in law getting down into a cold and dark cemetery hole, gently placing that tiny casket, family members covering him with soil, singing songs of hopefulness, certain of resurrection and at the same time wondering what kind of God lets this happen.
Listen to St. Paul, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The kingdom of God is like a dozen, maybe two or ten dozen people sitting in this very sanctuary this morning, realizing they have been distracted away from the kingdom of God and His righteousness in these days. They have in fact been chasing after so much that is secondary, they are wondering how their days would be different if they were to receive into their hearts anew that which is of first importance. Quietly they pray, “Change my heart O Lord, make it ever true.”
If Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for, and Easter truth #2 is that Jesus is of first importance, then Easter truth#3 is that Jesus goes on before us. In our Gospel lesson for today, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome, mother of James and John, had been crying harder than they had ever cried before. One could speculate so many tears had fallen there were no more tears to fall. In any case, they were focused on giving their loved one a proper burial. They were wondering who might roll away the stone for them.
For the rest of their lives, their memory banks would include an angel scaring the you know what out of them, no doubt they relived this dream come true a thousand times, Jesus had risen. He was not there. The grave was empty. Their assignment was to go tell the disciples and especially Peter that Jesus was going on before them to Galilee. No doubt all kinds of questions began to arise, but this one truth they would begin to process – Jesus was alive and He would still be leading the way.
A few weeks ago, a young lady came into the church office on a Sunday morning looking for a pastor. She was crying as hard as anybody I have ever seen cry. It was a hyperventilating kind of a cry. Slowly the words stumbled out. Her boyfriend, the love of her life, had been killed the night before in a snowmobile accident. Her two pastors tag teamed, we cried, we prayed, we listened, and one question kept on recurring, “What am I going to do?” The best answer I could offer was this, “Jamie, today is your day to cry. That’s your assignment, spend your day crying, your family and friends will cry with you. One hour at a time.”
Fast forward to yesterday, when I reached out to this young Christian lady who confirmed her faith at this very altar twenty years or so ago. She tells me she still struggles, Some days are easier, others it’s a battle. She’s reading and she’s praying and she is thankful for the time she had. She concludes, “Now there is nothing the world can throw at me that I can’t get through.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who know that if they can make it through the valley of the shadow of death of a loved one, they can make it through any valley this world might throw their way. They know that Jesus Christ is alive and He is well, He has gone on before them, and He is leading the way. They know that the Easter message is of first importance, and they bring to their Lord’s Table today hearts that are sorry for so many bad habits, they are sorry for falling prey to so many enemies of their faith, they are sorry for so many good intentions gone astray.
And one more time, right on schedule, just as promised, Jesus Christ delivers, as Pastor Muther likes to say, the good stuff. Christ holds them close. He loves them without condition. He forgives every one of their sins, he takes away the shame of every one of their secrets, He invites them to go in peace. Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther