Sunrise Easter Service
I Corinthians 15 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
I’ve learned over the years that if you ask a group of children a question, you’re not always going to get the answer you’re looking for. Years ago, I was doing a children’s lesson in church, and my question was what do people need to do in order to get into heaven? The answer I was looking for was that you can’t do anything to get into heaven, that heaven was a free and undeserved gift received by faith. At first the kids really didn’t want to answer, and so I repeated the question again and again, what do you need to do in order to get to heaven? Finally one of the little Ressie girls, I think it was Deanna, raised her hand and answered, “you have to die.”
Which brings us to our text for this morning, in Paul’s great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15 - 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Easter truth #1 – Caskets, cemeteries, and gravestones are necessary evils, but the Good News of the open tomb gets the final word. This morning’s theme is “The Open Tomb.” Last night’s theme was “The Guarded Tomb.” Last night we saw that the body of Jesus was carefully and lovingly cared for by his closest friends. We saw Joseph of Arimathea asking for and receiving the body. We saw him taking the time to purchase fine linens, we watched Nicodemus purchasing all kinds of spices, Joseph and others doing the work of a funeral director. We saw a wounded and bloody corpse removed from the cross, blood stains washed away, spices used to anoint, fresh linen used to wrap and preserve. We saw Mary Magdalene and another Mary watching to make sure all was in order, we saw Pharisees requesting and receiving permission to guard against the disciples stealing the body and claiming resurrection, Jews going so far as to seal the tomb shut, we saw the body of Jesus resting quietly, his suffering now finished, death the apparent winner, the sun going down, the Sabbath now beginning.
Last night we gave thought to our fenced in and well maintained cemeteries, we noted how for the most part these days, most American families spend all kinds of effort and energy pre-arranging, planning out and carrying through with funerals and burial. Most of our families care deeply about laying loved ones to rest in decent and respectful fashion.
Last night we gave attention to what theologians call the intermediate state, the time period between the death of a Christian and the day of resurrection. That period of time where the body is asleep, but the soul is wide awake either in the presence of Jesus or not in the presence of Jesus.
This morning, the open tomb gets the last laugh. We celebrate that old saying that he who laughs last laughs best. We fix our eyes on that which we cannot see - that glorious moment when the last trumpet will be sounding, the archangel will be shouting, and all of humanity will be resurrection. In the time it takes you to blink your eyes, caskets will be giving up their bodies, urns will be giving up their ashes, cemeteries will be opening up and swallowing up death itself.
Just yesterday, we laid one of our dear Ladies’ Aid members Helen Ewert to rest. Laid to rest by two sons, one daughter, 17 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren, and other families and friends. Tears there were in their eyes to be sure, but the open tomb had the last word. Sadness and perhaps even a few regrets in their hearts, but the open tomb of Easter had the last word. A realization that life is short and full of trouble tried to rule the day, but Easter Truth #1 prevailed, Caskets, cemeteries, and gravestones are necessary evils, but the Good News of the open tomb gets the final word.
The Good News is simply this, that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and because He lives so also Helen Ewert live, because Jesus lives, so also do our loved ones named in our bulletin and remembered with lilies and flowers live, because Jesus lives, we have proof that He is Who He said He is, we have proof that all of Holy Scripture is true, we have proof that the Father has accepted the sacrifice of the Son as full and complete payment for the sins of the world.
And because all of that is true, we ask with the prophet Hosea, we ask with St. Paul, we ask with Christians in all generations, we ask with millions of folks who have heard their pastors speak the liturgy of burial at cemeteries of loved ones,
“O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” At which time we might even shake our puny little fists at the prince of this world, the father of all lies, and ask “O nursing homes and funeral homes, where is your victory? O urns and caskets and crematoriums, where is your sting? O funeral directors and grave diggers and cemetery caretakers, where is your victory? And o by the way, cancer and heart disease and a thousand other enemies of life, where is your sting?
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Easter truth #2 - Death stings like you know what, but the open tomb gives a victory that swallows up death forever.
On a Friday that was good for us so many years ago, the sky went dark, the earth quaked and a man died on a cross. Martin Luther said that at that moment Jesus was the greatest sinner to ever live. All the sins of the believers in the past, present and future were piled on him to such an extent the sun refused to shine on him.
This Easter weekend celebrates the weekend that most historians say is the most momentous weekend in human history. Recently I read the suggestion that one half of all Americans will be in church on Easter Sunday – that would be two or more times the average Sunday. Even those who do not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God acknowledge that his death and resurrection (or reports of his resurrection for nonbelievers) fundamentally reshaped human history. The rise of Christianity contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire, the rise of Western civilization and the spread of western culture around the world.
Death stings like you know what. (Story of my first job which paid $1.50 an hour, working in Dwight, ND for the beekeeper, Dick Ruby / summer of 72 year of high school graduation / in June and July I painted bee hives, also called supers, no problem, no problem at all/ In August my assignment was to run the honey extracting machine/ I would place frames full of honey and a few honey bees in the machine and part of that assignment was to get stung repeatedly / my orders were to stay relaxed, scrape the stingers out, and to keep working / that was a problem, being the mama’s boy and the big baby that I was/am, it was the only job I ever quit!
Multiply the sting of a honey bee by a thousand, and we have a picture of adult children gathering around the casket of their mom, we have a picture of grandchildren watching their grandma get lowered into the ground, we have a picture of family and friends walking away from the burial of a loved one. Death is a final enemy that except for Enoch and the prophet Elijah, we all face. Death is ugly, it is the wages of sin, it separates, it’s awful, and it seems as final as final can be.
But it isn’t. We stand in the radiance of our Lord’s open tomb, we bask in its glow, we remember that by virtue of our Lord Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, a victory has been won, and as often as the waters of Baptism are splashing, as often as the preachers are preaching, as often as the redeemed people of God are eating and drinking at the Supper, that often the victory is getting delivered straightway into our souls, into our spirits. This is a victory like no other, Isaiah writes that it swallows up death forever.
Story of dog Sophie getting into and chewing up but now swallowing our new Addie Stockman feather pillow/ my research suggests that feather pillows can have as many as 2250 feathers in them / 20 minutes I spent with a regular vacuum swallowing up those feather, which worked ok, but required frequent emptying of the vacuum, then I hit on the idea of using our shop vac, which worked really well as far as scooping up, swallowing up hundreds and hundreds of feathers, until I looked behind me and saw the shop vac spewing out on the feather into the air of the kitchen, it wasn’t funny at the time, you might think so today, but not so much the other day for me!
The kingdom of God is like hundreds and hundreds of believing and baptized Christians worshiping on an Easter Sunday morning. As they pay attention to Easter truths they have heard a hundred, maybe a thousand times before, they realize how foolish it is to try and clean up their messes in life, they learn one more time what it means for the Good News of the open tomb to get the final word in all the circumstances of their lives, they rejoice like they haven’t rejoiced in a long time as they chew on the idea that in Christ, death has been swallowed up forever.
Easter Vigil, 2017
Matthew 27 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[j] of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
Dear Friends of Christ,
I remember my parents having a sum of money to give to their little church one year. Mom suggested they give it to missions. I suggested a Lutheran Hour Gospel Tract Rack with Gospel outreach brochures. Dad made the decision to give it to the church cemetery fund. That was dad’s way of taking care of business as he waited and hoped for the resurrection of the dead.
I remember at the first church we served how there would be a cemetery work day every spring, dozens of volunteers would show up, stones would be repaired, fences would be mended, trees would be trimmed. Just taking care of business as they waited and hoped for the resurrection of the dead.
I remember my aunt Linny (who outlived her husband by over 40 years) and my mom going to four or five cemeteries in preparation for Memorial Day, pulling weeds, planting flowers, making sure things were in order. Just taking care of business as they waited for the resurrection of the dead.
Point of stories: It has been particularly important for my parents’ generation that visitations, funerals, and burials be done decently and in order, very important that their loved ones are prepared in a careful way for burial, that funeral visitations and services be conducted in a respectful manner, that caskets get placed in water tight vaults and professionally lowered into the ground, that cemeteries have fences around them, that the tombstones be purchased and engraved in proper fashion, and that lawns and flowers be perpetually cared for.
So also in our text for tonight, we find that the body of Jesus was carefully and lovingly cared for by his closest friends. We see Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body, we see him taking the time to purchase fine linens, we find Nicodemus purchasing all kinds of spices, we see Joseph and others doing the work of a funeral director. We see a wounded and bloody corpse removed from the cross, blood stains washed away, spices used to anoint, fresh linen used to wrap and preserve. We see Mary Magdalene and another Mary watching to make sure all was in order, we see Pharisees requesting and receiving permission to guard against the disciples stealing the body and claiming resurrection, we see the Jews going so far as to seal the tomb shut, we see Jesus resting quietly, the sun going down, the Sabbath now beginning.
Tonight, we give thought to our own fenced in church cemeteries, we give thought to our own loved ones resting in their caskets, perhaps their ashes resting in their urns, perhaps their ashes sprinkled into the wind and only God knows where.
We give thought to what theologians call the intermediate state, the time period between death and the day of resurrection. Here at Trinity Lutheran, we believe that the body is dead, but the soul lives on. We believe that our loved one’s bodies go wherever we put them, and our souls go into the presence of Jesus.
The bad news, according to Scripture, is that the souls of the ungodly are spirits kept in prison, that they are suffering excruciating and endless torments, and that death leads them directly into everlasting agony and anguish. This bad news can keep us up at nights as often as we think about friends and family who are not confessing Jesus Christ as their Savior, or perhaps they have been slowly but surely wandering away from Christ and His Church.
The Good News, according to Scripture, is that the souls of the godly are in God’s hand, they are with Christ in paradise, they are supremely happy, they are in their new heavenly life. We believe that the souls of the believers are in a condition of perfect blessedness and of perpetual enjoyment of God, although we cannot picture to ourselves exactly what this intermediate state looks or feels like.
Three lessons we want to learn again tonight in the presence of the guarded tomb, in anticipation of Easter sunrise service at the open tomb.
First, we would fix our eyes on the wages of sin, which is death, even as we celebrate the gift of God which is eternal life. At the same time we live as sinners and saints. Sinners who have sinned and fallen short, but at the same time saints by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ. Sheep who have gone astray but at the same time people of his pasture and sheep of his hand. On the one hand our lives are short and full of trouble, and yet at the same time we wait, we yearn, we believe with all of our hearts and souls and minds that wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is also live and salvation. Lesson #1 is to stay focused on Jesus Christ the author and finisher of our faith, even as we endure here and now.
Secondly, we would learn the importance of quietly, respectfully, hopefully, and prayerfully waiting for the resurrection of the dead. One of the lowest and loneliest days for many of us is the day of a loved one’s funeral. Dozens and even hundreds of loved ones have come and gone home. Many of said quite sincerely if there is anything they can do, please let us know. And then there is the quietness of the evening, the thank you cards get written, and the holes in our hearts seem to grow.
There is a difference between the intermediate state and that glorious day of resurrection. There is a difference between our souls being in the presence of Jesus and our souls reunited with our bodies living face to face with Jesus. Not so much that we would want to go around correcting people who want to talk about grandpa already fishing with his buddies in heaven or grandma already tending her flower garden in paradise, but in a quiet and respectful way we would stay focused on the real and fundamental joys of eternity which would be living in the full splendor of God’s glory. Lesson #2 would be to walk alongside of our grieving family and friends in a stronger way, to listen to each other’s stories in a more compassionate way, and to pray for more and more patience from God in heaven above.
Third, the Christ candle would remind us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. As we entered the sanctuary tonight, candles were lit off the Christ candle. Gradually, darkness gave way to its opposite. Wherever the light shines, there darkness doesn’t have a prayer.
One can imagine the darkness in the Spirit of God when He found Himself cursing the serpent, cursing His beloved Adam and Eve. Quickly He gave them a promise that their offspring would bruise the serpent’s offspring. Slowly, but surely, God began to light candles By throughout history – in creation, at the flood, in the exodus, in the valley of dry bones, and with the three men in the fiery furnace. As we hear these foundational stories, we would recognize our assignment as individuals to be the light of the world in every one of our conversations, in every one of our circumstances, and in every chapter of life. Also collectively, every local congregation is to be like a city of lights set on a hill, a city of lights that cannot be hidden, a city of lights difficult to ignore.
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town whose cemetery is closely guarded and well maintained. Even though there is much about which to worry, much about which they could complain, much that would cause them to be afraid, they spend their days thinking about that which is excellent, that which is of virtue, and that which is praiseworthy, Even though the world around them seems always to be in a hurry, even though so many of their friends and family seem to live life in frantic fashion, the Spirit of God has worked in their hearts an ability to live days quietly, respectfully, and patiently, as they look forward to the resurrection of the dead. And finally, even though the darkness is often gloomy and some days downright depressing, the Spirit of God has worked in their hearts a strength and a cheerfulness hard to ignore. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Maundy Thursday, 2017
Exodus 24:3-11 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules.[a] And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
Dear Christian Friends
Our sermon series – Sacred Head Now Wounded
· Ash Wednesday – 1) Lent is about spending time staring in amazement at a sacred head now wounded instead of just passing by unimpressed, 2)about pastors and congregations gathering in sacred assembly admitting that we are wounded and crying out for mercy, 3)Lent is about getting turned around by God and going in the opposite direction instead of just going through the motions.
· (Betrayal)Judas the disciple, a trusted friend, betraying Jesus with a passionate kiss
· (Apathy) Peter, John, and James, three best friends, laying down and falling asleep instead of kneeling and staying awake, watching, and praying
· (Denial) Peter cursing and swearing that he’s never even met Jesus
· (Wound of mockery) Soldiers stripping Jesus naked, putting on a scarlet robe, twisting a crown of thorns into Jesus head, kneeling before, ridiculing, striking, stripping naked one more time, crucifying
· (Wound of abandonment ) – worst injury of all, His own Father leaving Him to suffer alone)
Tonight, we find our wounded and about to be crucified Savior instituting a meal that will be for His wounded and weary warriors for generations to come. It will be a meal Jesus will be hosting again and again, at this meal He will be holding close those He loves, at this meal He will be forgiving those who have fallen short, at this meal He will be strengthening the faith of those who are feeling ever so weak, at this meal He will be providing refuge to those who being tossed to and fro by the storms of life.
On Palm Sunday, I gave you this image of Debi and me getting tossed to and fro on a snorkeling excursion in the choppy Atlantic Ocean waters near the Bahamas. That snapshot showed on the one hand Debi breathing well, knowing what she was doing, and having the time of her life. On the other hand, it showed me gasping for breath, swimming against the current, thinking I might be dying, just wanting to get back to the boat. On Sunday, I invited you to see every local Christian congregation as a place of refuge, a place where Jesus Christ would be showing up as promised, a place where He would be handing out gifts of grace in the waters of Baptism, handing out gifts of mercy in the bread and wine of the Supper, handing out gifts of truth which will set you free in the preaching of His Word.
This evening, I invite you to zero in on your Lord’s Supper as a meal for the wounded, a meal which is pure and unadulterated Gospel. This meal is entirely Good News and it is for you. This meal is for you in all the circumstances of life, be they smooth or rough. Here is where you are invited to bring all of your brokenness, all of your bad attitudes, and all of your bonehead mistakes. Here is where your souls will be loved, your sins will be forgiven, your faith in Christ will be increased, your marching orders will be clear. Here is a meal for wounded sinners provided by your Savior who was wounded all the way to the cross, even to the point of death, by His wounds you are healed, by His death you have been saved, buried, He carried your sins far away, rising He justified you freely forever, one day He’s coming, and a glorious day that’s going to be!
Not two, not just three, but four specific meals I bring to your attention this evening.
Meal #1 – Sarasota, Florida about 15 years ago/ story of a family member married in a wedding that was as beautiful as it could be/ the marriage turned ugly, it ended in divorce, on a hot September Thursday I flew to Florida, on Friday we loaded up his uhaul truck and drove away with shattered dreams and wounded hearts, on Saturday we started a new chapter of life, on Sunday morning there we were singing What a Friend We Have in Jesus with tears turning into father and son weeping out loud, and then our Lord’s Supper, eating a little piece of bread and receiving the very body of Christ broken for us, drinking just a little bit of wine and receiving the very blood of Christ poured out for us, Jesus starting to heal our wounded hearts, Jesus holding us close, Jesus washing our sins far away, Jesus telling us there was a way through, Jesus giving them an appetizer of a feast yet to come, Jesus giving clarity to our future, Jesus giving a peace only He can give.
Meal #2 goes all the way back to Egypt, where the people of God were still reeling from 450 years of vicious oppression, reeling in recent years from having to make bricks without the straw provided, reeling from plagues of water turning to blood, frogs swarming into their countryside, into their houses and bedrooms, frogs swarming into their ovens and kneading bowls, reeling from gnats covering men and beast alike, reeling from swarms of flies, reeling from Egyptian livestock dying by the thousands, reeling from boils breaking out on men, women, children, and beasts, reeling from the mother of all hail storms, reeling from Pharoh deciding to let Israel go and then changing his mind, reeling from a blizzard of grasshoppers, reeling from nationwide darkness, reeling finally from the killing of the firstborn in every household except where the blood of a lamb without blemish would be smeared.
Meal #2 is in the context of 600,000 men plus women and children being saved by the blood of a lamb without blemish being put on their doorpost. In this context, a meal was to be prepared on the tenth day of the first month, a month we call April. At this meal, the wounded people of God would kill their lambs at twilight, they would roast that flesh and eat it, they would prepared unleavened bread and bitter herbs and then eat it, the head of the household would tell the story of deliverance, a story to be handed down from one generation to the next. In that meal, the one true God of this universe would hold His people close, He would remember their sins no more, He gave them an appetizer of a feast yet to come, He would reassure them there was a way through, He would give clarity to their future, He would give a peace only He could give.
Meal #3 is in our text for tonight. It was a once in the history of the world kind of a meal, a meal where God would formally set aside the people of Israel to be His people. It was a meal preceded by Moses approaching the Lord one on one and receiving instructions, Moses writing everything down and passing them along to the 70 elders, the elders responding, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Keep in mind who these people were and what they would be famous for. They were the wounded people of God still reeling from 450 years of slavery, reeling from Egyptian armies chasing them down and trapping them between a rock and a hard place, they would be famous for not keeping their part of the deal, famous for breaking the covenant again and again, famous for chasing after other gods and grumbling about matters mostly small and once in awhile large.
Meal #3 was where young Israelite men offered up burnt offerings, they sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings, Moses took half of the blood and sprinkled it on the altar, he read the book of the covenant and then sprinkled the other half on the 70 elders, the Lord ratifying the covenant, then we see Moses and Aaron, their two sons and seventy elders going up and seeing the one true God. Under God’s feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, it was clear as the sky itself, God did not scold His people, nor did He give them what they deserve, He gave them to eat and to drink, they enjoyed a meal in anticipation of a journey yet to come. In this meal, the one true God of this universe would hold His people close, He would remember their sins no more, He gives them an appetizer of a feast yet to come, He would reassure them there was a way through, He would give clarity to their future, He would give a peace only He could give.
Meal #4 was on the night Jesus was betrayed. Jesus had already been wounded in His spirit, and soon His body would be pummeled beyond imagination. Already His hometown folks had rejected Him, already His family had pronounced Him insane, already His religious leaders had plotted to do away with Him, already Jesus knew that his trusted friend Judas would betray Him, already He knew that His three best friends would fall asleep at a most crucial time, already He knew that Peter would deny, the soldiers would mock, the chief priests would get their way, Pilate would be a sniveling coward, the people who had shouted out hosanna son of David one day would cry out for his crucifixion five days later. At this meal, a wounded and about to be crucified, dead, and buried Savior would hold His disciples close, He would remember their sins no more, He gives them an appetizer of a feast yet to come, He would reassure them there was a way through, He would give clarity to their future, He would give a peace only He could give.
The kingdom of God is like a little flock called and gathered into a sanctuary this very night. Some of them come with a lot on their mind and some with nothing in particular. Many of them are coming as part of a life long habit, a few are coming for the first time. All of them are coming as people who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They have messed up by doing bad things and by failing to do good things. They have transgressed intentionally and unintentionally. They are coming just as they are, nothing fancy, they are who they are. And oh my goodness, are they in for a treat. At this meal, their wounded, crucified, dead, buried, risen, and coming again Savior holds them close, He remembers their sins no more, He strengthens their faith, He gives them an appetizer of a feast yet to come, He assures them there is a way through, He gives clarity to their future, He sends them forth with a peace that only He is able to give.
Palm Sunday, 2017
Class Members – Cassandra Bade, Brandi Boyd, Aubrey Fischer, Torri Gens, Danielle Gerdts, Emma Johnson, Sage Lang, Jack Morsching, Gabriela Otto, Ethan Palmer, Taylor Rinehart, Gabriela Rodriguez, Adam Schlueter, Abby Schumacher, Brooke Sonnek, Darsie Stockman, Megan Walz, Katey Witt
Isaiah 50: 4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5 The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. 6 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. 7 But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
Just get me back to the (boat) Years ago Debi and I went on a little cruise near the Bahamas, which was lovely in every except for one afternoon, the afternoon Debi convinced me to go with her on my first and last snorkeling excursion. Debi would tell you that the snorkeling that day was easy, it was fun, it was as beautiful as it could be. I would tell you that they gave us about five minutes of training, we put on the snorkeling gear, about 80 of us slid off a little slide into the choppy waters, and from my point of view it was like a scene out of the movie Titanic. Many were having the time of their lives, but a few of us, including me were gasping for breath, trying to figure out how to relax and breathe under water, terrified by the fish swimming by, drifting farther and farther away from the boat. No life guards that I could see, nobody looking out for me, every person on their own. About ten minutes later, I found Debi, she came up to marvel at how wonderful it was, I sputtered that I couldn’t breathe, I was going back to the boat, see you later. For the next ten minutes, I had one thought and one thought alone, just get me back to the boat! I set my face like a flint, I was determined to get back to the boat. The boat was my refuge, my place of safety, that place where I could breathe and be happy and be feasting on snacks and beverages!
Our prayer for our confirmands this weekend is that the Church would be their refuge, their place of safety, that place where they can breathe and live and have their being. That place where they would feast at their Lord’s Supper as an appetizer for the great feast that is yet to come.
Two parts to our sermon today. 1) Jesus set His face like flint, He was determined to get to the cross. 2) This very day, Jesus Christ has set His face like flint on you and me, He is determined to usher you safely into the very gates of heaven.
Just get me to the (cross)
In our text for today, the Suffering Servant is speaking 550 years before He was born. He spoke about how He would suffer in complete and perfect obedience to His Father, He spoke about how He would be anointed with the Spirit of God, He would be awakened every morning by His Father, He would listen carefully to every Word His Father wanted Him to hear, His tongue would be instructed so that He would know how to sustain the weary. He knew that the Lord God Almighty would help Him, He knew He would not be disgraced, He knew that when all the dust had settled He would be vindicated, and therefore He set His face like flint towards a little hill outside of Jerusalem.
Flint is a massively hard quartz that was used to strike fire with steel. To this day, it is used in cigarette lighters for striking fire. Luke records that as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Matthew records that from that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, He must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law, that He must be killed, and on the third day He must be raised to life. Two truths we want to remember about Jesus determined to get to the cross and suffer all that He was appointed to suffer.
First, Getting to the cross was all about (His Father’s will). It was God who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, it was the Father who knew that the Savior would need to be a true man so that he could be a substitute for all of humanity, it was the Father who knew the Savior would need to be true God so that His sacrifice would be sufficient ransom price, it was the Father who insisted that His Son drink this bitter cup of divine wrath all the way down to the last drop, it was the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who knew the way of the cross was the way it had to be. And so on the one hand, Jesus getting to the cross was all about the will of His Father, and on the other hand,
Jesus getting to the cross was all about (us). It was about paying the price once and for all we could never pay, it was about offering the bloody sacrifice once and for all we could never offer, it was about making certain that our sins could be forgiven, our souls could be redeemed, our names could be written, our mansions in heaven could be reserved.
When Jesus listened and learned at the feet of his parents and religious teachers, He was in training for a three year public ministry yet to come. When He gave His back to those who whipped bloody, He gave it with you in mind, when He gave his cheeks to those who pulled out his beard, He gave them with you in mind, when He hid not His face from disgrace and spitting, He hid not with you in mind, when He stood there like a man and let them crucify him until He was dead and buried, He stood there with you in mind. Getting to the cross was all about you, it was all about me, it was all about sinners in every generation in mind. Paul says it this way, that this was the mindset of Jesus Christ, that he would be in human form, that he would humble himself, that he would be obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Which brings us to today and our second snapshot of the mind of Christ. What is it that Jesus Christ is determined to do in the lives of these 18 confirmands? Just get my loved ones to (that glorious day!) In our Palm Sunday Epistle Lesson,we have this picture of a glorious day when Christ is returning, when all knees are bowing and tongues confessing that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
This is the bottom line for your parents, it is the bottom line for your Godparents and your grandparents, it is the bottom line for the elders and members of this congregation, it is the bottom line for your pastors, that the 18 of you be found among the faithful on the Last Day.
This is the desire of Jesus Christ, it is our desire that you would be diligent in the use of the means of grace, that you would be hearing the Word of God and keeping it, that you would be eating and drinking in regular fashion at your Lord’s Supper through thick and through thin, in good health and in sickness, in easy times and in hard times. In closing today, I invite you to think about the life that is to unfold before you, first about the easy chapters of life, and then about the not so easy chapters.
Looking out for the smooth spots, because that’s where the (land mines are). I told this story on Palm Sunday in 2002 and so some of you may have already heard it. Sorry about that. It’s a story about how years ago, the Portuguese had withdrawn from a nation called Angola and that nation had fallen into tribal unrest and civil war. As the years went on, the bridges became untrustworthy, the roads were filled with potholes. It happened that a missionary kind of a person went there on a fact finding mission. He noticed that his driver made no attempt to miss the deep holes and ruts in this road. On the contrary, it seemed as though he headed right for broken up parts. When they came to a stretch of road that had been repaired, the driver almost always headed for the side of the road, and so the missionary finally asked about it. The answer, “I avoid the smooth spots because that’s where the land mines are.”
Dear friends, this very day you will be promising to spend the rest of your days renouncing the devil, renouncing his ways, renouncing his works. Understand that the devil has all kinds of tricks up his sleeves for your days of smooth sailing. Look out for those days that are pleasant and fun and easy going for those are the days he will tempt you to swerve off into a lukewarm, an indifferent, and a lackadaisical brand of Lutheran Christianity.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, we invite you to be Looking forward to the rough spots, because that’s where the (teachers are). The kingdom of God is like a speed bump, because that’s where many have been taught the foolishness of not slowing down. The kingdom of God is like a 13 year old boy whose smooth sailing days were interrupted by the death of his brother in a car accident, because those very days, the Holy Spirit nudged Him towards being a pastor. The kingdom of God is like a 17 year old boy whose first real girl friend dumped him in unceremonious fashion and ran off with a friend of his, because in the months following, the Spirit of God taught him not to pin his hopes for happiness on having a girl friend. The kingdom of God is like a thousand times a thousand other Christians who have traveled through every type of tragedy you could imagine, because in those days of trouble, the Spirit of God worked in them a spirit of endurance, which produced strong Christian character, which produced a hope which was and is and ever shall be based on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Just show me who needs (my help) One of the heroes in my life is an elderly man known by many of you, he is from Waldorf, and for many years now, he is happiest when he is helping other people. A number of times in my ministry, he would show up in my office, we would shoot the breeze for a time, and then he would say he was looking for something to do, he was wondering if there was anybody he could help. That’s my prayer for you, dear confirmands, that as the years go on, the Spirit of God would work in you a faith in Jesus Christ that is rock solid, that He would make it so that your face is set like flint towards making this world a better place, that you would be taking your Gospel lights and running towards the darkness all around you, that years from now, you would wander into the office of one of your pastors, that you would shoot the breeze for a time, then be asking that question your Savior loves to hear, “Hey do you know somebody I could help?”
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters,[d] and they gathered the whole battalion[e] before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Dear Friends in Christ,
· Last week, we heard Peter wounding Jesus by denying three times before the rooster crowed, denying as predicted, we see Jesus looking Peter in the eyes and Peter looking away in shame, we see a wounded Jesus Christ proceeding to the cross, as predicted, on behalf of Peter and all of us who have wounded Him by not standing up for Him under pressure, we rejoiced that by his wounds we have been healed, we looked forward to that day when He will confess us before His Father in heaven.
· Two weeks ago, we saw Peter, James, and John wounding Jesus by falling asleep instead of staying awake, watching and praying, we saw how drowsiness can turn into apathy and how apathy can go ugly in a hurry, we saw a wounded Jesus praying, crying, sweating great drops of blood, proceeding to the cross, on behalf of all who have meant well but have fallen into a lukewarm of Christianity. We rejoiced that by his wounds we are healed, we rejoiced that our God is a God who never slumbers, never sleeps, is at our side in every situation.
· Three weeks ago, we saw Judas wounding Jesus, as predicted, by betraying with a kiss, we saw how betrayal comes from friends, we saw Jesus proceeding to the cross with grace in his heart and not bitterness, we rejoiced by his wounds we are healed, that by virtue of his death and resurrection, our sins are remitted, our souls saved, our heavenly mansions on reserve.
· Four weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel cried out for God’s people in all generations to see in the mirror of God’s law how far we have strayed, to see at the cross how far our Savior has come for us, we were reminded by the sign of the cross that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, we rejoiced that although the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
· Today we see Roman soldiers having some fun at Jesus’ expense. We see them stripping Him naked, putting a purple robe on him, twisting a crown of thorns into his head, putting a floppy reed in his right hand, kneeling before him, and mocking him as a fake king. We see them insulting him in the best way they knew how, by spitting, we see them smacking him on the head and having the time of their lives, killing some time, thinking to themselves how big and how important and how funny they were. We see Jesus today. We see Him wounded, we hear Him to be silent, we watch as he goes as a lamb silent to the slaughter. We see him proceeding to the cross, as predicted, we see him with pity in his heart instead of bitterness, with love for his enemies instead of hated, with a desire for mercy instead of vengeance.
· Two truths we want to learn one more time as we stand with Jesus in the governor’s headquarters, as we see Roman soldiers taking over, as we confess the times we have made fun of Jesus by making fun of one another.
1) We see how cruel people can be, even though we’re not exactly sure what their motives are. (Advice from a presenter at a pastors’ conference – to avoid at all costs trying to figure out people’s motives)
2) We see how deep is God’s love for us, and we know exactly what His motive is. (How blessed we are as often as we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ and why He suffered what He suffered and did what He did)
· We see how cruel people can be, even though we’re not exactly sure what their motives are. Even though we say again and again that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, there were all kinds of Jews and all kinds of Gentiles with all kinds of motives who joined in on the wounding and the crucifying.
1) When Jesus was arrested, there was a great crowd of chief priests and elders of the people, crowds including all kinds of common Jewish people. Their motives? Maybe they were angry, maybe they were jealous, maybe they were afraid, maybe they were going along with the crowd, maybe they just wanted to be part of history, who knows? What we do know is why Jesus kept on proceeding, it his desire to do what his father had sent him to do, it was his desire to pay the price nobody else could pay, it was his desire to
2) At the mock trial before a Jewish council, the Jewish ruling elite joined in. Their motives? Maybe they were angry, maybe they felt threatened, maybe they were afraid for the future, maybe they were feeling guilty about the past, maybe what Jesus had said really irritated them, maybe the miracles he had performed really were upsetting their apple carts, who knows? What we do know is why Jesus Christ set his face like flint for Jerusalem, we know his motive, it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the worst kind of mockery, it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross, He scorned its shame, He was crucified until He was dead and buried. His desire was to be our Savior and King, His motive was mercy, His end goal was to save our sorry souls.
3) Before Pontius Pilate, there was a Gentile ruling class who joined in on the mocking, they joined in on the wounding, they joined in on the Thursday evening festivities. They thought it was hysterical – a Galilean peasant pretending to be a king.
4) So also did the Roman soldiers get in on the fun / perhaps they had some time to kill / maybe they just had a mean streak in them / maybe some of them felt guilty about it/we don’t know their motives / maybe it made them feel important / maybe it made them feel big / we don’t know / they wound Jesus with their mockery. Three aspects of their mockery we note:
a) Stripped him naked and put a scarlet robe on him / scarlet is a symbol of kingly authority / we remember the Old Testament tabernacle where God dwelt with His people and forgave their sins through the blood of sacrifices / we hear Isaiah predicting, “tho their sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow / we hear Jesus praying, Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing /we hear from Jesus silence and we watch one unblemished lamb going forth to the slaughter
b) Twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on his head and put a reed in his hand, kneeling before him and mocking him / I don’t know what it is like to be mocked / High school stories of Annette, Linda, Jane / stories of not standing up for others getting made fun of / Debi / why can teens be so cruel? / adults hearing name of God used in vain and saying nothing / society openly making fun of traditional doctrines and saying little or nothing / why can adults be so cowardly and passive and let such mockery continue? Don’t know / What we do know is that on the Last Day, Jesus will say when I was hungry….when I was thirsty…..when I needed someone to stand up for me, you did……….He won’t remember the times we humiliated others to make ourselves feel big and important, He won’t remember the times we were quiet when we should have spoken up and the times we blurted sarcasm when we should have been quiet.
c) And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him / Why spit? / I can remember a few spitting contests with my cousins – for no particular reason / Perhaps they wanted to insult / perhaps it just felt fun / perhaps it was their custom /we would look at the painting today and look at the mirror at the same time / When children make fun of teachers behind their backs, they are making fun of Jesus / when teens roll their eyes in sarcasm at their teachers, you are rolling your eyes at Jesus / when we adults make fun of others / when we make jokes at the expense of others / when we look down our noses at others for whatever reason,we are wounding Jesus / and yet Jesus proceeds to the cross/sent by His Father / helped by crying women and Simon of Cyrene / pushed and shoved by soldiers /
He is stripped, that our sinful nakedness might be clothed in the bright robe of His righteousness. He wears a crown of thorns, that we might wear a royal diadem. He is beaten and mocked, that we might be welcomed and treasured. The everlasting love of God is on this Good Friday overcoming all hatred and all mockery. Jesus goes to the cross in kingly fashion. You see, none of this mockery can take from Him His majesty, His glory, His peace. He suffers all that He suffers and He walks every step that He walks with a burning love for sinners in every generation, those of us who have relatively easy roads to travel and those whose roads are incredibly rough.
This evening, I invite you one more time to not hide your faces from his, one more time as you look into His eyes / in this Lenten season:
· Do notice the humiliation, notice the mockery, notice the spitting even as you remember the waters of Baptism that have already washed over your soul and claimed you as sons and daughters of your Father in heaven.
· Do notice the despising, notice the rejecting, notice the bleeding, even as you rejoice that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from every one of your faults/ failures/ foibles.
· Do notice the crushing, notice the striking, notice the crushing, even as the forgiveness of sins sweeps over your souls - He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther