Day of Pentecost, 2017
Acts 2: 12-13 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Dear Friends in Christ
The author and preacher John Piper tells a story of two elderly women who had given their “retirement” years to go to Cameroon for the sake of the Gospel. They had been killed when their brakes gave out and their car plunged over a cliff. He asked, Was that a tragedy? He answered his own question, “No, that wasn’t a tragedy. Let me tell you about a tragedy.” He cited a Readers Digest article about how many Americans are taking early retirement so that they can pursue their own pleasure. One couple had bought a yacht and spent their time sailing off the coast of Florida, collecting seashells. Piper said, “Now that’s a tragedy!” Can you imagine this couple standing before God at the judgment and saying, “Here’s our seashell collection, Lord.”
At least two different ways we can live out the retirement chapter of our lives, or any chapter of life, for that matter. We can live them with definite purpose or with no particular purpose. We can live them controlled by the Holy Spirit or controlled by our sinful nature. We can live them for Christ or for me, myself, and I. We can live our days with the Festival of Pentecost uppermost in our minds, or with Pentecost as pretty an afterthought.
This morning, we ask the question Lutherans have asked for 500 years now, we ask the question Martin Luther loved to ask he wrestled with interpreting Scripture, we ask the question thousands of people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem 50 days after the resurrection, 10 days after Jesus had ascended, we ask, What does thisPentecost mean?
What does this mean that the Spirit of God was poured out in superabundant fashion on the early church? What does this mean that there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind ,and what does this mean that there were tongues of fire that appeared and rested on the disciples’ heads, and what does this mean the first disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak in languages they had never studied?
One question is before us today, with two answers. The question is, What does Pentecost mean for New Testament Christians?
Answer #1 is that Pentecost means that you can’t keep good men, women, or children (down). No doubt you’ve heard the idiom that “you can’t keep a good man down.” The history of that old saying goes all the way back to the story of Joseph in Genesis. His brothers threw him down in a well, but God saw to it he didn’t die then and there. His brothers sold him down into slavery in Egypt, but God saw to it he didn’t languish in slavery. Potiphar’s wife saw to it that he was falsely accused and thrown into prison, but God saw to it his story didn’t end there. Over the years, Joseph learned what we want to learn again today, God has a plan to turn every bit of evil in our lives into good. Two truths we would learn today about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit as New Testament Christians.
First, we learn again that God isn’t just for us, He is (inside of us). Certainly the disciples were aware of Divine Presence while Jesus walked alongside of them in His earthly ministry. They could see with their own eyes, you can’t keep a good man down. No doubt they were already asking what does this mean? What does this mean to be baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? What does this mean to take and eat, this is my body, to take and drink, all of you, this is my blood? What does this mean that out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water? What does this mean that we will be dragged before emperors and kinds with an opportunity to witness to our Master?
No doubt they were already beginning to grasp the idea that if God is for us, who can be against us. And now, on this day that had been promised by Joel and also by Jesus, now what does this mean that God isn’t just for us, He is inside of us? Paul would say it this way to the Corinthians, it means that we have a treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us, it means that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, it means we will be perplexed, but not driven to despair, it means we will be persecuted, but not forsaken, it means we will be struck down, but not destroyed, it means that we will always be carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.
Pentecost’s reality is that not only can’t you keep a good man down, you can’t keep good women and children down either. We’re good people, of course, not because we have led such good lives, but because the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed us from every one of our sins. We’re good people not because we have earned that title, but because we have been baptized into the very family of God, the sign of the cross has been placed on foreheads and on our hearts, and in that moment, a river of living water started to flow not just for us, but inside of us.
The Spirit binds us together (into the Church) What the early Jewish Christians learned that day was that the Gospel wasn’t just for the Jews, it was also for the Gentiles. Not just for the circumcised, but also for the uncircumcised. All that God has done for the world in Jesus Christ is implanted in the hearts of all who confess their sins and receive the greatest and best of all God’s gifts – the Holy Spirit. The Day of Pentecost is not the end of the story by any means. It is the beginning of a new era. On that day, the disciples became apostles. From that day forward, they weren’t just called to be followers, now they were sent forth from Jerusalem telling what had happened to them. From that day forward, their faith wasn’t just meant to help them survive, it was to be a contagious, turn your world upside down kind of a faith. From that day forward, men and women regardless of race of class would be having a new experience with the Spirit of God, they would be lifted out of themselves, they would be, introduced to a spontaneous goodness for which they could claim no credit. They wouldn’t need to wait for the Spirit of God to move a prophet to prophesy, the Spirit of God would be on the inside of each one of them. The Spirit would be binding them together into the one holy, Christian, and apostolic faith.
From that day forward, by virtue of their baptism into the Name of the Triune God, they would be given a unity they did not deserve nor understand, their assignment was to guard that unity, to celebrate that Good News, to spread the message that had come to pass that everyone who calls uponthe name of the Lord shall be saved.
Which brings us to a second answer to the question, what does this mean? What does Pentecost mean? First Pentecost means that you will never again be able to keep good men, women, or children down, secondly Pentecost means no more minding our own (business). Two of my father’s core principles in life were to take care of business and to mind your own business. He didn’t say very much, he wasn’t at all flashy or famous, he just kept it short and simple, finish what you start, if you’re going to do something, do it right, don’t be sticking your nose in other people’s affairs. And in so many ways, those are terrific core values to have and to practice.
With at least one exception. Let’s call it the Pentecost exception. From that day forward, the mission of the Church would be to scatter to the four corners of the earth and plant Christian congregations. Congregations where the Word of God would be proclaimed, Law and Gospel would be correctly divided, and Sacraments would be administered. Congregations where hurting people would be helped, broken hearts would be mended, and troubled souls would be comforted. Congregations where the cross would be lifted high, resurrection would be celebrated, and Pentecost would be the driving force. Two truths the New Testament Church needs to understand.
Truth #1 - Christ came first for the Jews, and then also for the (Gentiles). The 21st century mindset is that good gifts should be offered to all in equal measure, at the same time, with liberty and justice for all. But God’s mindset has always been to take his time, train a smaller group of people, and then to send that trained group of folks out to the masses. That’s what He did by taking his time with the small and insignificant nation of Israel, to take them through centuries of rigorous trial and error training, and on the day of Pentecost, to set them loose with the Gospel to the far corners of humanity. That’s what Jesus did with a small band of disciples, to take them through three years of rigorous trial and error training, and on the day of Pentecost, to set them loose with the forgiveness of sins to Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world. That’s what the Spirit of God has done with this church and school. All year long, for 137 years now in this place, the Holy Spirit has taken his time with us, week after week He molds us and shapes us through trial and error with Word and with Sacrament, on every year on the day of Pentecost, He sets us loose with a joy that just cannot be contained, he sets us loose with a fire that cannot be hidden, he sets us loose with a river that flows up and over its banks. Christ came first for the Jews, and then also for the Gentiles. First for those who were raised up in the Church and then for those who are still on the outside looking in.
Truth #2 - The Spirit provides the fire power for us not only to be saved, but to (prophesy). When Peter says that in the last days, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, he’s not saying that all of us will be able to predict the future in a supernatural kind of a way. He is saying that all of us will be able to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying that we’re all called to be pastors and missionaries to far away places, he’s saying we are all called to listen carefully to broken hearted people all around us, he’s saying we’re all called to pray with those who are at their wit’s end in life, he’s saying we’re all called on to speak of that which we have seen and heard to be true, he’s saying we’re all called on to not just be minding our own business in life, we’re called on to be about our Father’s business in a thousand and one different ways, in every one of our days.
Debi and I were reading a devotion for older folks by Jane Wilkie (a college friend of ours), the other day. She wrote that many of us have prayed the prayer, “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. She proceeded to turn that little prayer upside down by suggesting this prayer, If I should wake before I die, I pray the Lord to show me (why!) Her point was this – it’s tempting for us in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod to be what Billy Graham is said to have said about us years ago – that we are a sleeping giant. In other words, that we have a strong message of truth and purity inside of us, but that we pretty much keep it to ourselves.
If I should wake before I die, I pray the Lord to show me why. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who are waking up to the fact that life isn’t so much about me, it’s about Jesus Christ. They are realizing more and more that life isn’t so much about my needs being met, it’s about walking alongside of others making sure their needs are being met. Less and less do they wonder what they can get out of the sermon every Sunday and more and more do they wonder what it means to have the Spirit of God poured out and spilling over. More and more do they wonder what it means “that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
5th in a Series of Six Sermons
Fifth Sunday of Easter /May 21, 2017
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series, we have invited you to focus on the simple truth that the road to your future runs right through the past of the ancient church. This sermon is the fifth in a series of six. First we gave attention to the ancient future God, second to His Word, third to the role of suffering, and last Sunday to the Church. This morning – Ancient Future Promises. Two questions we ask today – first what does it mean to be in the family of God? Second, what does it mean to rest in the promises of God?
The Neighborhood Bully
A true story is told of a boy that was getting picked on by the neighborhood bully. The bully teased and he taunted, he ridiculed, he ranted, and he raved, he pushed and he shoved day after day until one day with his Marine Corp dad happened to see what was happening. This dad did what any good father would do. He picked up the neighborhood bully by the scruff of his neck and scared the living daylights out of him. He held him in the air until it was clear that he understood that if this bullying happened even one more time, there would be hell to pay.
From that day forward, the boy that had been getting picked on rested in his dad’s strength, he rested in his dad’s promises, he rested in his dad’s faithfulness. Dear Christian friends, when Jesus Christ suffered once for our sins under Pontius Pilate, when Jesus Christ was crucified until he was dead and buried, when Jesus Christ was raised again on the third day and went down into hell and proclaimed victory to a multitude of eternal losers, this is what He was doing. He was picking the devil and all the forces of evil up by the scruff of their neck, he was telling these neighborhood bullies there was a new sheriff in town. He was announcing once and for all that their days of taunting, teasing, and tempting the people of God into all kinds of despair and doubt were done. He was proclaiming to the world their days of ridiculing and ranting and raving and ruling in the hearts and minds of God’s precious people were finished. He was inviting one and all to be in his family and to rest in his promises.
Three meditations we offer now, what that meant for Noah’s family, what that meant for the early Christians to whom Peter was writing, and what that means for us today
For Noah’s family, resting in the promises of God meant 120 years of preparation and then going for the ride of a (lifetime). At a recent pastors’ conference, we listened to a St. Louis Seminary Professor of history who indicated that he tells his classes of seminarians these two things. First, that sometime between Jesus and your grandma, things happened. Second, the Word of God was in your congregation long before you got there, and if you don’t screw it up, it will be there after you leave. Another way of saying that the road to your future, dear friends, runs right through your past.
The ancient story of Noah teaches us first of all how patient is our God and secondly how there is a definite limit to that patience. For 120 years God waited while Noah built that ark. For 120 years, God waited for repentance and faith, he waited in vain. For 120 years, men remained fixed and hardened in their disobedience and in unbelief. It’s not hard to imagine them laughing at Noah for building a big boat on dry land, no doubt they teased and they taunted, in today’s text, these scoffers, these who would not listen, these who went about life ignoring every possible warning sign they could ignore are identified as spirits in prison getting paid a surprise visiting early one Sunday morning by a risen Christ.
For Noah’s family, the same water that drowned so many served as their salvation. Resting in God’s promises for them meant riding out the mother of all storms, it meant being safe and secure in an ark 450 feet long, 75feet wide, and 45 feet high, it meant trusting that God was a promise keeper, it meant believing that which they could not see, it meant coming face to face with a God whose patience may seem endless, but it’s not.
For early Christians, resting in the promises of God meant believing that there was a significant purpose to their (suffering). Peter was writing to Christians who were under the threat of persecution if they did not burn incense to the emperor as a personification of the divine spirit of Rome. He urged them to stand strong in their faithfulness to Jesus. He invited them to believe they were being blessed even though it felt like they were being cursed.
Jesus had already told his apostles they would be brought before kings and emperors on account of his name, which in God’s upside down way of thinking would be a good thing. What would feel like the end of their world would actually be an opportunity to be His witnesses. Jesus had already told them not to worry beforehand how to defend themselves because He would give them words of wisdom their adversaries would not be able to contradict. Here Peter reaffirmed it for early Christians that their good behavior would give credibility to their message of hope, their gentle and respectful testimony to Jesus Christ would be blessed beyond their wildest dreams to the far corners of the world, their enemies would be put to shame, their suffering would carry with it significant purpose.
Early Christians were to never forget their Savior had suffered once for their sins, and therefore their sins had already been forgiven. Their baptism into the family of God meant they would never have to live as orphans, it meant the Spirit of God would dwell with them and be inside of them, it meant they could look themselves in the mirror at night, the mercies of God would be new in the morning. Their baptism into the family of God had saved them, it had washed them clean, their Savior was sitting at the right hand of their God, they could rest in the simple truth they had friends in high places.
For us, resting in the promises of God means living safe in the ark of the Christian Church with a cleansed (conscience). Just yesterday little Paxton Kaminiski was born again into the kingdom of God. He is the brother of Payton Rose, he is the brother of Tatum, son of Scott and Kate by virtue of his first birth. He is brother of Jesus, he is the brother of all baptized believers worldwide, he is the son of his father in heaven by virtue of his second birth. We prayed yesterday that he would be kept safe and secure in the ark of the holy Christian Church, we marked him with the sign of the cross both upon his forehead and upon his heart, we poured water on him in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and as we did so, this congregation made a promise to walk with him, to encourage him, to pray for him, to help him to live with a clear conscience in all the chapters of his life.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who consciences are stained and soiled and at the same time free and clear. Left to themselves, they would be at the mercy at the neighborhood bullies who reside in dark and invisible places, but they have not been left to themselves. More and more these folks make the sign of the cross and remember who they are, less and less the worry about what the future holds. More and more they go about their vocations with the peace only their best friend forever can give, less and less they are afraid of their enemies. More and more they get asked for the reason for the hope that is within them, less and less do they keep good news for themselves. For them, resting in the promises of God is like spending time at a family reunion, knowing they belong, reminiscing about the good old days, looking forward to days even better.
“I can’t imagine not having a family.” A good friend of this congregation told me just this week that he and his wife were adopting a boy who just turned 18. If all goes well, he will soon be the big brother of three siblings, the son of stable and loving parents, he will have cousins he hasn’t even meet, aunts and uncles who already have a place in their hearts for him. When I asked my good friend why he was adopting this young man, he told me this boy’s story full of bouncing around from one foster home to another, a story of brokenness, a story where kindness and patience seemed to be mostly missing. Then he told me what I won’t soon forget, he said he couldn’t imagine this boy turning age 21 and not having a family. It seemed the logical thing to do, and so they made the decision not to let this boy be an orphan. This very day, this good friend of ours, now a preacher, is no doubt reading and hearing this promise from heaven above, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good. But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed…..Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.
Second Sunday of Easter
I Peter 1 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
Dear Friends in Christ,
A little girl named Mary lay in bed, she was crippled, she was crying, and she was complaining to her mom. She had been crippled with a serious nervous disorder, and she would be crippled for life. Three questions she asked one day, “If Jesus loves me, why do I have to be like this? Why can’t I play like the other children? Why do I have to hurt so much, mama?”
Perhaps you have asked or tried to answer questions like that in days gone by. Perhaps you are asking or trying to answer questions like that these days. Perhaps you will be asking or trying to answer questions like that in days yet to come.
No doubt Mary’s mom had asked those same questions, no doubt she had given much thought to how she might answer. Here is what she did answer one day, no doubt with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, “God’s children are like jewels, Mary, like sparkling jewels that shine. But jewels are made beautiful through cutting and polishing. And that cutting and polishing can hurt. The sparkle of a jewel depends on how smoothly it is polished. Always remember, Mary, that God does not polish his jewels because he wants to hurt them, but because he wants to make them shine with bright faith and purified love.”
Do you see what Mary’s mom just did? She turned three of the most difficult questions about God a child could ever ask a parent into words of high praise for God. High praise is what the word for eulogy originally meant. In our circles, to eulogize someone usually refers to writing or saying really good things about a person who has died. In I Peter 1:3-9, Peter is eulogizing, he is blessing, he is praising a person who died and rose up again. More than that, he is eulogizing, he is praising, he is blessing the one true and almighty God of this universe. Our text is a doxology of praise to God who was, who is, and who always will be. Three invitations we would consider today with regard to these words of high praise, 1) eulogizing our ancient God for birthing us, 2)eulogizing our present God for guarding, and 3)eulogizing our future God for testing us. Birthing, guarding, and testing.
First of all, we join Peter and early and persecuted Christians in Eulogizing our ancient God for (birthing us). Our Easter sermon series carries the theme, “Ancient Future Faith,” which is the title of a book written by Dr. Robert Weber. and in the weeks yet to come, we focus on how the road to the future runs right through the past. He wonders what evangelical Christianity might look like in the future and speculates that the answers will be found in examining past history.
He invites the reader to think about what it means to be a countercultural community that invites people to be shaped by the story of Israel and Jesus. The premise of this book fits well with the Epistle lessons appointed for these six weeks in Easter, which are taken from I Peter. I Peter, Pastor Muther tells me, is the New Testament book most saturated with Old Testament writings. And so we learn what it means to live as New Testament Christians by immersing ourselves in Old Testament based invitations. Three invitations and three questions for you today as we are still and know that God is God.
Invitation #1 today is to be shaped by the truth that according to His great mercy, God has caused Israel and us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Not a single one of us decided of our own free will to be in the Christian family, we were born again through the waters of Holy Baptism into this family. Not a one of us came by our own reason or strength to the realization that Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, He has gathered us into His Church, He has enlightened us with His gifts. Not a one of us deserved to have God shower us with mercy, mercy is by definition undeserved. Not a one of us merited the grace of God to be given us, grace is by definition unmerited.
The Spirit of God would invite us today to think of ourselves as sinners born again into a lively hope, we have been baptized into an inheritance that will never be corrupted, it will never be stained, it will never fade away, it is in fact safeguarded in the heavens for us. The road to your future runs right through a road already traveled by the nation of Israel, a road traveled in anticipation of a Messiah long prophecied. The road to your future runs right through a road already traveled by your Savior, he traveled that road with a perfection that you could never attain, he traveled that road by suffering all that you needed him to suffer, he traveled that road by dying the death you needed him to die, and by rising up never to die again. The road to your future runs right through the waters of Baptism where you were claimed as child of your Father in heaven, you were marked with the sign of the cross, you were washed in the very blood of the lamb. Question #1 – what does it mean to be kept safe in the ark of the Christian Church in all the chapters of life?
5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Secondly, we would join Peter and the early and suffering Christians in Eulogizing our present God for (protecting us) In the first part of this doxology, Peter praised God for being merciful, he praised Jesus Christ for living and dying and then living again, he praised the Triune God for saving us, now he eulogizes, he praises, he blesses God for being omnipotent. He blessed God for protecting us from enemies who would steal away our inheritance.
The Psalmist speaks of God as the keeper of Israel who never slumbers nor sleeps. Luther prays in the 6th petition that God would so guard and keep us that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor entice us into misbelief and other great shame or vice. It was the omnipotence of God that kept Daniel safe in the lions’ den, it was the omnipotence of God that kept safe the three men in the fiery furnace, it was the omnipotence of God that set boundaries for Satan in afflicting Job, it was the omnipotence of God that freed Peter from Herod’s prison, it preserved Paul amid dangers and hardships. It is the power of God that we pray for when we ask him to send his holy angels to be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us.
The road to our future runs through a road already traveled by Israel, a road already traveled by Jesus. Israel would learn the beauty of the Promised Land only after God had guarded them through the ugliness of wilderness wandering. Jesus would enjoy the glory of resurrection only after His Father and His angels had guarded Him through the darkness of Gethsemane and the curse of the cross. Question #2 today, what does it mean to live with a heart that is resting, lips that are praising, and a faith that is being protected in all the circumstances of life?
First in this doxology, we praised God for birthing us into His family, second we praised Him for guarding us the way good fathers guard their children, and third we praise Him for putting us to the test. First, we blessed God for His great mercy shown in the past, second for His power happening even in our present, and third we bless Him for His willingness to discipline us in the future.
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Finally, we would join Peter and the early and suffering Christians in Eulogizing our future God for (testing us). The kingdom of God is like a blacksmith who fires up the furnace, he holds the gold close to the fire to make sure it is tested, he can be heard to mutter to the gold, “this hurts me as much as it hurts you.”
The kingdom of God is like a good father who sets clear boundaries, and when his son crosses the line, he disciplines, and even as he disciplines, he is heard to be saying, “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”
The kingdom of God is like a man who suffers more than his share of grief as life goes along. Some of it is self-inflicted, some of it is inflicted by people in his life who keep on disappointing, some of it comes through no fault of him or anybody else, it’s just because his world is as messed up as it can be. Slowly, but surely, he is able to rejoice in his sufferings, they keep on resulting in the praise and honor of His Savior. He can’t really see what God is up to in the day to day struggling through, but believes with all His heart that his God is shaping him into the man who is more and more the man he is called to be.
Question #3- what does it mean to get to that point in life where you actually rejoice in your trials, knowing they have great potential to draw you closer and closer to your God?
Agnes’ last words to her pastor. A few of you might remember Agnes, who was the sister of Erna, Anne, and Martin among others, she was a daughter to old and faithful Pastor Winter, who served as pastor here for 29 years, from 1905 to 1934. She attended every Bible class she could possibly attend and with all her heart she treasured the central article of Lutheran theology that we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone. She walked with a cane, and once in awhile she would get pretty fired up and use her cane for emphasis. In one of her last conversations with me, I was telling her how much I appreciated her faithfulness to God’s Word, she made it clear to me that her funeral sermon should have nothing to do with her good life and everything to do with giving glory to God. She looked me in the eyes and said, “if you start eulogizing me, if you start saying nice things about me in that sermon, I just might sit up in my casket and tell you to knock it off!”
She wanted what Peter wanted in our text for today, and what we would do well to want, that God be eulogized for birthing her in the first place, that God be praised for guarding her in faith all the way to the end in the second place, and yes that God be blessed even for testing her with all kinds of trials along the way. In Jesus’ Name and for His glory!
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.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther